Oatmeal Gets Its Moment in the Spotlight

Friday, March 04, 2011

Oatmeal, a humble winter breakfast food, has recently become a hot topic of conversation in the media. Food writer Mark Bittman expressed strong views on fast-food oatmeal in his recent New York Times op-ed, while Atlantic senior editor Ta-Nehisi Coates responded skeptically to Bittman’s claim that cooking oatmeal at home is more convenient.

The attention on oats is due in part to fast-food restaurants, many of which have adopted oatmeal on their menus as an obligatory nod toward healthy eating. At the behest of Last Chance Foods, Dan Pashman, one of the hosts of the Sporkful food podcast, sampled McDonald's oatmeal, which Bittman concluded was as healthy as a sausage biscuit. “It was more like an oatmeal soup,” reported Pashman (pictured below on the left). “It was like 50 percent water. It was as if they cooked it—instead of using water or cream or milk—they used simple syrup.”

On the home front, the debate between instant oatmeal versus quick cook oatmeal versus steel-cut oatmeal is ongoing. While Pashman admits that he does sometimes eat the quick-cook variety, the other of host of Sporkful, Mark Garrison (pictured below on the right) described instant oatmeal as “a wounded, dying, rabid animal” that he didn’t want in his mouth (in this Sporkful podcast). Garrison is instead a fan of steel-cut oatmeal and shares this quick preparation tip for those who gripe that it takes too long to make: “Just drop them in a little water and then the next morning you can have them in eight to 10 minutes,” Garrison says, “and they will be [that] steel-cut texture, taste and all of that.”

Pashman also recommended steel-cut oats for those new to making oatmeal at home since it's heartier than rolled oats and has a better margin for error during cooking.

“If you leave [steel-cut oatmeal] on the stove for a few minutes too long, you’re not going to ruin the whole oatmeal,” Pashman says, adding that cooked steel-cut oatmeal can also be stored in the refrigerator for a few days and refreshed with a dash of milk or water before eating. On the other hand, he points out that rolled oats require hyper-vigilance to avoid a less-than-desirable consistency: “They’re like the Fruity Pebbles of oatmeal, if you leave things in the milk for a second too long, you’re just going to have mush.” Dan Pashman and Mark Garrison

While they may agree on what kind of oatmeal makes for the best eating, Pashman and Garrison are split on the milk versus water debate. Pashman likes to add a dash of milk at the end, while Garrison avoids the milk entirely in his oats. What they do agree on is that either choice will produce healthier results than McDonald's watery, sugary version.

As evidenced in the hundreds of comments attached to Bittman’s and Coates’ oatmeal posts, this hearty breakfast cereal draws in some passionate opinions from savvy cooks. “If you’re not going to devote just a little bit of extra time, maybe you don’t deserve oatmeal,” says Garrison, who adds that cold cereal is always a fast, easy breakfast standby. “Oatmeal demands that you respect it and give it just a little bit of your time.” 

One Sporkful fan (who calls himself Andy) suggests making oatmeal with milk and seasoning it with salt, pepper and a dusting of cayenne. He then adds a layer of pesto before using a broiler to melt a layer of cheese on top. Finally, he drizzles the whole deal with olive oil before serving.

Megan, another podcast listener, likes to stir in soy sauce and peanut butter, Sriracha hot sauce, and roasted vegetables.

What are your favorite oatmeal toppings? Also, what do you think the difference between oatmeal and porridge is? Do you prefer instant, steel-cut or regular oats? Post your comments below, and anything else you'd like to add about this ubiquitous breakfast standard.


Mark Garrison and Dan Pashman

Hosted by:

Amy Eddings


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Comments [9]

Irish Oat Fan from NJ

I love the richness and taste that you get from Irish Oats. There is a new brand I found the other day called Flahavan's which tastes amazing. The pack says that they have been making oatmeal for over 200 years!

Jan. 05 2012 01:12 PM
Terry McKenna from dover nj

re porridge, gruel and sops, these words are all used to describe ways to serve grains (and other foods like legumes). some are fairly loose and some thick. it would be unfair to expect precise distinctions. thus, an old text might refer to the sops fed to peasants, and these could be loose soups or oatmeal dishes. porridge similarly was a common term for an oatmeal (cereal) breakfast. even "mush" is a similar term.

localities will use one or the other to describe similar dishes.

Mar. 06 2011 09:54 AM
Terry McKenna from Dover NJ

by the way, although the steel cut are more robust, if you just have a short time, try the quick cooking variety from McCann's. they cook in maybe 2 minutes and are tasty. by the way, cook with buttermilk and water half and half - and put butter in at the end. you'll find a whole new way to enjoy oatmeal.

Mar. 06 2011 09:49 AM
Roger Seldon

Porridge is a soup or stew made from a variety of grains or legumes. We have the old nursery rhyme, "Pease porridge hot, Pease porridge cold, Pease porridge in the pot nine days old."

Mar. 05 2011 12:34 PM
annabanana716 from brooklyn,ny

hmmm... i technically agree that oatmeal is a type of porridge but i think in practice, oatmeal i oatmeal and porridge is of small grains.... like Farina.

Mar. 04 2011 08:02 PM
Steve from Hopatcong, NJ

Irish (or steel-cut) oatmeal is much better than the rolled variety. I add walnuts and raisins toward the end of the cooking time, then stir in a little brown sugar and cinnamon.

Mar. 04 2011 07:56 PM

Purchase or order porridge in Scotland and you'll get oatmeal. Wikipedia states that porridge can be made of other grains as well, but the most common seems to be oatmeal. I've found that Scottish oatmeal has a better texture than either steel cut or rolled. I'm not sure if it's techically "crushed oats."

Mar. 04 2011 05:58 PM
SJ from NYC

Porridge is defined as any grain, cereal or legume boiled in water, milk or both and served hot. Thus, a porridge can be made from a variety of grains and cereals like oats, corn, rice, wheat, barley and so on. When a porridge is made from oats it is called as oatmeal. Similarly, porridge made from corn is called as cornmeal (polenta or grits). Thus, we can deduce that oatmeal is a type of porridge.

Mar. 04 2011 05:53 PM
taketheAtrain from Morningside Heights

In our family, each person has his or her standard oatmeal toppings. We like rolled oats or steel cut, and we always keep some homemade simple granola on hand (bake up a batch of oats with honey and/or agave, and oil), for eating on the run (or for mixing with ice cream!).

A few favorites:

mama bear orders her oatmeal with diced apple, cinnamon, raisins or dried cranberries, and milk, and sometimes yogurt.

teenage boy bear tops his big bowl of oats with peanut butter (100% peanuts, of course), honey, cinnamon, dried cranberries, and (ugh) a spoonful of chocolate malt ovaltine powder. and milk.

Mar. 04 2011 05:46 PM

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Last Chance Foods covers produce that’s about to go out of season, gives you a heads up on what’s still available at the farmers market and tells you how to keep it fresh through the winter.


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