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The Four Fool-Proof Ways to Thicken Oatmeal

Thick oats for every oatmeal lover. Here’s a practical guide to the fool-proof ways to thicken oatmeal.

Oatmeal is a staple food appreciated by people of all ages and dietary preferences around the world. They are versatile, can be combined with all kinds of fruits and nuts, and taste equally good hot or cold. A breakfast staple, if you wish.

It’s also ridiculously easy to prepare: bring milk to a boil in a pot or saucepan, add oatmeal, and simmer for a minute or two until the oatmeal has absorbed the milk to the desired thickness. The resulting porridge can be eaten warm or chilled and refrigerated for the next day.

And yet, as any seasoned cook will readily attest, the easiest dishes to prepare are also the easiest to make mistakes with. Especially when you prepare them for the first time, it’s been a while since you made them, or you got distracted by family matters as you did.

So, when you find yourself in a “watery oats situation,” what can you do to get yourself out of it?

1. Add a Thickening Agent

It makes sense that, when you want to thicken food, you reach for thickening agents. Many ingredients can act as thickening agents, one of the most popular of them being all-purpose flour. When you add flour to something that’s too runny, you get an instant thicker, drier, texture.

What to Do

Step 1: Choose your thickening agent. For the purpose of thickening oatmeal, our favorite thickening agents include all-purpose flour, arrowroot powder, coconut flour, tapioca starch, and xanthan gum.

Step 2: Heat a small amount of milk or water in a saucepan or pot over medium heat. Add your thickening agent of choice and stir until the milk has thickened. Turn the heat down to low, add oatmeal, stir to incorporate, and serve.

Step 3: Enjoy your oatmeal!

What Not to Do

Don’t crank up the heat all the way up to high. This is the easiest way to scorch the milk or burn the thickener. The result is oatmeal with black flakes that taste biting. Instead, bring the milk or water to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low.

Don’t use a thickener with too strong an aroma and flavor. Cornmeal or corn grits, for example, are great for a soup or stew. But add them to your oatmeal, and they will make it taste like nacho soup, which isn’t all that appealing.

2. Add Whole Milk, Yogurt, or Cream

It might sound counterintuitive, we know, but some liquids work to thicken up things, too. One of the most used is whole milk, as the fats disperse into liquid and thicken them up for a creamier feel. Not only will you get the feeling of thickness, but you’ll also get a flavor boost, some liquids tastier than others.

What to Do

Step 1: Choose your milk, yogurt, or cream product. For giving oatmeal a creamier feel, our favorites are whole milk, heavy cream, whole-milk yogurt, soy yogurt, and coconut cream.

Certain thickeners will work better for certain oatmeal recipes than others. For example, whole milk and heavy cream add a lactonic velvetiness; dairy or soy yogurt adds fermented tang.

Step 2: Add one tablespoon of the chosen liquid at a time. Stir to incorporate and let it settle for a few seconds or so before adding more. The most important thing is not to overdo it, which you can only achieve by taking small steps at a time.

Step 3: Continue until you’ve reached your desired texture.

Step 4: Enjoy your oatmeal!

What Not to Do

Despite lore to the contrary, don’t attempt to use butter or egg whites as thickeners for your oats. Oatmeal high in butterfat or egg protein often breaks when refrigerated. And, as any mom or dad who cooks for their kids will tell you, a bowl of oatmeal that breaks is one that’s left uneaten!

3. Adorn your Oats

There is nothing tastier than a steamy bowl of oats covered with tart fruits. The flavors meld together to make irresistible tastes both sweet and savory. Besides enhancing flavor, fruits work great to thicken the texture of oatmeal, creating a win-win for your breakfast.

What to Do

Step 1: Choose your preferred fruit(s). Try banana, berries, apples, or a combo of all three. Dates, prunes, raisins, dried coconut, and other dried fruits also do wonders when fresh fruits are not necessarily in season.

Step 2: Add your fruits. When adding softer fruits, you should mash them up and then add them, as they will work to thicken your oatmeal better.

