Is there anything more comforting than a big bowl of warm, velvety, stick-to-your-ribs porridge? We think not! Whether you like your porridge sweet or savory, as a breakfast or as a dessert, this is one dish that's a comfort food classic.
Many folks think that the word oatmeal can be used interchangeably with the word porridge, and they’re not completely wrong for that! As we’re about to find out, there are many similarities between porridge and oatmeal, as well as plenty of distinctions that set these two meals apart. So, grab your favorite cozy blanket and settle in with us as we find out everything about porridge vs. oatmeal.
What is Porridge?
Porridge is a dish in which whole grains or legumes, or processed versions of either of these, are cooked in liquid (typically plain water or milk) until a thick and creamy consistency is achieved. Porridge is generally considered to be a hot cereal, but the truth is, porridge can be served hot or cold, seasoned to be sweet or savory, and adapted to fit the needs of any meal or side dish!
Many hot porridges also incorporate meats or other proteins and vegetables in order to make for a hearty meal, while other porridges might be chilled and served with sweet accompaniments for dessert.
When it comes to making porridge, the consistency of the boiled grains will be very dependent on how they are processed in their raw state. Porridge made from less processed grains tend to be chewier and taste more like the grains themselves, while grains that have undergone additional processing will result in porridge which is smoother and more uniform in texture. Porridge grains which are less processed also take longer to cook than those which have been further processed.
Types of Porridge
As you probably already know, there is a wide world of grains out there! This means that the list of porridges is equally as vast, since porridge can be made from any type of grain and/or legume. Although there are far too many varieties for us to possibly get into here, the following is a list of some of the most popular types of porridge, as well as a few you may have never heard of before.
Rice Porridge (Congee)
Congee is a porridge made from white rice, which is popular in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and many other Asian cuisines. This rice porridge is often eaten for breakfast, but also may be mixed with chicken, seafood, vegetables, or other more substantial ingredients, turning this simple rice porridge into a full and versatile meal.
Grits are a type of corn porridge which originated in the Southern United States. It’s made from corn which has been dried and ground into small particles, also called cornmeal. After the grits are cooked with water, they are often seasoned with butter and ooey-gooey-melty cheese before being served as a side or accompaniment to a meal. Shrimp and grits is an extremely popular dish in Cajun and Creole cuisine.
Polenta is another type of corn porridge which is also made from cornmeal, but very much has a spot of its own in the porridge lineup. Polenta is different from grits in that it is a staple of Italian cuisine and tends to be much more finely and uniformly ground than grits. Polenta is often seasoned with olive oil and mixed with herbs, then sprinkled with a nutty Italian cheese such as parmesan or asiago.
More likely to be recognized by the brand names of Cream of Wheat or Malt-O-Meal, farina is wheat which has been milled into a fine consistency, but not quite as fine as flour. When cooked into a hot cereal, farina results in a porridge with a creamy texture and blank flavor canvas, making it perfect to season and adjust to your liking!
Porridge Made From Other Grains
- Harissa, not to be confused with the spicy Tunisian chili paste condiment, is an Armenian porridge made from roasted, cracked wheat. Harissa is often mixed with rich meat such as chicken or lamb, but is at times served vegetarian style as well.
- Genfo is an Ethiopian porridge which may be made from any combination of a vast range of different grains and legumes: wheat, corn, barley or barley flour, soybeans, chickpeas, and corn to name a few. Genfo is typically served with a spiced, savory butter sauce which is poured over and mixed in at the table.
- Kasha, a type of buckwheat porridge that is enjoyed in countries such as Russia and Poland, is made by boiling grains of buckwheat in milk.
- Pease pudding, popular in England and Scotland, consists of peas (usually split yellow peas) that are seasoned and cooked until soft and creamy. The texture is more similar to that of other dishes like hummus or white bean spread and can be served on its own or used as a condiment.
What is Oatmeal?
