Taste Test: Instant Oatmeal, Maple Brown Sugar Flavor

Taste Tests

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

[Photographs: Jessica Leibowitz]

The Winner!

Trader Joe's

This marks the third (and final, phew) piece in our instant oatmeal tasting series. This is probably when many of you stop being jealous of our taste tests. Dark chocolate and kettle chips are one thing, but instant oatmeal? Bleughh, right? But we're here to try them all so you don't have to.

Maple Brown Sugar, let's just call it MBS, was always the first to go in my family's variety pack. It's my earliest memory of maple—what I associated with "maple" before that sweet day I poured real Vermont Grade A syrup from a mini pitcher, so amber and thick, over pancakes.

Can MBS ever taste like the stuff from sap-flowing trees? The instant oatmeal market has sure expanded beyond our childhood pal Quaker, but are any of the newcomers an improvement? The SE quest to see if decent instant oatmeal exists continues.

Brands We Tried

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

The Criteria

We were looking for the realest maple flavor we could find, and not too throat-coating syrupy sweet. It should taste slightly more like breakfast than dessert. As with the previous instant oatmeal tastings: texture is important. We wanted the closest resemblance to the stovetop preparation: smooth, but not gluey, with slightly chewy oats.

Why the Losers Lost

Too much artificial maple powder. They ranged from blahh-bland to so sweet, we needed milk chasers in between bites. Others reminded us of sawdust and/or cardboard. Then, there's always the texture issue. Everything from runny to goopy—a very common offense for instant oatmeal, and we found some offenders again in this round.

Our Favorite: Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's (Winner)

This had the least artificial mapley flavor of all the brands. It's sweet, that's for sure, but in a syrup-topped-pancakes kind of way. It also won many points for texture. This was the closest we could find to what you'd make on the stovetop. The oats fluffed up in the hot water and didn't suffer from instant oatmeal's trademark gooeyness.

We'd Still Eat These

McCann's »
Better Oats »
Three Sisters »

Not For Us, But Maybe For You

Kashi »
Kirkland Signature (Costco) »
Nature's Path »
Quaker »
365 (Whole Foods) »

Quick Instant Oatmeal Hack

Here's a tip from New York Times columnist Mark Bittman. Try this method then just pour real maple syrup on top when you want your MBS fix.

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?


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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