Step 3: Stir in your fruits until you have the desired texture (toss nuts in for added thickness and crunch!).

Step 4: Enjoy your oatmeal!

What Not to Do

Don’t turn your oatmeal into a fruit salad. While it won’t be as watery as when you started out, it will come out mushy and/or tooth-achingly sweet. The fruits should make up no more than ¼ of your porridge.

4. Simply Add Oats 

Oatmeal pairs with a long list of other foods, some of which include veggies, nuts, proteins, and more. When you’re looking to thicken your oatmeal, you could just add more… er, oats, allowing them to also cook in the process.

This is a simple way, and it gives you complete freedom when seasoning. The key is to separate the “thickener” oats from the “thickened” oats—and to use significantly less milk or water for the former.

By doing so, you will make sure that the “thickener” oats soak up the amount of liquid they need before you incorporate them with the “thickened” oats. Otherwise, you may find that your oatmeal is dry and crusty.

What to Do

Step 1: Heat a small amount of milk or water in a saucepan or pot over medium heat.

Step 2: Add oats and stir, for 1-2 minutes, allowing them to absorb the milk. Add the leftover oats to the cooking vessel, turn the heat down to low, and stir to incorporate.

Step 3: Check the thickness after 2-3 minutes. If necessary, remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl, and repeat with a little more milk and oats.

Step 4: Enjoy your oatmeal!

What Not to Do

Don’t sprinkle oats directly to your oatmeal. You will have a hard time to incorporate them well and get them to soak up the amount of moisture they need to soften. Instead, create an “oatmush,” a.k.a. “thickening oats” separately and mix them in with the watery original.

Most-Loved Oatmeal Combinations

Oatmeal is a heart-healthy food that you should make a part of your diet if it’s not already.

Not only is it good for the heart and the soul, but it’s also tasty and pairs well with just about anything you can think of. For some irresistible combos that are sure to become your newest addiction, try these most-loved combos out.

Strawberries + Cream

There is something about strawberries and cream that creates instant happiness. The sweetness, the creaminess, and the warm, milky oats fuse to make a taste you won’t be able to get enough of.

How to make it:

For this combo, use frozen strawberries and a bit of yogurt. Add these to your bowl of cooked oats and sprinkle with a bit of brown sugar on the top. Voila!

Peanut Butter + Banana

Is there anything more delightful than PB;B? It’s a flavor match made in heaven, and you can enjoy it as often as you’d like with this flavor-packed oatmeal combo.

How to make it:

Slice up half of a banana and scoop up a tablespoon of peanut butter. Then, add them to your oats, stirring to mix all the goodness. You can even sprinkle a bit of dark chocolate for added flavor and a boost of happiness to your morning routine.

Blueberry + Ginger

If you haven’t tried chopping up ginger in your oatmeal, you’re in for a treat. The tangy and juicy flavors as you take a bite are intensified when you add blueberries to the mix, and the health benefits are so good that you can’t help but treat yourself.

How to make it:

Grab about a half an inch piece of ginger. Peel it and dice it, then add it to your oatmeal. Grab a handful of blueberries and toss them in too, giving it a final stir before taking a bite.

Apples + Cinnamon

Do you love warm apple pie? While it’s not recommended to enjoy apple pie for breakfast (at least not all the time!), you can mimic the flavor in oatmeal, enjoying the best of both worlds.

How to make it:

Peel and slice up half an apple (use green for more tang). Add the chopped pieces to your bowl and add a few dashes of cinnamon. You can drizzle in some honey to counter the tartness of the apple, enjoying the trifecta of all flavors with your morning cup of coffee.

Adaptable Oatmeal

If you’re trying to add more oatmeal to your morning routine, don’t just settle for plain old oats. Spruce it up by finding your preferred texture, thickness, and playing it up with flavor combos that will make you want to get up in the morning.

Oatmeal is adaptable, so each morning will bring something new, adventurous, and flavorful.

Bon appétit!