Oatmeal. It all tastes the same, right? It’s just oats and water. So it certainly should taste the same. And yet, I had to wonder if I lined up a bunch of bowls and tasted my way through, maybe, just maybe…yeah, it mostly does taste the same. But, as the Sporked team found during our heart-healthy tasting, there are some important differences between the brands.
To test these specimens, I made bowlfuls of oatmeal according to the packaging instructions via the microwave—because to me, instant means instant. I’m not waiting for water to boil when I am hungry enough for a hearty bowl of oatmeal. The group—made up of both oatmeal lovers (me) and oatmeal haters (Sporked writer Jordan Myrick)—tasted them plain in order to truly experience the oatmeal-ness of the oatmeal. Was it the most interesting taste test ever? No. But it was certainly useful. Because I am an oatmeal eater. And now, I finally know which brands to buy. You will too after reading through our list.
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- Better Oats Organic Bare
If we learned one thing during our oatmeal tasting, it was that the Sporked staff likes their oatmeal to have texture. And this one is a texture-lover’s paradise (as much as one can describe plain oatmeal as paradise). That’s because it features not just oats but also barley, wheat, rye, and quinoa. It’s a cornucopia of grains! It’s hearty, with a wonderful depth of flavor and even a touch of acidity (from the rye, perhaps). If you want to start your day with oatmeal that has personality in every bite, this is the one for you.
Credit: Ryan Martin / Amazon
- Bob’s Red Mill Instant Oatmeal Classic
As of April, 2020, Bob’s is an employee-owned company, which rocks. The natural foods maker presents itself as a wholesome source of better-for-you whole grain products, and it seems to follow through. It’s one of my go-tos and, despite its reputation for high prices, it’s not that much more expensive than the competitors. The oatmeal didn’t disappoint. It has a nice texture, which Sporked writer Danny Palumbo described as “dense, chewy, very chewy,” and Jordan, the aforementioned avowed oatmeal hater, gave it a ringing endorsement by announcing, “I don’t hate it.” The oats stay somewhat whole while cooking, so it’s not pure mush. It’s stick-to-your-ribs oatmeal; perfect for those 5 a.m. meals before plowing the fields…or rolling onto the side of your bed you now refer to as your “office.”
Credit: Ryan Martin / Amazon
- Quaker Instant Oatmeal Original
You can always count on Larry (the name of Quaker’s mascot, if you weren’t aware) for a quality oat product. That dapper, rosy-cheeked man is a hot bowl of oats personified. His plain, original product is cozy, creamy, and—I say this in the best way possible—bland. It’s a blank canvas for your imagination, and it’s particularly good with classic toppings like brown sugar, fresh or dried fruits, and nuts. It doesn’t get in the way; it supports those punchy flavors and textures.
Credit: Ryan Martin / Amazon
- First Street
Smart & Final’s proprietary brand is a truly oaty oatmeal. I’m not trying to be glib. It really has a lot of genuine oat flavor, making it a great bowlful for oatmeal diehards who like their bowls plain. Beyond earthy, there’s no other way to describe the flavor other than oaty. The texture is somewhere between a smooth porridge and a rougher oatmeal—just right for the Goldilocks among us who want their oatmeal just so. Take a bite, appreciate that toasty, oaty finish, and feel like you’re really eating the essences of oatmeal.
Credit: Ryan Martin / Smart & Final
- Great Value Original Instant Oatmeal
What can we say about Walmart’s signature, proprietary oatmeal? It is, as the brand name suggests, a great value. It cost us just over $1.50 for a box of 12 packs. That’s a good deal for a filling breakfast. The oatmeal itself is great if basic. It’s smoother than some of the others, with smaller oats, but manages to retain some pleasant chewiness. This is oatmeal to fuel your day. You eat it. It’s good. You get on with your life. Perfectly functional at a very reasonable price.
Credit: Ryan Martin / Walmart
- Kroger Original Oats Instant Oatmeal
I am a savory oatmeal person. I usually skip the sugar and fruit, and instead combine soy sauce and chili crisp in my bowl, or maybe grate some parmesan cheese over it. If you’re like me, then this could be your new favorite oatmeal. It starts out savory—no sprinkle of sea salt needed. Of course, you could always add to it if your salty tooth craves even more umami. Slice up some cherry tomatoes and stir them in with just a touch of grated asiago. Or shake on some chili powder for a hit of spice. This surprisingly savory oatmeal opens the door for us salty oatmeal eaters.
Credit: Ryan Martin / Kroger
- Good + Gather Organic Plain Instant Oatmeal
When you need to take your oatmeal out on the town or you’re packing for a camping trip, reach for Target’s instant oatmeal cups. First, let’s start with the appearance. The Good & Gather branding is undeniably appealing, so you can feel good about eating your disposable cup of mush in public. It’s also a generous portion, so you don’t have to worry about not packing enough for breakfast. This will fill you up. I promise. The oats are on the finer end, so you get a smoother porridge feel. It’s a touch sweet, but you can still easily add a few dried cranberries and shaved almonds. Big as the serving is, there’s room for some toppings.
Credit: Ryan Martin / Target
Best of the Best
Best Beloved Company
Best for Sugar and Fruit
Best on the Cheap
Best for Savory Oatmeal
Best on the Go
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