'Instant oatmeal is no good," said my dad during our Father's Day chat. "It's like wallpaper paste, gooey, yuck," he said. He is an expert on oatmeal. For most of his 80 years, he has eaten old-fashioned rolled oats for breakfast, out of the cooking pot, standing over the sink. "It sticks with you," he would lecture us kids. "It'll keep you satisfied until lunch."
His wisdom has certainly stuck with me. I want a heartier breakfast in this house; an hour after eating cold cereal, my kids are looking for more grub. We used to scarf a lot of eggs, but husband Patrick and I tested high for cholesterol recently. I've heard oatmeal helps reduce cholesterol, and the times I've taken the ten minutes to make old-fashioned oats, Patrick and the kids have loved it. But I am looking for the quick breakfast. I had to find out if there is any instant oatmeal that is as good as the old-fashioned.I started my search online, trying to hammer down the different varieties.
"Rolled oats is one of the few cereals that is a whole grain in its most commonly eaten form -- oatmeal! Oats harvested from the field have their inedible outer hull mechanically removed, and the bran, endosperm, and germ remain intact. The oats are then steamed and roasted. The whole oat is then either rolled flat -- to become old-fashioned oats -- or cut into pieces and rolled -- to make quick and instant rolled oats" (quakeroats.com).
What about the boxes that read "steel-cut"?
"These are groats that have been chopped into small pieces. They're chewier than rolled oats" (foodsubs.com).
Groats? I was feeling quite ignorant on the oatmeal front. "Oat groats (or whole oats)," this also from foodsubs.com, "are minimally processed -- only the outer hull is removed."
Armed with this info, I hit Ralphs, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods and bought all the regular-flavored instant oatmeal brands they offered. If a brand didn't carry the regular flavor oatmeal, I picked up the brown sugar flavor. And I also threw in two canisters of quick oats. Since they only take a minute, I wanted to compare them with their instant counterparts.
Patrick and I sat down to some steaming bowls of oats. We prepared most by adding boiling water, the others in the microwave. No reason to dirty a pot with stovetop cooking -- it's ease that I'm after. Erewhon Organic Instant Oatmeal ($3.29 for eight packets at Whole Foods) was near flavorless, and it ranked the worst in texture. "It comes out like cookie dough; one big glob of oatmeal," Patrick complained.
Nature's Path Organic Instant Hot Oatmeal ($3.49 for eight packets at Whole Foods) looked like rolled oats but Patrick didn't like the texture. "Though it has good oatsy flavor, the texture is too pasty. It reminds me of the Elmer's paste we used in grammar school."
Arrowhead Mills Instant organic from steel-cut oats ($3.59 for ten packets at Whole Foods) was a keeper, with perfect chewy texture and a strong oats taste. "Though I never find the flavor to be as rich as the rolled oats, as far as instant varieties go, this one is good," Patrick remarked.
We both also liked Mother's Instant Oatmeal ($1.99 for eight servings at Whole Foods), which burst with the grainy flavor, though I was not thrilled that it didn't come in individual packets. When it comes to instant, who wants to drag out the measuring cup?
Ralphs store brand regular flavor instant oatmeal (two boxes of 12 packets each for $7.00) was too sticky. "I'm licking it off the back of my teeth," noted Patrick. "Though the flavor is good, it's an annoying eating experience."
"I'm lost without the directions on this packet," I said, searching for the box of Trader Joe's Oatmeal Complete ($2.99 for eight packets). The oatmeal cooked up a pasty, sticky mess. Not worth the work.
Quaker Instant Oatmeal ($4.59 for 12 packets at Ralphs) suffered from chalky texture. "Tastes like wet flour," said Patrick. We put that in the useless pile.
"This must be good," chuckled my Irish husband, picking up the box of McCann's Instant Irish Oatmeal ($2.69 for ten packets at Trader Joe's). But we were both disappointed. "It's like regurgitated oatmeal, and nobody likes that," I joked. Patrick was too busy trying to pick the gluey oatmeal paste off his molars to laugh. We set it aside as well.
Our last two oatmeal boxes had brown maple flavoring. Kashi Heart to Heart ($2.99 for eight packets at Trader Joe's) tasted like yams. "I can't get past the artificial aftertaste," I noticed.
Take Heart by Quaker Oats ($4.59 for eight packets at Ralphs) was like candy. "I can only taste sugar," moaned Patrick. "The kids would be on a wicked sugar high after a bowl of this," he added.
Finally we whipped up the two Quick Oats bowls for comparison purposes. They took less than minutes each to cook in the microwave, similar to the instant varieties, and I was curious about the taste difference. "Now this is what I want to smell," sniffed Patrick, nose to the bowl of Ralphs Quick Oats ($3.00 for 18 ounces). "The flavor is not quite as rich as the old-fashioned oats, but it's pleasant and oaty," he stated.
The Quaker Oats one-minute oats ($3.29 for 18 ounces at Ralphs) was also a keeper. "It's got the earthy, grainy aroma, and a bit of a chew to it, and a clean aftertaste," noted Patrick. "I still like my old-fashioned oats better, but if I have to eat instant, this will work."