What Is Cream of Wheat?

There are a lot of modern food debates. Is a hotdog a sandwich? Does pineapple belong on pizza? But there’s one debate that I think we can put to bed. The modern debate of “is cereal soup” blissfully ignores the existence of Cream of Wheat, which is so clearly breakfast soup it’s not even an issue anymore. But besides breakfast soup, what exactly is Cream of Wheat? And why has it been forgotten in the cereal/soup discourse?

What is Cream of Wheat?

Cream of Wheat was born out of capitalistic ingenuity and panic. Right before the turn of the 20th century, the United States suffered one of its many economic downswings, which resulted in a decreased demand for basic goods like flour. The Diamond Milling Company in North Dakota was in the flour-selling business, so things weren’t looking so hot for them. So, an enterprising employee pitched the idea of using “wheat middlings,” which is a part of wheat that is discarded in the process of making flour.

The Diamond Milling Company ground the wheat middlings into a powder called farina. When the farina was added to hot water or milk, it would begin to thicken. Toss in some sugar or salt to taste, and you’ve got breakfast soup. Cream of Wheat was instantly popular, so much so that eventually The Diamond Milling Company changed their name to the Cream of Wheat Company.

Today, Cream of Wheat is sold in boxes and in single-serving pouches. There are various preparation times for it: 8 minutes, 2 1/2 minutes, 1 minute, and even instant Cream of Wheat. There are also various added flavors, including cinnamon or maple brown sugar.

Cream of Wheat vs Oatmeal vs Grits

Cream of Wheat, oatmeal, and grits all fall under the blanket description of porridge: any starchy grain that is mashed up and cooked with hot water or milk. However, they differ based on their ingredients and consistency.

Cream of Wheat is, obviously, made of wheat and definitely the smoothest of the bunch. More often than not, it’s served with added sugar. However, it’s a pretty neutral base, so you could add something like hot sauce or sriracha to it.

Oatmeal is made of oats (duh). Specifically, they are dried and unprocessed oats, which gives oatmeal a thicker, more complex texture. Also often served sweet or with added fruits, oats tend to have higher fiber content than wheat, which makes a breakfast of oatmeal feel more substantive.

For whatever reason, a lot of people are Googling the question, “Is Cream of Wheat grits?” The answer is definitely no. Grits are made from cornmeal or hominy and have their origins in Native American food; they’ve become an essential part of the breakfast tradition in the American South. They have a consistency somewhere between Cream of Wheat and oatmeal while still having similar preparation methods: grain added to hot water or milk. However, there is a great divide over whether grits should be served sweet or savory. Some people scoff at the idea of sweet grits, preferring to adorn their grits with butter, cheese, bacon, sausage, and even shrimp.

Is Cream of Wheat gluten-free?

Well, it’s got wheat in the name, so… absolutely not. However, there is something called Cream of Rice, which has a similar taste, consistency, and is gluten-free. Millet is a gluten-free base used to make a lot of porridges all around the world, including countries in East Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Sorghum is also gluten-free, is used in a lot of cereals, and can easily be turned into a porridge. So for those gluten-free people who are just dying to try Cream of Wheat, there are plenty of alternatives out there for you. Or, if you’re still hung up on the cereal/soup debate, expand your mind and try all of these. You’ll finally be convinced that there is a breakfast soup out there.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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