Most commercially produced cereals have a long list of ingredients, partially because of the tastes of consumers, but also partially to compensate for the manufacturing process and the demands of being shelf-stable. The two main types of cereal ingredients most commonly found are grains and sweeteners. Grains are usually what make up the bulk of the cereal, although most varieties use a combination of different grains to form the final product. Food additives are another common cereal ingredient, often comprising most of the list of ingredients in a product. Flavorings, including items such as freeze-dried fruits, dried nuts and other non-grain nuggets, are also are common cereal ingredients.
The largest proportion of most cereal ingredients consists of grains. This includes wheat, barley, oats and rice. The grains usually are ground down into flour and then mixed together to achieve a specific texture or taste. The flour can be formed into a variety of shapes, from brittle flakes to letter shapes.
Cereal can be made from whole grains or refined grains. Refined grains have the bran and germ removed from the berry before it is ground. It is not uncommon for the germ and bran to be reintroduced back into the flour mixture at a later point to restore some of the nutritive value of the grains. Whole grains are generally healthier and have a higher amount of minerals and vitamins included, but they also are more perishable than refined grains.
Sweeteners can sometimes make up the largest percentage of cereal ingredients in certain brands. Some cereals actually have more sweeteners than grains. A sweetener can be pure refined sugar, brown or cane sugar, or even syrups derived from foods such as high fructose corn syrup, which can deliver a much sweeter taste by volume than white sugar. In a cereal that has marshmallows or other small, colorful shapes, the amount of sugar will be very high, because the marshmallows are made mostly of sweeteners.
Flavorings are added to cereals to enhance or complement the flavor of the grains. These can be sweetened, freeze-dried fruits such as strawberries or dried fruits such as raisins. Roasted nuts such as almonds or walnuts also can be used as cereal ingredients, potentially raising the nutritional value of the product.
Food additives are another type of cereal ingredients. This is a broad category includes items intended to enhance or modify some aspect of the main cereal ingredients, particularly the grains. A large percentage of additives are used to ensure that the cereal does not absorb too much moisture and become stale, and to make sure that the shapes are maintained even when doused with milk. Other additives can boost flavor in the cereal or make the texture crunchier. Some additives also are used to increase the amount of vitamins and minerals in the cereal so it can provide some additional health benefits.