Oatmeal is a popular breakfast food that can be customized in many ways. The two most common ways to flavor oatmeal are with salt or sugar. But which tastes better? There are good arguments on both sides. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. Some people enjoy the sweetness of sugar, while others prefer the savory flavor of salt. This article will examine the pros and cons of both seasonings and provide tips for bringing out the best flavor.
Adding a pinch of salt to oatmeal enhances its natural nutty, earthy flavor. Here are some of the benefits of using salt:
- Brings out oatmeal’s flavor – The addition of salt enhances the natural taste of oats, intensifying their hearty, grainy essence.
- Balances sweetness – If your oatmeal contains fruit or other sweet mix-ins, salt balances the sweetness.
- Makes it more savory – Salt gives oatmeal a more savory, umami taste.
- Enhances texture – Salt can bring out the creaminess of oats, giving them a smoother mouthfeel.
When adding salt, it’s best to use a high-quality fine grain salt like sea salt or Himalayan pink salt. Start with just a pinch and add more to taste. Sprinkling coarse salt on top of oatmeal before serving provides little bursts of saltiness.
Tips for using salt
Here are some tips for seasoning oatmeal with salt:
- Add it to the oats while cooking – Salt integrates better when added during the cooking process.
- Try salted butter – Melting a pat of salted butter into the oats adds a wonderful savory depth.
- Top with salty mix-ins – Sprinkle on things like bacon bits, smoked salmon, feta cheese, olives, or roasted nuts.
- Make a salted caramel – Swirl in salted caramel sauce for a sweet-salty flavor.
- Use flavored salts – Smoked salt, truffle salt, or lemon salt provide extra flavor nuance.
On the other side of the debate are those who prefer to add a touch of sweetness to their oats. Here’s the case for using sugar:
- Satisfies a sweet tooth – The bit of sweetness is perfect for those who like a hint of sugar in the morning.
- Kid-friendly – Kids often love a subtly sweetened bowl of oatmeal.
- Makes oats more dessert-like – Sugar shifts oatmeal into more of a sweet treat.
- Counters bitter notes – Sugar masks any bitter tastes from grains, dark chocolate, or coffee.
- Enhances fruit flavors – Berries and sliced fruit taste even better against the backdop of lightly sweetened oats.
You can use white or brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, or any other sweetener you enjoy. The amount is up to you depending on your preferred level of sweetness.
Tips for using sugar
Here are some tips for adding just the right amount of sugar to oatmeal:
- Stir it in – Mixing sugar into the oats as they cook helps it fully dissolve and distribute evenly.
- Top with fruit – Fresh berries, bananas, peaches, and other fruits lend natural sweetness when placed on top.
- Drizzle on syrup – Maple syrup, honey, agave, or fruit syrups poured over the top provide sticky sweet pockets.
- Sprinkle on brown sugar – Brown sugar’s molasses notes pair wonderfully with oats.
- Add vanilla extract – Just a drop or two enhances sweetness perception.
- Swirl in jam – Swirls of berry jam add fruity sweetness.
When comparing salt and sugar nutrition-wise, salt has fewer calories and carbs. However, both seasonings should be used in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
- 0 calories
- 0g carbs
- Can help lower blood pressure when consumed in moderation
- Essential for fluid balance, muscle contractions, nerve signaling
- Should be limited to avoid high blood pressure in salt-sensitive individuals
- 16 calories per tsp
- 4g carbs per tsp
- Provides quick energy
- Can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes when over-consumed
- Linked to obesity, heart disease, fatty liver disease when highly overconsumed
So salt has a slight edge nutrition-wise over sugar. But both can be part of a healthy diet if consumed in small amounts. Those with high blood pressure or diabetes should be especially mindful of portions.
Health Benefits of Oatmeal
Beyond the salt vs. sugar debate, oatmeal is a nutritious breakfast choice offering many health perks. Here are some of the top benefits of oatmeal:
- High in fiber – Helps keep you full and promotes good digestion.
- Contains beta-glucan fiber – This special fiber helps reduce cholesterol.
- Packed with antioxidants – Oats contain avenanthramides that suppress inflammation.
- Rich in manganese and phosphorus – These minerals promote bone health.
- May help lower blood pressure – Thanks to fiber, antioxidants, and magnesium.
- Helps control blood sugar – The fiber delays stomach emptying and carbohydrate absorption.
- Gluten-free – Oats are naturally gluten-free when not contaminated, so they’re a great choice for those with celiac disease or gluten-sensitivity.
So even without added salt or sugar, oatmeal delivers a healthy dose of nutrition to start your day.
Choosing the Best Oatmeal
Not all oatmeal is created equal when it comes to nutrition and flavor. Here are some tips for picking the best oatmeal:
- Look for whole, steel-cut oats – These less processed oats have more fiber and nutrients compared to instant oats.
- Check the ingredient list – Make sure oats are the first and only ingredient.
