Fast-food oatmeal: Which is best, McDonald's, Starbucks, or Au Bon Pain?

How to be the best consumer you can be.
Feb. 1 2011 10:11 AM

This Porridge Is Just Right

What's the best fast-food oatmeal—McDonald's, Starbucks, or Au Bon Pain?

(Continued from Page 1)

The slow-cooked oats seemed, at least to me, a vast improvement. This oatmeal came the closest of all to approximating my beloved McCann's. Our judges were more divided: Some praised the nutty, traditional taste and wholesome, full-bodied texture. Others found it bland, woefully unsalted, and tasting a bit too much "like cardboard." Its "chewiness" was valued by some, disparaged by the others. Visible grains led to a "good-mouth feel," in one tester's charming phrase; another found fault with its "chunkiness." As for its "glutinous" consistency, one said "maybe a tad cement-y, but I like it that way"; other testers were less set in their ways and longed for an oatmeal that shared that quality.

At least we were united in deeming the portions a bit too American. The "medium" was declared overwhelming; the imagined enormity of the "large," too much for us to even contemplate.

Taste: 3.0
Texture: 3.12
Packaging: 2.37
Overall: 2.9

Starbucks.

Starbucks ($2.45) Starbucks racked up a fair amount of buzz a few years ago when it introduced its oatmeal, and a couple of our panelists outed themselves as regular consumers. (One even endorsed it on Slate's Culture Gabfest.) The oatmeal had a far more distinct flavor, sans toppings, than any of the other samples—sort of salty and slightly sour, prompting a prevailing sentiment of "delish!"

Advertisement

The Starbucks oatmeal-making process is similar to that of McDonald's, though the hot water machines are more expensive and the baristas more careful. Still, like any instant oatmeal it can vary wildly from serving to serving, with an extra stir or extra drop of water altering the very fabric of the dish. Some called the texture dry, others mushy, but I think the tester who called it out for having the worst of both worlds ("mushy with specks of unreduced oats") hit the nail right on the head.

Starbucks offers a plethora of toppings in individual packets, including the much-desired nuts, dried fruit, and brown sugar (which apparently didn't measure up to the exalted ABP sort: "too sugary"). I found opening each container to be a bit of a pain, but small packets are certainly the most time-efficient way to get customers in and out of a coffee shop in a hurry. The portion sizes and sturdy, "attractive" containers were declared just right as well optimally constructed to retain heat.

Taste: 3.5
Texture: 3.31
Packaging: 3.56
Total: 3.45

So it seems as if Starbucks had the broadest appeal—and inspired the most untrammeled adoration; it was the only one of the samples to receive a perfect five rating in any category, from a couple of different judges. But I'd humbly submit that my fellow panelists were misguided and swayed by their briny, nutty fixations. As someone who eats for texture just as much as taste, I'd pick Au Bon Pain's oatmeal over Starbucks' any day. As for McDonald's, well, if you find yourself there for breakfast, it's very possible that the sorrow occasioned by its saccharine, soggy oatmeal will do your heart more damage than its Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit.

Like Slate on  Facebook. Follow us on  Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.