Learn all about the different types of porridge, its fascinating history and existence since the ancient times, and the incredible health benefits of this simple dish.
As a kid I couldn’t stand porridge. Now I like it.
What’s truly amazing is my young kids love the stuff. Go figure. Actually, it’s a good thing because it’s healthier than most other breakfast options.
Porridge may appear to be super simple and bland, but it is the one food dish that has managed to change the history of the culinary world. It is also one of the very first dishes that the human race learned to make. This suggests that the origin and history of porridge go as far back as thousands of years, were at one point, it was the staple food of many ancient groups of people.
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The History of Porridge
The earliest kind of porridge was simply made with any type of grain that was mixed with either milk or water. This dish is best served hot and mushy, which is one reason why it is often referred to as ‘comfort food’ by a lot of people. Interestingly, porridge is considered to be a food that has greatly helped the human race during its time here on earth.
Since ancient times, porridge has represented the ultimate comfort food for many people around the world. The comfort factor also lies in the fact it is easy and simple to make and comes together as a delicious, warm, and nutritious bowl of food.
Fascinatingly enough, archeologists say that they have found traces of wild oats from almost 32,000 years ago. This came across as quite a discovery because wild oats are common and popular ingredients that are used to make porridge.
Considering the fact that porridge is simply an amalgamation of a variety of different grains, one can assume that this dish was invented way back in time because grains were a staple ingredient in the diets of most ancient civilizations.
Also, in the Early Stone Age, women used to breastfeed their children even till the time they reached the age of fix or six. This is because the rough food that people used to eat back then was too tough for the children to eat as they had not developed the teeth that could help them chew their food. However, women eventually realized that they could feed mushy grains to their children in the form of porridge, and soon enough, they stopped breastfeeding their children.
According to other historical evidence, the ancient Greeks typically ate two meals a day. The first meal was a kind of porridge, and the second meal was another kind of porridge. It is said that Hannibal’s troops also ate porridge when they were doing their famous crossing of the Alps.
Health Benefits of Porridge
Many people often describe porridge as ‘bland, sticky goop,’ but you’ll be surprised to know that it actually has numerous health benefits. And as far as the bland factor is concerned, you can always tweak any porridge dish you make to suit your taste!
At first glance, porridge might even completely kill your appetite. However, there is a reason why people from all over the world make sure to have it at breakfast and include it in their daily diet.
There are a great many reasons for its popularity all across the world and once you know its full benefits, the next thing you know, you might be fixing yourself a bowl of hot porridge!
It Is Packed with Nutrients
This goes without saying, as all types of grains are enriched with essential nutrients that our body needs. So naturally, porridge is also heavily packed with all those vitamins and minerals. It has copious amounts of calcium and phosphorus, both of which ensure excellent bone health. Additionally, it also contains iron, which is a vital mineral that we need for increased metabolism.
It Makes You Feel Full
One reason why porridge is most commonly consumed at breakfast is that it contains a large amount of fiber. Its fiber content contributes massively to its numerous health benefits. Fiber helps one feel full and satiated without adding any extra calories. It also combats constipation and significantly helps keep your digestion well under control. Oats, for instance, contain soluble fiber that helps control blood cholesterol levels in the body.
It Aids in Weight Loss
It is a commonly held belief that grains contribute to weight gain because of their high carb content. This is probably why weight-watchers don’t ever eat porridge or any grain-based food dish. However, grains can actually help you lose weight. Researchers have found that barley helps reduce appetite and makes you feel full for longer. Not only that, but barley also helps reduce the risk of diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels in the body.
It Helps Reduce Inflammation
As surprising as it may sound, the consumption of porridge is directly linked to a reduction of inflammation in the body. This is a much lesser-known benefit of porridge that most people are not really aware of. Whole grain wheat, for instance, consists of some polyphenols that help increase the number of good bacteria in the gut, thereby regulating the inflammatory processes in the body.
Different Types Porridge
Porridge is an umbrella term for different ways of preparing grains as a hot cereal.
Standard porridge is simply made by mixing grains or cereal with boiling water or milk. That may sound unappetizing, but over the years, cuisines and people from all over the world have introduced numerous delicious ways to enjoy porridge at any time of the day!
Interestingly, you can have porridge thrice a day – for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and can still enjoy a different type of porridge at every single meal! Take a look at some of the most popular varieties of porridge that have emerged from different regions of the world.
Also often referred to as ‘the porridge that will change up breakfast,’ Congee is a type of Chinese rice porridge that is quite popular in many Asian countries. It is typically a breakfast dish, but many people also serve it as a main meal at lunch or dinner with varying sidelines such as vegetables or protein.
