Taste Tests

We taste the leading brands to find the distinct differences and rate them with tasting scores.

Taste Test: Instant Oatmeal, Original Flavor

Slideshow SLIDESHOW: Taste Test: Instant Oatmeal, Original Flavor

[Photographs: Jessica Leibowitz]

The Winners!

Original Flavor: Quaker
Not Totally Original: 365 Whole Foods (with Flax!)

Before we get into the tasting results, let's be clear on one thing: making oatmeal the old-fashioned way (in a pot, on the stove) is the preferred method. But sometimes you're already 15 minutes late, or there's no stovetop in sight. Or both, not to mention any clean cooking vessels. Instant oatmeal has saved many a morning hunger pang and it doesn't take much longer to make than ripping open a Pop-Tart.

For the most part, it's healthier than a Pop-Tart too, though the flavored varieties can be chock-full of artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and dehydrated fruit bits.

But we scoured the grocery aisles in search of a satisfying instant oatmeal. Does it exist? Do they all turn into a pile of blobby mush? Do any resemble the texture of the stovetop method? Any that'd be good for doctoring up with fresh berries, banana slices, and a cold pour of milk?

This is the first post in a three-part tasting series on instant oatmeal. We'll start with the "Regular" flavor and get to Maple Brown Sugar and Apple Cinnamon* later this week.

* Apologies, but the dinosaur oatmeal (where the sugar eggs dissolve in hot water and leave behind dino sprinkles) didn't fit into any of the above categories.

Brands We Tried

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

The Criteria

The goal, of course, is to taste like the real-deal version from the stovetop. Smooth with slightly chewy oats and a toasted, nutty flavor. Then again, we knew it'd be tough for these to actually achieve that stirred-with-a-wooden-spoon-over-lowheat glory.

We stuck to the "Original" flavor but also opened the category up to those containing flax seed and other grains. Maybe that was cheating since they do add a flavor and texture twist, but in these instances, the brands didn't sell a plainer, original-er alternative. We drew the line at cinnamon and honey—that was pushing the bounds of "Original."

Why the Losers Lost

Too gluey and gloppy. Some turned into such a thick oat paste, you could hardly pick out any discernible oats. Is that hummus or oatmeal? You probably shouldn't be asking yourself that. On the other end of the spectrum, some brands didn't absorb the boiling water and remained raw and runny, even after multiple stirs. As for negative tasting notes, examples included sawdust to plastic and cardboard.

We Got 600% of Our Recommended Daily Fiber Intake That Morning!

Instant Oatmeal Tasting

Here's the tasting crew hard at work. Note: we didn't eat again until at least 4 PM.

Our Favorites

Quaker

Best Classic "Regular": Quaker

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, according to Quaker's FAQ page) 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," noted some tasters. We recommend this one as a base for doctoring up with fruit, nuts, granola, and other toppings.

365 Whole Foods

Best "Oats with Flax": 365 Whole Foods

So this wasn't the straight-up "Regular." It's somewhere between Regular 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.

We'd Still Eat These

Three Sisters »
Kirkland Signature (Costco) »
Bob's Red Mill »

Not For Us, But Maybe For You

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

* It breaks my Irish heart that McCann's did so poorly in this tasting. I grew up eating this, and still throw it into the grocery basket. This was the most shocking discovery in the tasting.

Quick Instant Oatmeal Hack

A tip from New York Times columnist Mark Bittman:

If you don't want to bother with the stove at all, you could put some rolled oats (instant not necessary) in a glass or bowl, along with a teeny pinch of salt, sugar or maple syrup or honey, maybe some dried fruit. Add milk and let stand for a minute (or 10). Eat. Eat while you're walking around getting dressed.

Got More Than a Few Minutes?

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Oatmeal with Honeyed Figs »
French Toast and Banana Nut Oatmeal »
Baked Oatmeal »
Mark Bittman's Savory Oatmeal with Scallions and Soy Sauce »

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