“You have to eat oatmeal or you’ll dry up. Anybody knows that.”
The above claim has never been disproved. It was authored by Kay Thompson and uttered by a 6-year-old girl named Eloise, who lived in The Plaza Hotel in New York with Weenie the dog and Skipperdee the turtle. Ever since I first saw that quote, in the margin by the oatmeal raisin cookie recipe in “The Silver Palate Cookbook,” I’ve wondered what she meant.
Perhaps young Eloise understood that oats absorb a lot of water as they cook, such that when you eat oats you’re eating mostly water. Or maybe she meant “dry up” as a euphemism for “slow down.” Certainly, oatmeal has a reputation for keeping you going all day like the Energizer Bunny, thanks to the slow release of sugars from the complex carbohydrates in whole oats.
Whatever she exactly meant, she was right to cast oatmeal in a positive light. Superfoods and supplements get all the hype, but water and fiber are two of the biggest missing elements in a healthy diet, according to dietitians. And you’ll find both of those in a bowl of oatmeal.
Nowadays, more people are reaching for oatmilk. It’s a rising star in the non-dairy milk category, especially among coffee drinkers looking for a dairy substitute. It has a creaminess other nut- and grain-based milks don’t, despite being made from the cheapest raw ingredient of any of them.
In 2019 the USDA asked several oat milk makers to disclose added sugars in their nutritional labels, even though technically there are none. Manufacturers have figured out how to use enzymes to release sugar that had been locked up in oat starch. This adds sugar without adding sugar.
I wanted to try my hand at enzymatic oat milk, so I reached out to Oatly, the undisputed leader in the industry, hoping for some clues. An Oatly representative declined to share which enzymes they use, so after a bit of research I ordered my best guess of some good candidates, including amylase and beta-glucanase. A few weeks later, when my wife acknowledged that my latest batch of oat milk was not awful, I knew I was getting close to the recipe.
Or so I thought. A few days later, while working on my project, I stumbled upon the actual patent that Oatly had filed.
As I scrolled through US patent no. 6451369B1, titled “Non-dairy, ready-to-use milk substitute, and products made therewith,” I quickly found this passage: “The disclosed cereal suspension is prepared by treating a suspension of oatmeal with beta-amylase, which has no glucanase and proteinase activity, in a first enzyme treatment step, which specifically generates maltose and maltodextrin units.”
In English, it says that amylase enzyme — which I had been using — is indeed responsible for generating sugar from oat starch. I celebrated this with one of my favorite late-night snacks: dry oats with canned whipped cream and maple syrup.
Eloise would not approve, and this treat probably won’t make it onto any dessert carts, but I really like the juxtaposition between the moist, fatty whip and plain dry grains. I also enjoy the esoteric contrast between wholesome oats and trashy canned whipped cream.
The next morning I made oatmeal for breakfast, and realized my morning bowl of oats is almost as much of an indulgence as my midnight snack, and with a lot more water.
Oatmeal is a personal thing. Some like it soupy, others firm. I prefer mine with a custard-like consistency that vibrates like Jell-O when you slap the pot, with a creamy, frosting-like layer on top that results from my special process.
And after years of enjoying it, I’ve yet to dry out. Eloise’s law remains intact.
Custard-style Oatmeal (patent pending)
This is how I get oatmeal to the consistency of custard. The key is to cook it slowly, and once everything is added, no stirring. The butter and cream form something of a frosting on top, while the lower level of oats is drier. Although the active time for this recipe is barely two minutes, allow an hour for the oatmeal to properly simmer and rest.
• 1 cup whole oats
• 3 cups water
• 1 tablespoon salted butter
• 1 tablespoon heavy cream
• ½ cup frozen blueberries (or the fruit or berry of your choice)
• Syrup to pour on top
Add the oats, water and butter to a pot and set it on high until it boils, about four minutes. Turn down to medium for about two minutes while you add the cream and blueberries and stir them in. As you stir this final time, feel the bottom of the pot with your implement and scrape it well if anything happens to be sticking.
Turn it down to low and cook with the lid off for 20 minutes, not stirring. Then turn it off and let it rest another 20 minutes, covered. Serve with maple syrup.