Given the magnitude of my sweet tooth, it’s no shock that my sugary-cereal vice persists into adulthood. I eat Corn Pops for dessert, Cookie Crisp as a snack, and Apple Jacks as breakfast. But for my entire childhood, Honey Smacks held the honored position of being my Saturday-morning-cartoon cereal — that is, until 2018, when a salmonella outbreak and subsequent recall forced it out of my regular rotation. I was ready to lift the embargo, though, after I saw my mom eating what I thought were Honey Smacks while we were watching our guilty-pleasure show, Marrying Millions. But when I went to pour myself a bowl, I was surprised to find a yellow foil bag that read “Jolly Pong” on the kitchen counter next to the tteok (chewy rice cakes) and shikhye (a dessert beverage made with malted barley flour and rice).
Jolly Pong isn’t a new invention — it’s been popular in Korea for years, especially as a children’s snack, because it can be eaten without milk and dissolves quickly so it doesn’t pose a danger as a choking hazard. It even had a shout-out in Crying in H Mart, Michelle Zauner’s best-selling memoir. While Jolly Pong may look like a perfect dupe for Honey Smacks (both are made of puffed wheat), there are definite differences. When chewing Honey Smacks, you’ll notice they’re denser than their Korean doppelgänger. Beyond the heft, Jolly Pong has a matte finish, unlike Honey Smacks’ corn-syrupy shininess. The reason could be the sugar content: One cup of Honey Smacks has 18 grams, while Jolly Pong contains nine, including oligosaccharide (listed as the fourth ingredient), a sweetener that also functions as a prebiotic. While no one would mistake this for health food, the digestion-friendly element might explain why so many parents opt to feed it to their kids.
In my book, the right texture can make or break a cereal, and achieving the right kind of sogginess is paramount. Sog as an objective can be controversial, but if you enjoy a crispy-gone-soggy mouthfeel, Jolly Pong will not disappoint. It embodies the ideal sogginess: absorbent and plump, rather than disintegrating and mushy. My method for achieving optimal texture: pouring milk and letting it sit for about a minute before indulging. This creates a juicy (sorry, that’s the best word) bottom layer while leaving the top with just a hint of crispiness.
Now that I’ve admitted I like soggy cereal, it may be counterintuitive to share that I’m also persnickety about staleness. I can’t stand opening a box only to discover its contents have a sad, deflated quality. I don’t have to worry about that with Jolly Pong as it comes in 1.76-ounce bags that are almost two recommended servings (but easy to finish in one sitting). For families, there is a larger 6.98-ounce bag that’s still nowhere near the standard 18-ounce cartons that simply don’t fit in my kitchen cupboard — and would go stale before I finished them anyway.
While I’m not proud of my enduring relationship with a food primarily marketed to schoolchildren, I do love reminiscing about a time when watching CatDog and rotting my teeth was the best morning I could imagine. And even though I discovered Jolly Pong recently, I’ve already enjoyed many bowls with my mom, whose sweet tooth I seem to have inherited. I used to think of myself as a cereal veteran, but I’m happy to say Jolly Pong has shaken me out of my complacency — and I’ll be on the hunt for the new frontiers of wheat, corn, and rice in all their wondrous forms.
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