If there’s one cereal question out there that causes best friends to fight and couples to break up, it’s got to be whether you can eat cereal with water.
“Yuck,” some of you are already thinking, “cereal with water! That’s gotta be worse than sausage oatmeal.” At the same time, others among you may be asking, “But what’s wrong with eating cereal with water?!”
It would be so easy for me to say, “Sure you can! This is your cereal, after all,” and then just get on with it and tell you to subscribe to our email newsletter. But when it comes to breakfast cereal, as you probably already know since you’re here, the answer is never that simple. (Nor is getting you to subscribe.)
See, it’s worth taking a closer look at this question because there are so many dilemmas surrounding cereal: Bowl or no bowl. Milk first or cereal first. Warm and mushy or cold and chewy. In every household, the answers to these questions are almost like the unspoken rules of morning routines.
And now… milk or water?
Are You Supposed to Eat Cereal With Water?
If you fire up your browser, go to WikiHow (a.k.a. the illustrated guide for those of us who are too cheap to buy an entire For Dummies book), and search for “How to Eat a Bowl of Cereal,” you will get a two-part guide that walks you through the steps of eating cold and hot cereal.
Part 1 is all about cold cereal, and Step 2 of Part 1 is called “Add your milk.” Not yogurt. Not coconut water. Not water, even. Milk.
Like love and marriage, cereal and milk have lived together in harmony since James Caleb Jackson, described in a historical piece by The New York Times as a “religiously conservative vegetarian who ran a medical sanitarium in western New York,” invented it in 1863.
And like love from marriage, 21st-century life has done nothing but pull cereal further apart from milk. First came orange juice, and the craze of eating your cereal with a bowl of pulpy Tropicana. Then came plant-based milk, like chic coconut water and velvety almond milk.
But now… cereal with plain water? You know, the kind that drips from the tap?
It depends, is what I’m saying.
And Part 2 of that WikiHow guide can help you understand why.
Part 2, you see, is all about hot cereal. And hot cereal doesn’t necessarily need to be cooked with milk. “Whether you’ve chosen to make oatmeal, cream of wheat (also known as farina), grits, or another type of hot cereal,” the guide says, “they will all have specific cooking instructions.”
It goes on to recommend reading the packaging of your cereal to understand exactly how you need to prepare it. For example, many like to cook their grits in salt water, not milk. And they don’t put milk in the bowl when they eat them either. Same with oats, which you can boil in water, milk, or a combo of both.
So much for milk-dominated cereal.
Does Cereal Taste Different With Water?
You read this far, which means two things:
First, not everyone on the Internet has turned into a zombie watching one 15-second clip after the other on TikTok. Phew!
Second, you know by now that it’s perfectly fine to just eat your cereal with water. But if you’ve never done it before, you might be wondering: Will it taste good?
Well, from experience I can say that cereal with water definitely doesn’t taste the same as with milk.
Milk, particularly whole milk, adds a certain creaminess to your cereal that water just doesn’t. In fact, it ameliorates the aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel of your cereal in many ways, making it rich and wholesome.
Cereal with water tastes plain. You taste the grains—and whatever they’re mixed with—as they are, without the creaminess of milk or the tanginess of yogurt. If you consider yourself a cereal purist and you like the taste of grains, you may just love it. And if you end up not loving it, at least you will have tried it once!
It Comes Down to Taste, Really
If you poured cereal into a bowl, mixed it with water, and added your usual toppings right now, you’d notice one thing:
Many of the flavors that go well with milk—say, vanilla, caramel, and chocolate—don’t go well with water. On the flip side, the flavors that don’t work with milk—say, citrus, tropical fruit, wild berries—suddenly work great with water.
At the end of the day, whether you like your cereal with milk or water it is a matter of taste. And taste, as any toddler whose mother tries to feed him broccoli will attest, is a highly subjective, deeply personal thing.
Besides, not all cereal brands are the same. Rice Krispies taste different than Oreo O’s, which in turn taste different than Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. Water only makes this difference more pronounced. So if you want to mix cereal with water, you may have to do a little trial and error until you find your favorite.
Liquid or Cereal, Which Is First?
Ah, the great debate among cereal lovers! Should you put the liquid or the cereal in the bowl first?
Dogma dictates that you should add the cereal first. Because if you do it the other way around, the milk will splash out of the bowl and onto the countertop or dining table.
However, those who like their cereal as crunchy as can be add the liquid first and then the cereal. This, they say, prevents the cereal from becoming as soggy as it would have been had they mixed it the other way around.
I’m a milk and cereal-goes-first kinda guy.