Grab Your Spoons
Here are the results from the "Original" flavored instant oatmeal tasting. Whether you prefer thick or runny, you should find one that suits your morning craving here.
Sold exclusively to Whole Food markets, Three Sisters is relatively new to the instant scene—it just launched a line of four flavors in the spring of 2010. Like the 365 brand, this one contains flax seeds, as well as barley, rye, and quinoa. Yes, this was the least "Original" in the Original category, but one of our favorites. All the grains gave it a chewable nuttiness that tasted toasted and adequately salted. You could also see the oats without a magnifying glass—it wasn't a pile of oat dust! 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.
First of all, if you buy the variety pack from Costco, you're stuck with about 722 instant oatmeal pouches. Well, more like 55, which includes the 7 Originals plus 16 Maple Brown Sugars, 12 Apple Cinnamons, 10 Cinnamon Rolls, and 10 Chocolate Chips (more dessert than breakfast). But, back to the Original. It's a little gloopy but the flavor's not bad. It tastes like...oatmeal! It's neither too salty nor artificial-tasting. But to repeat, the texture is not ideal. It suffers from that pasty stickiness a bit.
Bob's Red Mill
This Oregon-based mill has an extensive line of bagged grains: whole-wheat flours, hull-less barley, flaxseeds, rye berries, and obviously oats. This one isn't conveniently divvied into brown paper pouches. You'll have to measure the servings out yourself—kind of scary! It's another one that's on the watery side if you follow the recommended water ratios, but "watery in a good way," said one taster. It binds better than Arrowhead Mills does. Smooth "like baby food," said another taster. You could probably drink this from a straw if you wanted to. It isn't nutty or salty; it's pretty bland, actually. Toppings are extremely recommended.
Many of us buy this brand of Irish oatmeal on a regular basis, and even stock it above of our desks (for those days when we're craving something that's not a doughnut or sandwich, two of the most common foods found in our office). But we were shocked it didn't perform better in the tasting. Too salty, agreed tasters—and this is coming from a band of serious salt fiends. It was one of those rare instances where the salt just didn't belong. Sticky, stretchy, wet cement-y. Also, if you stare at it for too long, it looks eerily similar to hummus.
You'd think that with "nature" in the brand name, they'd know a thing or two about oats, no? Pasty and resembling tuna, this one wasn't for us. There's no real oat integrity; the oat shreds just fade in the mush. As for flavor notes, we got plastic and cardboard. "Tastes like summer camp, AKA gluey," said another taster. So.. plastic, cardboard, and glue. Not exactly something we want to spoon up in the morning.
Runny oatmeal enthusiasts out there (you exist, right?) this one's for you. After preparing this, we had to check the box again to make sure we didn't add too much water. (Nope, a half cup just like the others.) But it was by far the runniest. Where are you running to, little oats? Even after several stirs, they didn't really absorb the water. The flavor was bitter and cardboard reminiscent. If you added plenty of toppings to mask that, maybe it wouldn't be as much of a problem.
365 Whole Foods (Winner)
So this wasn't the straight-up "Original." It's somewhere between Original and Maple Brown Sugar. This is for people who aren't ready to commit to the sweetness of MBS, but are craving something beyond nothing-flavored. Creamy without being gooey, 365 had the best texture, hands down. It was one of the few instant oatmeals that doesn't suffer from that pasty clearly-from-a-pouch texture. The oats are big, not pulverized into flecks like many of the others.
This is sort of like Heinz winning a ketchup tasting but hey, we can't argue with the numbers. There had to be some nostalgia working for our white-haired Quaker friend (who is technically not William Penn) but he's also perfected the craft of instant oatmeal. To clarify, this doesn't taste like "real" stovetop oatmeal. It knows that it's instant; it's not trying to be a fakester. But the oats puff up without turning into glue, and they have a salty punch. "Too salty," said some tasters. We recommend this one as a base for doctoring up with fruit, nuts, granola, and other toppings.