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In my house, growing up, if the kiddies weren’t feeling well it was either the weather or they needed to go No. 2, or, as mom put it, “hmm- hmm’s.” Raisin bran has always had an explosive effect on me, so when I found 13 different brands, I decided that help needed to be brought in. So, on my husband Patrick’s birthday, after we ate my sweet-and-sour chicken and a chocolate cheesecake made by Bernice’s husband Frank, I imposed upon our guests to taste raisin bran.

Each guest received a marked bowl, and after shaking the box, poured out a cup and a half of bran, separated out the raisins, and counted them. The brands differed drastically, in number and quality of raisins per bowl, and shape, color, and taste of the flakes. Some were paper-thin, translucent. Others were quarter-sized, felt heavy, and were cooked to a golden brown. The raisins varied from shriveled-up morsels to sugar-coated behemoths. The dog of the bunch was the Erewhon Raisin Bran ($2.99 for a 15-oz box at Henry’s). The dark, skinny bran flakes were the size of a rice kernel or two. “This will turn to mush instantly,” Frank grimaced. “The type of people who buy raisin bran,” added my friend Sarah, “are not going to like this. The flakes are too flimsy, and the raisins are rather dried up.” However, it had a windfall of raisins. She counted out 89 raisins in her bowl. “That’s too bad,” added our eccentric millionaire bachelor friend, Joaquin. “It has quite the history on the back of the box about what Erewhon is.”

I was thrilled to see Pic ’n’ Save carried a raisin bran by Skinner ($1.49 for 15 oz). It turned out to be quite similar to the Erewhon. Minuscule, opaque, lifeless bran with 35 dried-out raisins. Not worth its cheap price. It reminded me of my six-year-old nephew David, who won’t eat any breakfast cereal. “It tastes like wood and paper,” he complains.

Ralphs raisin bran ($2.79 for 20 oz) and Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Choice Extra Raisin ($2.26 for 20 oz) tasted better than wood and paper, but not too much better. Ralphs had only 18 sugar-sweet raisins with tasteless bran and Sam’s Choice had a mere 15 raisins. Ralphs also carried a Private Selection Extra Raisin Raisin Bran ($2.61 for 20 oz). The box proclaimed 40 percent more raisins. There were 65 sugar-white raisins, and the bran was mouth parchingly dry. The raisins sparked up a controversy. “Eeeeww — these raisins are sickeningly sweet,” moaned Sarah. “No way, those raisins are perfect,” chimed in Frank.

Vons Raisin Bran cereal ($2.75 for 20 oz) had huge flakes that were chewy with a stale aftertaste. Milk didn’t soften the effect. The raisins were larger than any other brand, white with sugar, and totaled 68. “The sickening thing,” sighed my friend John, “is that I usually add sugar to this.” He sat and scratched off the layers of sugar until all that was left was a tiny, naked, shriveled-up grape.

Total Raisin Bran, packing “100 percent of your daily value of 11 vitamins and minerals including calcium,” had 75 raisins in a bowl. They also were sugar-white, and the bran had a soft chew with a slight sugary taste ($3.99 for 18 oz at Albertson’s).

Joaquin tried out the Trader Joe’s Raisin Bran. ($2.29 for 20 oz).

“There are 48 fresh and chewy raisins,” he said with mock perkiness, “but the bran is tasteless.” He moved on to the Wild Oats Wild Raisin Bran ($.99 for a 15-oz box at Henry’s). “What a fun box...ecstatic lettering, puzzles, suggestions for recycling crafts, a cartoon character on the front. Now, who wouldn’t be cheered up by this at 7:00 a.m.? And it tastes much better than Trader Joe’s. The bran is perfect, hearty, with lots of texture and a snap, a nice light golden brown. The 47 raisins balance out the healthy, hearty bran. I’m taking this one home,” he said clutching the box.

John tried out the Post Raisin Bran ($3.29 for 20 oz at Ralphs) counting out 28 raisins in his bowl. “The bran has a burst of texture on the tongue and a strong snap. The raisins are sugar-coated, but the natural raisin taste is stronger than a lot of the raisins I have been tasting. It has just the right amount per spoonful. I like two or three raisins per mouthful.”

“Oh yuck,” said Sarah, “I only like one raisin per spoonful. Do you think people tend to like more or less raisins?” And yet another point of cereal philosophy was tossed around the table.

Kellogg’s Raisin Bran ($3.39 for 20 oz at Ralphs) with its “two scoops of raisins” had 32 raisins per bowlful, a modest amount in comparison. The bran was dark and better than quarter-sized but thin and a bit mushy with milk. Still, it was less cardboard-tasting than most.

I was surprised to find that Henry’s carries a few different brands of raisin bran: the Wild Oats, Health Valley, and their own brand. Henry’s Marketplace Raisin Bran ($2.69 for a 15-oz box ) had the fewest raisins per bowl with 6, and the bran was large and hearty with white flecks in it. “Ooh, it bursts with a slight sweetness when it touches the tongue,” Sarah exclaimed while chewing. “It has great texture... more of a granola taste to it... I love it!”

“Where are the raisins in this Health Valley Organic Raisin Bran Flakes?” ($3.79 for a 13.5-oz box at Henry’s), Sarah queried as she poured herself a bowl. “This is false advertising. The picture shows raisins, and there are none in this whole bag.”

“Here it is, packaged up separately,” laughed Bernice, pulling the shiny foil package from the bottom. “‘You decide how much to add,’ it says on the package.”

“The raisins remind me of prunes,” chuckled Sarah. “Mildly sweet and moist but not sticky, not gooey. This bran is quite hearty and substantial; it definitely would not get soggy. This has the most texture that we’ve seen, and it tastes like granola too.” She counted out the total raisins in the stay-fresh package and divided up into servings. The raisins averaged 30 per serving.

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