Congee is also known by other common names such as jook, rice gruel or Khao tom moo and it is normally made by boiling white rice in hot water until the rice grains break down. The word congee is derived from a Tamil word, kanji, which used to be a favorite food of the ancient Tamil people who mainly resided in Ancient India. The English variation congee is believed to have originated through Portuguese traders.
In its most basic form, congee is simply white rice that has been boiled enough to achieve a viscous, thick, porridge-like consistency. However, over the years, congee has broken several cultural barriers, and you will find different varieties of this porridge not just all across Asia, but also all around the world.
Once the rice has reached the porridge-like state, you can choose to serve it in a number of ways with your favorite toppings and ingredients. Many people get creative with seasonings and often pair their congee with things like white pepper, spring onions, soy sauce, peanuts, and poached eggs, to name a few. In China, for instance, congee is often served with salted duck eggs, dace paste, lettuce, pickled tofu, and bamboo shoots.
Interestingly, during ancient times, congee was traditional comfort food in the Chinese food culture and held a very important place in their culinary world for centuries. It was also fed to babies, the sick, and the elderly, given its smooth consistency and healing properties. It was only after congee gained such popularity that it became a staple dish in many cuisines.
This is a type of ground corn porridge that has a Native American origin. It is a very popular breakfast dish in the Southern United States and holds great similarities to polenta. Grits initially started off as a quintessential dish in the southern cuisine, but eventually moved on from a humble breakfast dish to be featured on several restaurant menus as a delicious entrée or even a main course.
Grits are basically dried and ground maize that comes either from hominy corn or white corn. This cornmeal is boiled till it gets super thick, sticky and porridge-like. It is then seasoned with a variety of different spices and served with sidelines and condiments.
The word ‘grits’ is a derivative of the Old English word grytt, which means ‘coarse meal.’ This porridge dish mainly emerged in the 16th century from a Native American Muskogee tribe’s recipe. At that time, the Native North Americans also used to eat a common dish that was made from mashed corn since corn was one of their main crops. They referred to the dish as ‘rockahomine.’ This dish was then introduced to the Europeans that came to America and later, the colonists shortened the name to ‘hominy.’
Ever since then, grits became an official food, and a majority of people started serving and eating it with shrimps, which turned this simple grits porridge into something super delicious. In today’s time, grits are made either with ground corn or hominy that is first boiled and then often mixed with milk and butter.
Grits also contain numerous health benefits, which is also one of the reasons why they are commonly eaten for breakfast. They are packed with a variety of antioxidants that protect the cells in the body against damage. Grits also contain compounds like lutein and zeaxanthin that are believed to protect us against degenerative eye disorders.
This is a famous Armenian porridge dish that has originated from the Ararat plain. It is typically made from korkot, which is roasted, cracked or dried wheat. The traditional harissa also contains fat-rich meat, which is usually lamb or chicken. A variant of the traditional Armenian harissa is the Arabic Harees, which is a very popular dish in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. It is also made from the same type of wheat, and its consistency is mainly porridge-like, but can also be similar to that of a dumpling.
Harees or harissa comes from an Arabic verb harasa, which translates to “to mash or to squash.” The origin of this porridge dish has quite a fascinating history. According to Armenian lore, Gregory the Illuminator was once distributing a charity meal to people, as he was also known as the Patron Saint of Armenia. However, there wasn’t enough food to serve to the massive crowds, so he added wheat to the cooking pots. Ever since then, harissa began to be offered as a charity meal and also became the national dish of Armenia.
In Armenia, harissa is traditionally served on Easter Day, and during religious days; the meat in the porridge is substituted with a variety of herbs. The basic preparation method of the traditional harissa involves soaking the wheat overnight and then simmering it with butter, meat, and seasonings.
What started off as a satisfying, healthy morning meal has now become one of the biggest and the most popular food trends all over the world! Oatmeal has to be one of the most commonly eaten types of porridge, not just for its incredible health benefits, but also for its rich, delicious, and creamy taste.
Oatmeal can be made from a variety of different types of oats such as rolled oats, ground oats, crushed oats, or steel-cut oats. Ground oats are also called white oats while steel-cut oats are referred to as pinhead oats or coarse oatmeal. The typical breakfast oatmeal porridge is made by cooking any type of oat till it reaches a thick consistency. It is then mixed with milk or water, with a pinch of salt added to enhance the flavor. The toppings for oatmeal usually include maple syrup, brown sugar, honey, raisins, and different types of nuts.
However, in various cuisines, oatmeal is not necessarily a breakfast dish. Many people eat it for dinner or as a side dish in which the oats are first cooked in a vegetable broth with generous amounts of salt and pepper. It is then mixed with a selection of vegetables that typically include different greens, carrots, potatoes, and peas.
