The hot kitchen appliance in the U.S. right now is the Instant Pot, a programmable electric pressure cooker that can also be used as a slow cooker and does various other things as well. I’ve been in the market for one and in the store snapped this picture, which shows just some of its functions.


The function that caught my eye was “Porridge,” which is a word we don’t really say in the U.S. (other than in “The Three Bears” and other fairy tales). Having been served it in English B and Bs, I had the sense that in the U.K., “porridge” means what we call “oatmeal.” Anglo-American linguist Lynne Murphy confirmed this, basically. Over Twitter, she said that in Britain, “the default porridge is made of oats…. if you ask for porridge, you will get oatmeal. For others, you’d need to specify–‘buckwheat porridge’ or whatever.”

It turned out that Instant Pot’s “porridge” isn’t a pure NOOBs. Although the product is hugely popular in the United States, it originated in Canada, whose residents seem to use “porridge” much as the British do. Indeed, Lynne forwarded me an article from the Canadian grain journal Grainews (and it somehow warms my heart that there’s such  a thing as a Canadian grain journal) titled, “What’s more Canadian than a bowl of porridge?” The article seems to use “oatmeal,” “porridge,” and “oatmeal porridge” interchangeably.

Of course, Instant Pot could have changed “porridge” to “oatmeal” for its U.S. shipments. But keeping the original term adds an exotic flavor that–who knows?–could have contributed to the product’s immense success.

29 responses to ““Porridge”

  1. I should also point out that “Oatmeal porridge” and oatmeal as an adjective is commonly used in the US to mean “made using rolled oats”. Actual “oatmeal” (like cornmeal) is different and the recipe writer may have to say “steel-cut oats” to get the right kind of stuff.

    • I tried a bowl of the American version of Quaker Oats in a sachet , they are far more salty and sweeter than we get in the UK. I really didn’t like them at all.

  2. Although I don’t think I know anywhere in the UK where you could get buckwheat porridge.

  3. In BrE, “Normal” porridge (usually made in Scotland) can be cooked in a Microwave in four minutes (on “medium”) or in two with special fine-ground Microwave porridge (which they charge a lot more for and comes in little packets).

    Porridge is also used in BrE to mean “prison term” and the recently-revived eponymous BBC sitcom.

    • Just had a look and there was an American remake of ‘Porridge’. Sadly for all of us who read this blog, it wasn’t called ‘Oatmeal’

    • The traditional way of making porridge is just heating oats and water (and I think the Scots put the salt in before heating). However, you can use milk instead of water, or what I do, a half and half mixture of milk and water. I did for a while experiment with using the microwave for this, but the milk tends to make the mixture boil over, making a mess of the inside of the microwave, so I went back to cooking porridge on the hob.

      And from what my American friends tell me, the term “cooking on the hob” is a Britishism that hasn’t crossed the Atlantic yet.

  4. Earlier this year I was attempting to learn German using the Duolingo website. The site lets users comment on the various phrases and sentences and there was much comment on the phrase “Das Müsli”. The recommended translation was “the muesli” and many American users were asking, “What the heck is muesli”.

    There were two schools of thought among Americans that it was either oatmeal or granola. Actually, it’s neither, although it appears that granola is something like muesli which has been toasted with sweeteners.

  5. The Scots use an alternative spelling.

  6. In Scotland they tend to sprinkle salt on their porridge where it is a very common breakfast dish, but In England we have a sweeter tooth and use sugar, honey or golden syrup (no doubt the Canadians use maple syrup)

    • Tradition dictates that porridge in Scotland should be eaten standing up. No idea why.

      • Here in Hong Kong, oatmeal/porridge is of a much more congee-like consistency, as I discovered to my horror when I ordered it in a local coffee shop (in the diner, not Starbucks, sense of the term). Standard US recipe is usually 2:1 liquid:oats, whereas here a package of Quaker oats will call for more like 5:1. I quite like congee but can’t stand oatmeal at the same texture, which seems too much like diarrhea.

    • I think that’s just personal preference, not a Scottish/English thing. I make porridge with oats, water and salt, and usually put some milk on it in the bowl.
      I’ve never put honey or sugar on it and I’ve never eaten golden syrup. Maybe I don’t don’t have a sweet tooth!

  7. Given the Chinese roots of Instant Pot’s founders, and what Chinese love for breakfast, I wonder if this setting was really intended for congee (made from rice) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congee rather than porridge made from oats.

  8. My rice cooker also has a porridge setting and I have always thought of it as jook. The cycle does work well for steel-cut oats.

  9. In Singapore “porridge” is the everyday term for congee (the words are both used and are synonymous).

  10. Interesting that the AmE spelling of “Yogurt” is used alongside “Porridge”, I guess?

  11. Porridge brings to mind the terrifying Ebenezer in Kidnapped, armed with a blunderbuss, who ate porridge, spelt parritch. I grew up on porridge made from thick oat flakes, cooked in water with salt. My cousins put sugar on it. Ugh! In the cupboard I find oatmeal which is described as medium, but to me is fine ground and nothing like those oatmeal flakes, and oatbran which again is fine milled, though not as fine as flour. I eat it with walnuts. After that, shop-bought wheat bran or muesli with fruit and nuts seems too sweet.

  12. I remember being told (though I have not heard the usage directly) that in Scotland “the porridge” can take a plural verb. Is that true?

  13. Nobody so far has mentioned the other use of “porridge” in the UK, meaning jail time, and made commonly known by the long-running eponymous BBC TV comedy series starring the late Ronnie Barker. I imagine that’s not known at all in the US?

  14. In Australia oatmeal refers to ground up dry oats. While porridge is usually made from rolled or quick oats. The oats themselves (usually rolled) are also commonly (if not more commonly) eaten on their own with cold or warm milk and honey.

  15. Not to forget that “porridge” is also slang for doing prison time.

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