Porridge, oatmeal – not just a pretty face, according to a study by Harvard University, wholegrains such as oats may be the key to living longer – so on that thought, and the desire to avoid sugary breakfast cereals, we set about making porridge INTERESTING – and from experience, that involves cooking with the tween/teenager kids, getting them making it, and hey, even throwing a bit of basic SCIENCE into the mix! ie – Oats contain starch, mix this with water, heating it as you go, and watch those molecules become porridge!
A good sciency word for this is ‘polymerisation’ – Starch is a bunch of molecules made of huge numbers of sugar molecules joined end-on-end (polymerisation). Cooking breaks starch molecules into smaller starch molecules and ties water molecules to the starch molecules. This effectively expanding and softens the starchy food, causing the potatoes to turn soft white and the soup to thicken. For porridge this takes about 10-12 minutes.
(In fact, you could even add a bit of HISTORY into the saucepan as the New Scientist writes that stone-age people were making porridge some 32,000 years ago!)
Besides its role in the life of the early stone-age humans, porridge, loaded with vitamins, minerals, fibres, is also being celebrated by food scientists and health experts due to its health benefits. As the Harvard University research shows, a small bowl of this popular breakfast option can reduce the risk of a range of health problems including potentially life-threatening medical conditions… the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.
As a recent convert to the Couch to 5k exercise, I’ve found that eating a bowl of porridge oats an hour before, with their slow-releasing, wholegrain goodness an hour keeps my blood sugar levels steady throughout the work/run, while providing us with enough energy to keep us going.
Food scientists who investigated the reasons for the many health benefits of porridge explained that just like other whole grain foods, porridge is loaded with vitamins, minerals, fibres and some other compounds. Some of these have been shown to be crucial for normal physiological function, while others are believed to have protective effects. One of the best examples are antioxidants which reduce the risk of disease by ‘blocking’ the effects of free radicals. These have been linked to cellular damage which is thought to be responsible for a range of health problems including cancer.
What are you waiting for? Our favourite way to enjoy a creamy bowl of porridge? Too many to number – but here’s how we make ours…
FOR BASIC PORRIDGE – Ingredients
160g rolled porridge oats
100ml organic milk, or soya milk
1. Place the porridge oats, and water in a large pan over a medium heat.
2. Stir with a wooden spoon.
3. Bring to a steady low simmer for 6 to 10 minutes, stirring as often as you can to give you a smooth creamy porridge, add the milk to loosen the mixture once it had cooked through…
And then add your toppings – We often add seeds for an extra crunch and nutritional boost too… Try sunflower, pumpkin seeds and chia seeds, grated apple, or add sliced bananas, honey, and or dried fruit if you’re out of fresh fruit. A dollop of coconut oil also adds an extra nutritional dimension too!
Are Oats Gluten Free? Oats contain avenin, which is a protein similar to gluten. However, research has shown that most people with coeliac disease can safely eat avenin. Problems can occur if oats are produced in the same place as wheat, barley and rye, as the oats can become contaminated with these other grains. (via Coeliac UK)
Actually, whilst we are mentioning Chia Seeds – this is also a really fun science experiment – just add some water to the dried chia seeds, walk away for an hour, and when you come back – wow! It turns into a ‘chia gel’ as it has hydrophilic properties (ability to soak water) makes the seed much more valuable to your body. Soaking chia will activate the seed making it more bio-available to your body, helping to prevent blood sugar spikes, decreasing cholesterol and keeping you hydrated longer (And – more history – This is one of the reasons why the ancient Aztec athletes consumed chia on a regular basis) Oh, and the gooey slimey texture will really entertain your kids – science in the kitchen rocks!
And don’t worry if you make too much porridge or oatmeal, we keep our leftovers in the fridge for up to three days, and it’s easily heated up again on the hob, stir in some milk as you do so (soya milk or otherwise) and you’re ready to go!