From friends, to family, to Jerry Seinfeld, many people make fun of raisin bran as a boring, healthy cereal. The kind of cereal where fun goes to die. The kind of cereal only fit for cracking lazy jokes about “regularity.”
But I defend raisin bran. Because while these spiteful rai-sinners poke fun at raisin bran cereals’ supposed blandness, there’s actually a wealth of diversity and innovation within the many different kinds of raisin bran available to ravenous bran-imals like me.
And today it’s time to talk about one of the best: Trader Joe’s Organic Raisin Bran Clusters.
See, for the longest time, I’ve been a die-hard, loyal fan of Raisin Bran Crunch. I look down on those who obviously hate fun and choose regular, cluster-less Kellogg’s Raisin Bran. I scoff at the fragile flakes of Post Raisin Bran. I once even foolhardily trusted someone’s advice that Total Raisin Bran and Cascadian Farms Raisin Bran were both acceptable substitutes (never again!).
In fact, for the longest time the only RB that could even close to matching RBC was Raisin Nut Bran. But that cereal has nut-coated raisins, so that kind of feels like cheating. Everyone knows nut-coated raisins are the cereal equivalent of performance-enhancing drugs.
I was starting to think that the war zone of raisin bran cereals was to be like Highlander (there bran only be one!), and I would be eating Raisin Bran Crunch forever. But then I happened upon an unassuming, purple box at Trader Joe’s, and my whole life was flipped upside-down like a fresh bag of raisin bran before I open it.
(I seriously hope you all do this, by the way. For the uninitiated, flipping the bag and opening from the bottom allows the crumbs to evenly distribute. No more powdery last bowls!)
Looking at the intriguing ingredients list, this cereal gets style points already for its use of “purple carrot juice” for color. I’m not sure where that color’s going, but I just like to imagine there’s a machine at the TJ’s factory that milks purple carrots like cows and squelches a bunch of it into every box.
Pouring a bowl of the cereal itself, everything is huuuuuuge. From the nickel-sized flakes to the mammoth, gumball-sized clusters, this raisin bran is like the beefy lunk at the gym who looks down on the pithy fragments of other raisin brans (maybe I was testing the wrong cereal for performance-enhancing raisins).
The flakes are crunchier than a bowl of Native American arrowheads, and they have a hearty blend of wheat, oat, and bran flavor. It’s very “real” tasting; the malty glaze on every flake is a pleasant, refreshing break from the artificial sugar stickiness of some other raisin bran flakes.
The raisins are also free from the hyper-sugared coating characteristic of other bran-ds. They have a tangy skin and exude a winey juiciness when chewed. However, they are very chewy—almost to a fault. I’ve lost count of how many times my cereal referee has had to call timeout while I dislodged a rogue raisin from the deepest crevasses of my molars.
Wait, you mean you guys don’t have a full time cereal referee on staff?
But the clusters. Oh, man (or should I say “oh, bran”), the clusters. These magical chunks of wonder have a strong, earthy initial crunch, but immediately break down into an oat and honey graham flavored pile of delicious and soft detritus. There’s no sticky chew like in Raisin Bran Crunch.
And things get even better in milk. The now moist and crumbly clusters take on a doughy and gritty texture. Mixed with the flakes and raisins, the whole experience is like a bowl of oatmeal raisin cookie dough that someone spilled a bunch of honey Teddy Grahams into.
Since I couldn’t even dream of a compliment higher than “Teddy Graham-stuffed oatmeal raisin cookie dough,” it goes without saying that Trader Joe’s Organic Raisin Bran Clusters is amazing and has earned a place in my personal raisin bran pantheon.
Will it dethrone Raisin Bran Crunch? I don’t think so. The two are different enough that pitting them against each other would be like comparing dehydrated apples to dehydrated oranges. There’s room enough in my pantry for two.
Who knows, maybe if I stick the two boxes close to each other long enough, they’ll make the greatest raisin bran lovechild known to man?
The Box: Trader Joe’s Organic Raisin Bran Clusters
The Breakdown: Malted flakes, tangy raisins, and crunchy cookie dough-esque clusters make for a bran brand that stands above the rest.
The Bottom Line: 10 mooing, grazing purple carrots out of 10