Apple Jacks cereal rings

Invented in 1965 by Kellogg’s, Apple Jacks has been a firm favorite on breakfast tables for decades. Over the years, the crunchy orange and green cereal has taken many forms and featured a cast of mascots. Originally round, Apple Jacks has also assumed a variety of temporary shapes including carrots, ghouls, and bats. One thing that’s remained, however, is the cereal’s distinctive green box — a feature that makes the product easy to locate amid the plethora of other breakfast treats on supermarket shelves.

Described by Kellogg’s as a "crunchy, sweetened three-grain cereal with apple and cinnamon," Apple Jacks has managed to maintain a solid fan base for close to six decades. And the colorful cereal pieces and appealing mascots aren’t just a hit with children. The cereal’s distinctive flavor and smell conjure pangs of nostalgia for many an adult. However, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. Despite its popularity, Apple Jacks’ nutritional value is questionable. Eat This, Not That recently ranked Apple Jacks as second-worst in a lineup of 28 kinds of cereal for its high sugar content, and hydrogenated oil, BHT, color, and flavor additives. Read on to learn more about this popular breakfast treat.

Apple Jacks was created by a Kellogg’s intern

Boxes of Apple Jacks cereal

Apple Jacks was created by William Thilly, a former Kellogg’s intern who is currently a professor of genetics, toxicology, and biological engineering at MIT. And it all started with an experiment gone wrong. Back in 1965, Kellogg’s was working on developing a new snack when somebody neglected to connect the cable to a machine that produced cheese liquid, leading to a high-pressure cheese explosion that covered the entire research area. The diligent intern that he was, Thilly worked after hours to steam the cheese off the research equipment. And Kellogg’s was grateful. "They doubled my pay, put me on my own, and said, ‘What would you like to create?’," Thilly told Extra Crispy.

Raised on a farm, Thilly’s mind immediately turned to apples. When a co-worker showed Thilly some Os from a discontinued Kellogg’s brand, the idea for Apple Jacks was born. "First, we tried dried applesauce, but the cereal stuck together and sank to the bottom of the bowl," Thilly said. At the end of the day, the secret of the Apple Jacks’ recipe turned out to be a combination of the discontinued Os, a dried apple product sold in California at the time, and cinnamon.

Apple Jacks doesn’t taste like apples

Fresh red apples

Despite its name and the initial focus on apples, Apple Jacks tastes nothing like the sweet and tart fruit. In fact, the brand doesn’t even seem to pretend that the breakfast cereal should taste anything like apples. A case in point is a 2000s advertising campaign that proudly proclaimed, "Apple Jacks don’t taste like apples because the taste of sweet cinnamon is the winner, mon" (via Los Angeles Times). One of the brand’s more recent inventions — Frosted Flakes and Apple Jacks — follows the no-apple-taste trend. The cereal is simply a mashup of the two breakfast treats.

Since Apple Jacks doesn’t taste like apples, many consumers have been asking the obvious question — does the cereal actually contain apples? As it turns out, Apple Jacks does contain apples, although they appear on the product’s ingredients list below sugar, salt, and flour. According to the label, Apple Jacks contains an undetermined quantity of dried apples and apple juice concentrate.

The Apple Jacks flavor is hard to pin down

Sugar cubes

So if Apple Jacks does not taste like apples, what does it taste like? As a matter of fact, many have found describing the flavor of the snack tricky, to say the least. When pastry chef and multiple nominee for the James Beard Award, Cynthia Wong was asked the question by Extra Crispy, this was her response: "Besides sugar? Maybe some cinnamon, some malt syrup. Definitely sugar."

Perhaps it’s fair to say that Apple Jacks tastes exactly like, well, Apple Jacks. And for many, including writer Stephanie Burt, the undefinable taste and smell of the breakfast cereal are associated with a certain sense of nostalgia. "My mother was an enthusiastic saver of labels and box bottoms for rebates, so I went to school with a Kellogg’s [Apple Jacks] pencil case … Maybe it was the taste, maybe it was the scent, the memory of mornings at the dining room table in front of the picture window, or hell, all that and the pencil case propaganda too, but my heart belonged to the pink cereal," she says. We’re sure more than a few breakfast cereal fans can relate.

Apple Jacks has had numerous spin-offs

Apple Jacks Halloween edition boxes

Apple Jacks has changed over the years. Not only was it initially called Apple O’s — the name was changed to Apple Jacks in 1971 — but the cereal was also once all orange. The green O-shaped pieces were not introduced until 1998. Over the years, the green pieces have changed color and shape for limited periods of time. For instance, they were transformed into blue carrots in 2003 and into figure-eights in 2005 (via We Are Cereal).

Apple Jacks has also appeared in various flavors. Perhaps one of the most famous Apple Jacks spin-offs has been Apple Jacks with Marshmallows. A Halloween limited edition of the cereal even came with white marshmallow pieces that could be built into a skeleton. Continuing the Halloween theme, Apple Jacks With Spooky Marshmallows featured marshmallow pieces shapes like bats, ghosts, and Frankenstein heads. Last but not least, Apple Jacks Gliders added blue triangles to the orange and green-hued cereal pieces (via Snack History).

Apple Jacks Caramel left cereal connoisseurs unimpressed

Apple Jacks Caramel cereal box

Apple Jack’s latest spin-off, Apple Jacks Caramel, didn’t make a huge impression on cereal enthusiasts. Released in June 2020, the cereal replaced the cinnamon flavor of the original Apple Jacks with the taste of caramel. Many were looking forward to the new breakfast offering. Caitlyn Fitzpatrick noted in Best, that it was attention-grabbing news for fans of the cereal, particularly since the brand doesn’t see spin-off flavors quite as often as Kellogg’s launches other new cereals, saying it was "definitely a treat!"

Despite the anticipation, Apple Jacks Caramel’s new flavor combination left many underwhelmed. Jamelle Bouie from Serious Eats said that the cereal was "quite possibly, the worst thing I’ve ever eaten." According to Bouie, the "fake caramel" taste made the breakfast snack intolerable. And it didn’t help that the cereal smelled terrible and got soggy too fast. Apple Jacks Caramel also received a low rating from Walmart shoppers, with one customer commenting, "Figured I would try it because I love caramel and I love Apple Jacks.. bad choice!! They did not taste like caramel. Left a horrible aftertaste. Just the smell, it smelled all wrong!"

Apple Jacks has had many different mascots

Apple Jacks crashers cereal shapes

Kellogg’s has used numerous mascots to promote Apple Jacks, with the first one appearing in the mid-1960s shortly after the cereal was invented. Apple Guy was a smiling red apple with a hat and a bowtie. The second mascot was a car with cereal pieces in place of wheels. In 1971, Kellogg’s came up with The Apple Jacks Kids, a simple hand-drawn boy and girl. The duo remained the brand’s mascot for the next 21 years (via We Are Cereal).

In 2004, Kellogg’s introduced Bad Apple, a grouchy animated apple character that hangs out in alleyways. His counterpart, CinnaMon was a laid-back, happy cinnamon stick. The competitive duo was often depicted in a race to a bowl of Apple Jacks. Despite Bad Apple’s sneaky personality, CinnaMon was always the faster of the two. In 2007, the two mascots were fused together in an advertisement that saw Bad Apple crushing into CinnaMon after parachuting out of a plane. The mascot was later used as the shape of the cereal pieces in the limited edition Apple Jacks Crashers.