It's wheat, sure—but also whatever you want it to be
If you've ever dabbled in the wide world of porridge, you've probably heard about Cream of Wheat. But what is Cream of Wheat, and what's the difference between Cream of Wheat and oatmeal? It's the question you've asked yourself many times, certainly! Let's start with the first part: In the same way that Kleenex is a brand name for tissues, Cream of Wheat is the brand name for farina. And what is farina? According to Bob's Red Mill, which manufactures its own white wheat farina, it's a type of milled wheat "produced by gently cracking the grain and then air purifying to remove most of the lighter-weight bran particles from the heavier endosperm."
Now that you've digested the presence of the word "endosperm" (just a creepy botany term for "seed part that stores food"), let's continue. The endosperm is the same part of the wheat kernel that's used to make pasta, so farina is fairly fine in texture. When cooked on a stovetop with water or milk, farina becomes "a creamy, mellow, sweet tasting porridge," write the folks at Bob's Red Mill. That's in stark contrast to the texture of oatmeal, which is generally on the chunkier and chewier side. Oatmeal is also made with oats rather than wheat, which is perhaps the main difference between these two types of hot cereals, and though oatmeal can be gluten-free, Cream of Wheat is, almost by definition, packed with gluten.
Making hot cereal with farina isn't anything new, however, nor is Cream of Wheat. The actual brand Cream of Wheat was started in 1893 at a small flour mill in Grand Forks, North Dakota. According to B&G Foods, which now owns Cream of Wheat, the product was created by head miller Tom Amidon who wanted to create a breakfast porridge. "Amidon’s 'porridge' was that part of the wheat taken from the first break rolls of the flour mill," explain the folks at B&G Foods. "Referred to as 'the top of the stream,' this is the source of flour of the highest grade," hence the name Cream of Wheat. The hot cereal took off, and the rest is breakfast history.
These days, Cream of Wheat is enriched with calcium carbonate and ferric phosphate, which improves the nutritional content and makes it a source of both calcium and iron. (Though, for what it's worth, a cup of cooked oatmeal does have more calcium and more iron than a cup of cooked Cream of Wheat, according to the US Department of Agriculture's National Nutrient Database.)
But you can eat Cream of Wheat either sweet, with a little bit of sugar or maple syrup, or savory, with butter, salt, even cheese. (Our own Kat Kinsman would probably encourage you to put some hot sauce in it.) You can make Cream of Wheat with either water or milk. Much like any other porridge, it's a dish that's super adaptable to what you like to eat, which means that Cream of Wheat can be whatever you want it to be.