Find out which had the best texture, which was the most appley, and which was most reminiscent of first grade.
Kirkland Signature (Costco)
You know what, the apples don't taste all that fake here. "Like warm apple pie," said one taster. They're juicier than expected. If you're looking for the most pie-esque, this is what you want. It's definitely sweet, but easily diluted with a little pour of milk.
365 Whole Foods
Like the Kirkland Signature, the Whole Foods 365 brand was more appley than expected. "Good apple-cinnamon balance," said one taster. Pretty juicy too. But the eternal instant oatmeal conundrum: texture. It's sadly gluey.
The tartest of all the brands we tried. If there's such thing as apple variety when it comes to instant flavors, this would be the Granny Smith. Not too sweet; a rarity in this tasting. We appreciated that you could see real oat-sized oats instead of just oat shreds in a pile of goop. They stay pretty firm, chewy, and loose, instead of goopifying. According to the box, these should be cooked in the microwave, so don't just add boiling water. The pouch doubles as a measuring cup for the cold water before you zap it for 90 seconds.
Oh, nostalgia. Did we guess this was Quaker in the blind tasting? Sure did. Heavy on the cinnamon with fake-tasting apple bits, this reminded us of breakfast before elementary school. "Too sweet," said one taster. But being reminded of the back seat of the Volvo station wagon (the very back one, where you face the driver behind you) en route to Mrs. Gilpin's class? That's priceless. If you need a stroll down memory lane, go for it, otherwise this one didn't impress us.
Smoky applewood chips? There was something a little off happening here. A few tasters suggested cardboard. It was also salty. This one didn't do it for us. Note: this was actually "Maple Apple Spice" not just straight "Apple Cinnamon." We decided to put it in this category instead of with the Maple Brown Sugars.
We had to double-check that we didn't accidentally grab one of the "Original" flavors here. Where you at, apples? Bueller? Cinnamon was definitely in attendance, but no real showing of apple. "Not enough apple!" wrote tasters. If you're anti-apple and for some reason find yourself buying Apple Cinnamon oatmeal.. then this one's for you. The texture was dry; we wanted it to be creamier.
With hints of salt and artificial butter juices, this was the most reminiscent of movie theater popcorn. It was almost savory. The texture was smeary, not the plump oats we hoped for. It could use more cinnamon too.
Another disappointing performance from McCann's. It suffered from all the same unwanted qualities as its cousin, the "Original" flavor, did. Gluey, pasty, sticky. The apple bits don't have much flavor either. Stick to the Irish oatmeal's brand of old-fashioned oats and steel-cut oats from the canister.
Better Oats (Winner)
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, 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!
Trader Joe's (Winner)
Ah, finally one we'd take a second scoop of. 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. We wanted more cinnamon, but would be happy just grabbing our shaker from the spice pantry and adding it ourselves.