- Avoid added sugars – Flavored instant oatmeals often pack lots of extra sugar.
- Try new grains – For variety, look for oat blends with quinoa, amaranth, or flaxseed.
- Read the label – Check the fiber and protein content to compare nutrition.
- Buy certified gluten-free – If needed, look for oats that are certified gluten-free to avoid contamination.
Taking a few moments to read labels and select a high-quality base oatmeal gives you the freedom to flavor it however you like.
Oatmeal Flavor Combinations
Oatmeal offers endless ways to mix and match flavors. Consider these delicious flavor combo ideas:
Fruit and Nuts
- Bananas and walnuts
- Blueberries and almonds
- Strawberries and pecans
- Apples and cinnamon
- Dried cranberries and pistachios
- Feta and spinach
- Tomatoes and basil
- Sausage and cheddar
- Mushrooms and parmesan
- Avocado and cooked egg
- Maple syrup and vanilla
- Peanut butter and chocolate chips
- Caramel and sea salt
- Brown sugar and cinnamon
- Honey and orange zest
Feel free to get creative and come up with your own favorite combinations!
Best Oatmeal Toppings
One of the great things about oatmeal is how easily it can be topped to create a flavorful treat. Here are some of the best oatmeal toppings:
|Fresh fruit like bananas, berries, apples
|Fiber, vitamins, natural sweetness
|Nuts like walnuts, almonds, pecans
|Protein, healthy fats
|Nut butters like peanut, almond, cashew
|Plant-based protein, fiber
|Seeds like chia, flaxseed, pumpkin
|Fiber, minerals, antioxidants
|Healthy fat, subtle sweetness
|Dried fruit like raisins, cranberries, apricots
|Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom
|Antioxidants, unique flavor
|Sweet toppings like brown sugar, honey, syrup
|Natural sweetness in moderation
|Savory toppings like granola, shredded cheese, avocado
|Contrasting flavor and texture
The possibilities are endless for creative toppings to make your oatmeal pop with flavor, texture, and nutrition.
Does Milk or Water Make Creamier Oatmeal?
The liquid you cook oatmeal in can impact the final texture. Here’s how milk versus water affects oatmeal creaminess:
Cooking oatmeal in milk helps create a richer, creamier texture. The natural proteins and fat in milk incorporate into the oats, resulting in a smooth and creamy final product. Whole milk and half-and-half yield the creamiest outcomes. The sweetness of milk also accentuates the oats’ natural caramel notes.
Oatmeal made with water tends to have a thinner, more porridge-like consistency. But oats still absorb water as they cook, becoming plump and tender. Water provides a simple backdrop for oats’ hearty taste. And you can always stir in a splash of milk after cooking to achieve more creaminess.
Tips for Creamy Oatmeal
Beyond the cooking liquid, a few other tricks ensure creamy oatmeal:
- Use steel-cut or old-fashioned oats – Quick oats get overcooked and mushy.
- Cook oats thoroughly – They’ll thicken more the longer they simmer.
- Stir frequently – This helps release starch for a creamier consistency.
- Add milk or cream at the end – Stirring in dairy after cooking prevents curdling.
- Top with yogurt or fruit – Provides a smooth, creamy contrast.
So feel free to cook oatmeal in milk, water, or a combo of both. Follow the tips above for foolproof creaminess.
If you’re short on time in the morning, overnight oats provide a handy make-ahead option. Here’s an overview:
- Mix raw oats with milk or yogurt the night before eating.
- Stir in desired flavors like fruit, nuts, spices, extract.
- Refrigerate overnight to soften oats.
- Give a quick stir in the morning and enjoy chilled.
- No cooking required, so great for busy mornings.
- More portable than hot oatmeal if eating on-the-go.
Overnight oats have a pleasantly chewy texture and cooler temperature. Feel free to use any toppings or mix-ins you enjoy. You can prepare a batch or two at the start of the week for easy grab-and-go breakfasts.
Overnight Oats Recipe
This basic recipe provides delicious results:
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- 1/2 cup milk of choice or yogurt
- Pinch of salt
- Preferred toppings like fruit, nuts, honey, etc.
- Combine oats, milk/yogurt and salt in a container.
- Stir well to fully incorporate.
- Cover and refrigerate overnight, at least 5-6 hours.
- In the morning, remove from fridge, add toppings, and enjoy.
Adjust the milk to reach your desired consistency. Feel free to swap in non-dairy milk if preferred. Get creative with mix-ins like peanut butter, chocolate, bananas, cinnamon, and more.
Whether you prefer savory salt or sweet sugar, both can enhance the flavor of oatmeal in delicious ways. Oatmeal also provides plenty of nutrition from the oats themselves. Top with your favorite fruits, nuts, spices or sweet treats to create a satisfying breakfast. Experiment with salt and sugar to find your own perfect balance. No matter which direction you go, oatmeal makes for a healthy, comforting morning meal.