Fall is my favorite season... The weather varies nicely and there are a few special treats available only at this time of year.

Over the weekend, I picked up a box of Count Chocula, one of those autumnal traditions.

The front panel features a not-very-scary rendition of the Count and the product description: "Chocolatey cereal with spooky-fun marshmallows."

This is the only item I'll willingly consume that describes itself as "chocolatey." That word usually means something automatically goes on my Do Not Touch list.

I filled a bowl with the chocolatey concoction, added some milk and prepared to savor the cereal that debuted in 1971.

But... I observed what seemed to be fewer "marshmallow" pieces in the bowl.

And... I also noticed the flavor isn't the same! I'm not sure what they've done to MY Count Chocula but it's not quite what it used to be.

The food designers at General Mills certainly have adjusted the formulation of the product.

One possible clue is on a side panel, advising that the stuff now "may be mfg." under several U.S. patent numbers, including 7,959,961.

A quick check of the Patent Office database reveals this patent was issued in 2006. It deals with "food products containing rice bran oil." Here's the abstract:

Disclosed are cooked dried farinaceous food products such as cooked cereal doughs, ready-to-eat cereals and grain based snacks fabricated from such cooked cereal doughs containing or fortified with rice bran oil supplied at least in part by non-hydrogenated rice bran oil especially high oryzanol rice bran oil. The cereals contain about 0.1 to 10% added rice bran oil. The rice bran oil ingredient can be incorporated into the dough and/or topically applied. The rice bran oil provides the processing advantages of oil addition during processing with low or now transfatty acids but with extended shelf stability. The finished fortified cereal products are not only organoleptically desirable but almost indistinguishable from their counterparts containing hydrogenated fats.

Got that? I'm quite certain the original Count Chocula did not include rice bran oil. That may be one reason why its taste has changed.

The full ingredient list is instructive, if not enticing: whole grain corn, sugar, corn meal, marshmallows (sugar, modified corn starch, corn syrup, dextrose, gelatin, red 40, yellow 5 & 6, blue 1, natural and artificial flavor), corn syrup, rice bran and/or canola oil, cocoa processed with alkali, red 40, yellow 5 & 6, blue 1 and other color added, natural and artificial flavor, trisodium phosphate. BHT added to preserve flavor.

Well, I'm sure your kids will like it, regardless of what's in it these days.

I've been trying to reduce my consumption of red 40 and blue 1. I suppose this seasonal indulgence won't hurt. Of course, Connor will not be eating any of it. After all, chocolatey isn't good for dogs. Is it?