Stephen Jardine: Welcome return of porridge

Porridge - a welcome treat. Picture: TSPL
Porridge - a welcome treat. Picture: TSPL
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With the chill wind of autumn comes a list of great seasonal treats. Pheasant, mushrooms and damsons may top the list but something else stars at this time of year.

For me, porridge disappears from the menu over the summer but for the next six months, it’s the perfect warming start to the day. I know people who persevere with porridge every day of the year but for me that means missing out on the joy of welcoming it back every October.

I come from a family of Presbyterian porridge people. For them that meant porridge oats, adding water, sprinkling with salt and then eating. It was the equivalent of a cold shower to start the day. After leaving home, my student years brought a break from porridge as university seemed to favour a recipe created in conjunction with Polyfilla.

My first trip to America put porridge back on the menu but in a new and decadent way. Far removed from the spartan bowls of my childhood, in the States it came with a bewildering array of berries, cream and maple syrup.

For a Scotsman with a sweet tooth, there was now no going back so my porridge these days is made with milk and comes with a swirl of honey and, whatever anyone else says, that’s how I like it. Opinions on how porridge should best be enjoyed are many and varied and no wonder, sales have almost doubled in the past five years.

According to Mintel research, almost half the population now eats a bowl of porridge every day. Although the biggest consumers are aged 45 to 54, nearly 40 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds are also getting their oats at breakfast.

All this is good news for Scotland. Earlier this month John Boa picked up the Golden Spurtle for the second time at the World Porridge Making Championships at Carrbridge. Now in its 20th year, the tournament attracts international attention which seems to grow yearly. In terms of sales, the main beneficiaries of the porridge boom have been the long-established brand leaders such as Scott’s and Hamlyn but there is also a new boy on the block.

Stoat’s started selling porridge at music festivals ten years ago as an alternative to greasy bacon rolls. The shiny trailer then became a staple at farmers’ markets and over the past decade the company has grown and diversified. Following a brand relaunch this year, Stoat‘s now sell porridge oats and bars to the supermarkets and is expanding its market share.

Analysts say the porridge boom isn’t over yet. Instant pots are transforming the way people eat it in the morning and vitamin and mineral fortification is expected to be the next development.

It’s all a long way from a cup of oats, a cup of water and a sprinkle of salt but porridge remains one of the healthiest ways you can start the day and anything that spreads that message must be a good thing.