There’s one important type of porridge which we left out from the list--oatmeal porridge! It’s no wonder that oatmeal and porridge share so many taste and textural characteristics as oatmeal is actually a type of porridge.
Oatmeal is generally eaten for breakfast, enhanced by milk or butter, sometimes sweetened with brown sugar, maple syrup, or honey, and is delicious with toppings like fresh fruit, chopped nuts, and a sprinkle of cinnamon--just like our Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal.
A less common, but equally delicious option for cooking oatmeal is to make it savory by cooking the oats in chicken stock or animal broth, adding seasonings, and cheese if desired. This will result in oatmeal which has an effect more like that of cheesy polenta or grits.
Types of Oats/Oatmeal
The consistency and flavor of oatmeal porridge depends heavily on what type of oats are used to make it. Spoiler alert, there's a lot of different types!
The varieties of porridge oats run the gamut of hardly processed to heavily processed, and just like other types of porridge grains, the more processed the oats, the faster the oatmeal will cook. This convenience unfortunately comes at the expense of some nutritional value though, as nutrients are inevitably lost during processing.
The following is an inclusive list, from the least processed oats (the longest cooking) to most processed oats (quickest cooking). Some varieties are best for making oatmeal, while others are more ideal for baking with.
Whole Oat Groats
Oat groats are oat kernels which are processed in a way that allows them to retain all of their components (cereal germ, oat bran, and endosperm) while still removing the tough and inedible outer husk of the grain.
Oat groats are extremely nutritious as they provide a great deal of fiber and contain all of the vitamins and minerals which are inherent to whole grain oats. The downside is that oat groats can take quite some time to cook, about an hour, and will never be as easily digestible as more processed versions of oats.
Steel Cut Oats
Also called Irish oats, steel cut oats are oat groats which have been sliced into smaller pieces. Each oat is turned into about 3-4 pieces, reducing the overall cooking time without breaking down the integrity of the whole grain oat. This means that although steel cut oats are no longer whole oats, they are still whole grain oats as they retain all of the components of the grain.
Scottish oats take things a step further, as rather than being whole oats or cut oats, they are ground oats. They tend to be ground quite finely, and therefore produce a creamier, less chewy oatmeal as opposed to oat groats or steel cut versions. As the oats are ground, they also experience some fiber and protein loss, but nevertheless are an extremely healthy whole grain choice. Scottish oats tend to be the best compromise between nutrition and digestibility when it comes to oatmeal.
Also known as old-fashioned oats, rolled oats are groats which are steamed before being passed through rollers which turn those groats two-dimensional! Due to the fact that these flattened oats are so thin and essentially par cooked, their cooking time is greatly reduced, making oatmeal a much more obtainable breakfast option for busy mornings as opposed to whole groats or Irish oats. Rolled oats are also versatile for baking and can be used for oatmeal cookies, Energy Bars, fruit-crisp topping, and more!
Quick oats are essentially the same as rolled oats, except for the fact that they are steamed even longer and are flattened to a greater extent. These oats are nearly fully cooked, typically needing just a few more minutes of cooking time to finish up. By this point, nutritional content is definitely reduced and the oats themselves provide far less fiber than they started with.
If you’ve ever had one of those deliciously flavored oatmeal packets, you already know instant oats! Instant oats are quick oats which have been chopped up, meaning they are not only pre-cooked and thin, but in small pieces as well! Most instant oatmeal is sold in convenient microwaveable packets that just need to be mixed with water and briefly heated before eating.
Porridge vs. Oatmeal: Health Benefits
Since there are many different types of porridge (oatmeal included) and many subtypes of oatmeal for that matter, there is no way to put out a blanket statement that says either is generally healthier than the other. Any health benefits of porridge and oatmeal depends entirely on what particular grains they are made of, how they are processed, and what other ingredients are added during the cooking process.
Different grains and legumes have different nutritional makeup, and some are simply better than others. Barley, buckwheat, oats, and chickpeas are some of the most nutrient rich grains from which you can make porridge. Other grains, such as corn and rice, tend to contain fewer essential vitamins and minerals, even in whole grain form.