When preparing oatmeal as an evening snack or a sweet treat, some of the most popular ingredients that are paired with the porridge are crushed graham crackers, chopped nuts, dried coconut flakes, chunky granola or even sweetened condensed milk.
The key or the star ingredient of oatmeal is oats, which are one of the healthiest grains on earth. They offer a plethora of health benefits, making them incredibly nutritious and nourishing. Oats are packed with essential minerals and vitamins such as manganese, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, copper, and many others. They also contain beta-glucan fiber that is known to significantly lower cholesterol levels and prevent the risk of heart disease.
Also known as ga’at, Genfo is a thick porridge meal that is made from a variety of grains and mixed legumes, including chickpeas, wheat, barley, millet, maize, soybeans, Ethiopian oats, yellow peas, and sorghum.
Genfo is most commonly consumed in Ethiopia as a breakfast staple and is often eaten with a spoonful of yogurt or spiced butter called kibe. Compared to the other types of porridge, Genfo is more towards the stiff side, which is why it generally looks like a big ball on a plate.
The standard way to cook Genfo is to combine your preferred grain or legume with water and stir it continuously with a wooden spoon till it comes together into a smooth, thick, porridge-like paste. It is usually presented in a large mound that has a medium-sized hole in the center. This hole is filled with seasoned and clarified butter that is simmered with spices like cinnamon, fenugreek, cardamom, turmeric, cumin, and coriander. Or you could also fill the center with a spice mixture that contains a variety of ingredients like garlic, ginger, chili peppers, and basil, to name a few.
The most common way to eat Genfo is to pull apart a piece of the stiff porridge and then dip it into the spice and butter mixture that is filled in the hole at the center. Genfo is quite similar to another porridge dish called asida, which is made from flour and also has quite a stiff texture, just like Genfo. Asida is popularly eaten in North African and Arab countries.
Very similar to grits, Polenta is a ground cornmeal porridge that mainly originated in Italy. It was historically made from other types of grains, but modern polenta features boiled and ground cornmeal. In rural Italy, this dish is also referred to people as polenta soup or corn porridge. Although polenta is most commonly served and eaten as a hot porridge, many people often solidify the porridge into a loaf form that can later be grilled, baked or fried.
When making polenta, it is important to remember that it has to be cooked low and slow on the stove with a combination of either butter, cream, milk, or water. The particular variety of corn that is used to make polenta in Italy is called flint corn, which has quite a coarse texture. This corn is coarsely ground into cornmeal which forms the basis of the polenta.
In terms of the origin of polenta, it is undoubtedly one of the oldest dishes in history that was once consumed by the ancient Sumerians. In Mesopotamia, this porridge dish was primarily made with rye and millet.
Interestingly, Italian farmers used to eat polenta for every meal, starting with breakfast and ending at dinner. They would often pair it with cheese, which created a classic food combination. For a really long time, polenta held its position as a staple food in almost all of Italy.
Polenta isn’t just super delicious, it also very rich in its nutritional value. It is an excellent source of fiber and protein as it is fully enriched with essential minerals and vitamins. It is also gluten-free, which makes polenta a very safe food option for all those people who have gluten sensitivity. Additionally, polenta also contains a large number of complex carbohydrates that are broken down slowly in the body, which, in turn, keeps the blood sugar levels in control.
7. Hasty Pudding
Most closely tied to New England’s colonial history, hasty pudding is a type of porridge that started off as a delicious grain-based dessert in Europe and gradually evolved into a very unique kind of American staple.
Hasty pudding is a porridge or pudding that contains wheat flour or cornmeal stirred in milk or water to create a thick, mushy batter. In the United States, this rich porridge is commonly made with ground Indian corn. The term ‘hasty’ refers to how it is generally a more abstract type of food, and that is usually consolidated in a single container.
The origin of hasty pudding goes as far back as the 16th century when it was a standby dish for the British for centuries. It was made by cooking wheat flour in boiling water or milk till it resembled oatmeal porridge in terms of looks, consistency, and texture. While this is more of an original rustic version, many modern recipes of hasty pudding are made more attractive and delicious by topping the dish with a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream.
Hasty pudding is also commonly known as Indian pudding, but there is one main difference between the two variations. Indian pudding often includes molasses along with additional flavorings such as nutmeg and ginger. It is referred to as a “cold-weather classic” in New England, where it is also considered their traditional dessert. This variety of hasty pudding came about as a result of the English colonists who transformed the original version in the 17th century by substituting wheat for cornmeal. They also replaced milk with water and further added local sweeteners to the dish, such as maple syrup, along with spices like ground ginger and cinnamon.
Porridge is truly simple, yet one of the most versatile dishes of all times! From savory porridge to sweet porridge, you can experiment with a variety of ingredients, condiments, and seasonings and whip up a delicious, warm bowl of this comfort food!