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Taste Test: Instant Oatmeal, Apple Cinnamon Flavor

[Photographs: Jessica Leibowitz]

The Winners!

Best Apple Chunks: Better Oats
Best Oatmeal Texture: Trader Joe's

Earlier this week, we told you the results from our "Original" flavor instant oatmeal tasting. Going the instant route is a desperate move, and as many of you pointed out, one that can be avoided.

You really can just use pour boiling water over regular oats (not instant) then stir and let sit for a few minutes. Sure it won't be as plump and creamy as the stovetop results, but you'll avoid the instant's gloppy texture and waste of brown paper pouch packaging.

But for whatever reason (lack of caffeine, camping trip, masochism) some of us eat instant oatmeal. For the Apple Cinnamon flavor round, we were curious if any brands actually tasted like real apples. The kind with stems that grow on trees. Instead, they usually resemble that artificial, un-organic, un-heirloom apple pie filling from a can. Like if a McDonald's fried apple pie and instant oatmeal had a baby, this would pop out.

Brands We Tried

These brands are distributed in well-known retail stores across the United States:

The Criteria

The goal again is to mimic the texture and flavor of the stovetop preparation: smooth with slightly chewy oats and a toasted, nutty flavor. The Apple Cinnamon flavor often suffers from being too candy-sweet, and not actually tasting like apples. We wanted the closest thing to the tart, juicy, and just a touch sweet flavor of apples that once had stems and leaves and were picked from a tree. Also, the apple-to-cinnamon ratio should be balanced.

Why the Losers Lost

As expected, many tasted like they came from a science lab where people in white coats are developing the dehydrated apple bits with mini tweezers. Others suffered from having no apple flavor whatsoever, and being far too cinnamon-happy. And as with all instant oatmeal, texture was an issue. Too gluey and gloppy. Many turned into a thick, light brown paste.

Our Favorites

Best Apple Chunks: Better Oats

A newcomer to the instant scene, Better Oats launched in the spring of 2010 as a reaction to all the pulverized, powdery mixtures out there. They're all about having bigger pieces of fruit and bigger rolled oats. We were impressed with the chewable apple chunks and juicy cider flavor. It definitely won for Best Chunks. We also appreciated the apple-to-cinnamon equilibrium. The texture isn't stovetop caliber, that's for sure, but it was less wet-cement-pasty than its competitors, and slightly chewy. They come five packets to a box and like the Three Sisters brand, each pouch also doubles as a measuring cup for cold water before it gets the microwave treatment.

* Special thanks to SE San Diego correspondent Erin Jackson for shopping help!

Best Oatmeal Texture: Trader Joe's

Ah, finally one we took a second scoop of in the tasting. Shoot, we'd even eat a whole bowl of this. Juicy, not-too-sweet apple bits with cinnamon dots swirled throughout, this reminded us of pie filling made with real apples, not the gelatinous canned kind. After a few minutes of stirring and sitting, it became creamy but not pasty. Definitely one of the best textures; better than Better Oats. We wanted more cinnamon, but would be happy just grabbing our own shaker from the spice pantry.

We'd Still Eat These

Kirkland Signature (Costco) »
365 (Whole Foods) »
Three Sisters »

Special Nostalgia Points

Quaker »

Not For Us, But Maybe For You

Arrowhead Mills »
Nature's Path »
Kashi »
McCann's »

Or, Just Add Fresh Apple Slices to the Original Stuff?

365 Whole Foods (Winner)

Check out the results from our Original flavor instant oatmeal round »

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