We all know by now that highly processed food is not the best for health, and porridge and oatmeal are no exception. As discussed above, as porridge and oatmeal grains become more processed, they become less and less nutritious.
Certain processes may strip the grains or legumes of their inherent nutrients, while making their starch (aka sugar!) more readily available and quickly digested. Diets high in dietary fiber are important for overall health and can even help you to lower blood pressure and lose weight!
Then there is also the fact that the more highly processed versions of porridge and oatmeal tend to have other ingredients added to them. From added sugar and sodium to artificial flavorings, the convenience and taste of these nearly ready-to-eat options are not always as healthy as one might think.
Toppings and Additional Ingredients
In order to reap the most rewards from your bowl of porridge, toppings are important. No way you’re getting through that bowl of completely plain boring oatmeal without something to jazz it up.
If you opt for healthy toppings such as fresh or dried fruits, seeds or nuts, or even some nut butter, you’ll be taking the nutritional value of your porridge to a whole new level. And, not everything sweet is bad for you! If you need a little sugar rush, opt for honey or pure maple syrup, which is naturally high in antioxidants and minerals. That's a claim that processed cane sugar can't make!
Is Oatmeal Gluten Free?
Ah yes, the debate of all debates. This issue remains a murky one due to the fact that in their natural, field-growing, breeze-blowing state, oats do not contain gluten. However, it has been found that many oat-containing products do contain gluten. Allow us to explain.
As a cereal grain, oats simply have an enormous number of opportunities to become contaminated by other gluten-containing grains during growth and processing. If an oat field happens to be next to a wheat field, chances are high that some of that wheat will blow over into the oats and therefore the gluten will become mixed in when the oats are harvested and processed.
Add to this the fact that most oats are processed in facilities that process other grains, wheat and other glutinous culprits included. Don’t despair though! If you have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, you can still safely get your oat fix. Just be sure to check your oats and oat-containing products for a certified-gluten free label, as this ensures that the products and facilities that produce them are taking the necessary steps to combat cross-contamination in all stages.
Porridge vs. Oatmeal: Summary of Similarities and Differences
Before you go on and stir up that cozy bowl of cinnamon oatmeal, or get going on a savory porridge to go with your dinner, let’s do a quick recap of the similarities and differences between porridge vs. oatmeal!
Porridge vs. Oatmeal: Similar Texture
It’s no surprise that oatmeal and porridge have a similar texture, as oatmeal is one specific dish which falls into the larger category of porridge. Creamy, thick, and inherently flavored by the grains themselves, porridge and oatmeal have a very similar mouthfeel and tend to hit that same comfort-food button for most folks.
Porridge vs. Oatmeal: Similar Nutritional Value
While the nutrients are unique to each individual grain or legume, and toppings or flavorings used, the commonality is that the least processed forms of porridge and oatmeal tend to be the healthiest.
Porridge vs. Oatmeal: Different Ingredients
Porridge may be made from a wide range of grains and legumes (wheat, corn, rice, barley, buckwheat, and peas to name a few) while oatmeal is relegated to one type of grain: oats and oats alone. That doesn’t mean there is only one type of oatmeal though, due to all of the different ways that oats can be processed, there are nearly as many types of oatmeal as there are porridge in the first place!
Porridge vs. Oatmeal: Different Uses
Porridge and oatmeal also differ in how they are used as a dish. Oatmeal is generally eaten for breakfast and is sweetened or served with fruit or yogurt, while porridge can be used as any meal or side dish depending on the grains used and the cuisine!
For example, grits can be served under a fillet of blackened catfish or topped with sunny-side up eggs for breakfast. Korean congee might have herbs and seafood cooked within it, while other versions are made with cocoa for a dessert. Generally speaking, porridge tends to be more versatile while oatmeal is typically eaten as a hot cereal for breakfast.