What's for breakfast?

Imagine you'VE gone to a foreign country. In the morning, you wake upand you're really hungry....

Want a pickled plum for breakfast? Umeboshi from Japan are said to be so sour they lift your scalp, shoot lightning down your spine, and shrivel your toes. Umeboshi are eaten in Japan for breakfast before drinking Miso-Shiru (miso soup).

Miso, a paste of fermented soybeans, tastes better the older it gets. Stored in wooden vats, miso can be kept for 10 years without spoiling. In Korea, everyone puts miso in the bottom of their bowl, pours in hot water, and adds seaweed, tofu, fish, onions, or chili peppers. That would wake up anyone!

The name "breakfast" says exactly what it is. To "fast" means to not eat. Breakfast breaks the fast of not having eaten all night. Ancient cave drawings in France show people around a campfire breaking the fast together. Scientists believe the invention of fire changed breakfast and the way humans ate.

And boy, oh boy, has it changed! In the 1880s, the president of a railroad company in the United States wrote home to his wife about his breakfast: two trout, bacon, lamb chops, fried potatoes and tomatoes, biscuits with honey, fried eggs and ham, a stack of griddle cakes and sausages with maple syrup. The man added, "Cook sent out to see if I wanted apple pie. I was near to full, but I had a piece, [so as] not to hurt his feelings."

Today, many people start their day with just a hot drink and a roll. In North America, France, Italy, and even much of South and Central America, this has become the habit. Often, however, these small breakfasts are followed later in the morning with more food - almost two breakfasts.

Around the world, street vendors and food stalls sell morning food. In Italy, there's breakfast pizza; in Egypt, fava beans with pita bread. (Egyptian vendors cook eggs in their shells in the beans, which turns the eggs brown.) Congee (rice boiled in water until it's thick and soupy) is sold on the streets of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China. Locals spice up congee with fish or hot-pepper sauce.

In the highlands of New Guinea, a large island north of Australia, Pacific, a traditional breakfast is a piece of Kau Kau (sweet potato) pulled from the hot coals of a fire. Children sometimes walk to school with their Kau Kau on the end of a stick they carry on their shoulder.

On the Ivory Coast of Africa, a favorite dish is yam - not ham - and eggs. The yam is browned and mashed until it's about half-an-inch thick. Then it's salted and sprinkled with chili powder. The eggs are placed on top, and the whole dish is cooked in the oven until the eggs are done.

Of course, Australians can't live without Vegemite, a dark-brown extract from yeast, which they spread on toast. Enjoyed by schoolchildren and adults across the land Down Under, Vegemite tastes pretty awful to anyone not used to it. (Then again, so is peanut butter to many non-Americans!)

Although each region has traditional breakfast dishes, ready-to-eat cereal is eaten by millions of people worldwide. Which country eats the most? Ireland. People in Ireland eat 17 pounds of dry cereal per person per year, on average. Americans eat 10 pounds per person. Brazilians eat only one ounce.

The invention of cold cereal made history and millionaires. At the turn of the last century in America, there was a lot of excitement in Battle Creek, Mich. Forty different companies were racing to sell their new breakfast food. The discovery of the Kellogg brothers and the selling imagination of C.W. Post led to this frenzy.

John Kellogg ran the Battle Creek Sanitarium. Dr. Kellogg believed that heavy breakfasts (like the railroad president's) were bad for people and that they should eat only vegetables and grains. His sanitarium served grain cereals. In those days, cold cereal was made by making thin biscuits, baking them, crushing them, and then baking the crumbs again. The crumbs were so tough that they had to be soaked overnight in order to be chewable the next day.

IN MOST homes at this time, a porridge of oats or wheat was cooked overnight and served warm for breakfast. Dr. Kellogg wanted a cereal that was ready to eat and could be kept in a box. His younger brother, Will Keith, worked with him to invent this new food. In 1894, the brothers made a mistake and left a batch of soaked wheat kernels out overnight. The next day, they discovered that when the damp wheat berries were pushed through rollers, each made a flake. They called it Granose and sold it as a health food.

One of their guests, C.W. Post, was an entrepreneur, a person interested in starting new businesses. He tried to talk Dr. Kellogg into going into business with him to make and sell a coffee-like drink made from grain. Kellogg wasn't interested. C.W. Post went off to the other end of Battle Creek and started his own company.

First, Post invented Postum, a hot drink made from toasted grains. Then, in 1897, he invented Grape-Nuts, named for the grape sugar added to them and their nutty taste. Mr. Post's real genius lay in advertising. His ads declared that Grape-Nuts could cure anything from divorce to juvenile delinquency to physical ills. His success brought the cereal boom to Battle Creek.

Will Keith Kellogg watched these changes and decided to make his own. In 1906, he started a company to sell his new invention: Corn Flakes. His brother, John, was not happy with the new cereal. Will had used some sugar and advertised his product as a breakfast food, not a health food. John didn't want his well-known Kellogg name being used this way. The brothers fought over the Kellogg name in court until 1920, when Will won.

Today, breakfast is changing worldwide. A girl in Italy eats Kellogg's Rice Krispies that say "Pif! Pof! Paf!" Across the ocean, a boy in the United States nibbles his father's Italian biscotti. One thing has not changed. The story of breakfast shows that good food has always traveled far!

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