Atol de Avena


When my suegra lived with us, she used to buy oatmeal, which she called by one name and one name only – “Quacker.” This used to make me crazy because “Quacker” sounds like a nickname for a duck, but it was her mispronunciation of the brand name “Quaker Oats” – and perhaps it’s a common mispronunciation in El Salvador, the same way Corn Flakes are called “Con Fleis” – I honestly don’t know if it was a suegra thing or a Salvadoran thing.

When my suegra would make oatmeal though, she didn’t even attempt to decipher the directions on the can; the result was more like soup than anything I previously recognized as the thick, lumpy oatmeal of my childhood. I told her many times that you aren’t supposed to add that much water or milk, but she would only look at me like I was stupid and sip her oatmeal out of her favorite cumbo.

It was only years later that I found out what “atol de avena” is – and realized that my suegra had never been attempting to make American-style oatmeal in the first place. So, here is a lesson in humility, a reminder that there isn’t always one right answer, and a recipe for “atol de avena” which I am sipping right now, suegra-style.

Atol de Avena

2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick (and/or ground cinnamon)
1 cup uncooked oatmeal (I use Quaker Oats 100% Natural Whole Grain Old Fashioned)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk (I used 2%)
4 packed tablespoons brown sugar or other sweetener (see directions below)


1. In a medium pot over medium-high heat, bring 2 cups water, a cinnamon stick, salt, and oatmeal to a boil. (If you don’t have a cinnamon stick, you can add ground cinnamon to taste later.)

2. Reduce heat to a simmer. Stir continuously for about 3 minutes.

3. Add milk and stir until heated through. Remove from heat.

4. While still warm, you’ll want to add the sweetener. I usually use brown sugar, (4 packed tablespoons), but you can use piloncillo, dulce de atado, or dulce de panela. My suegra never would have added more sugar than this as she doesn’t like things overly sweet, but feel free to add more if you don’t find it sweet enough. You can also add ground cinnamon for more flavor as this recipe yields a very mild tasting atol de avena.

5. Serve warm. Makes about 4 cups.


  1. I love oatmeal. I discovered it in Canada, it doesn’t exist in France. Incidentally, French pronounce the brand (they sell cereal bars in France) “kakerot” or something like that :lol:

    And I was adding way too much water to make oatmeal at first too.

    Basically, I am your suegra :lol: (without the weird passive-agressive thing… oh I remember your articles about her!)

    • LOL, you are not my suegra!

      Interesting about the French – I wonder how ways “Quaker” is pronounced around the world.

  2. I love atole de avena! My grandpa used to make it on rainy days, or whenever he was bored. Your suegra’s pronunciation is common here in Mexico too, because when reading most American name brands (and even names in general) they read them as if they were written in Spanish. Like Gatorade is sometimes pronounced Gato(as in cat)-raw-day.

    • Gato-raw-day …. jajajaja. Yes, I know. American brand names get butchered. English-speakers re-pay the favor when they try to pronounce Spanish words though ;)

  3. Hello Tracy, In enjoy your articles, but this time, I have to add something:
    I never heard the word ” Atol ” in Mexico, U say: A T O L E
    I don’t know if our salvadorian friends say ” ATOL” or is the same mistake that some people do with the word T-A-M-A-L. the plural form is ” tamal-ES,” we have to add “ES” at the end
    If U say “I eat ONE tamal” is with out the ” E is not correct to say ” tamal-E ”

    It is annoying to hear tamalE; is the same reaction when U heard your suegra=” QUAKER ”
    I believe that IF I love italian or French food,or salvadorian or colombian food, my way of showing my pleasure eating these delicious dishes is pronouncing the names the correct way.

    Can we change the people ? NO
    is better just to switch to another topic: Atole de GUAYABA, ! anybody ?
    Que tal un vaso de: T E J U I N O con nieve de limon ?

    • Hi Rene! Thanks for the comment.

      Yes, I know Mexicans typically spell it “atole” however, Salvadorans typically spell it “atol” (it’s even printed this way multiple times in a Salvadoran cookbook I have.)

      You’re right that a lot of Americans say “I want one tamale” – instead of “tamal” – I try to avoid doing that myself, but it’s widely accepted in English.

      Don’t take my annoyance with my suegra too seriously. This blog post is supposed to be a little humorous and I just like to observe cultural and linguistic differences – it makes the world more interesting :)

      I’ve never tried Tejuino, but would love to!


    • My family is from El Salvador and I’ve always heard Atol with no e at the end. I even googled Atol de Avena. I didn’t know other cultures drank it too lol

  4. I went to the link wikipedia, and there I see: ATOL, (is used in Central America)
    I’m learning; Because we share many thing in our history, many words,
    have the same origin: NAHUALT that is why I tought MAYBE it was a mistake.

    TEJUINO is a deliciuos COLD DRINK made out of MAIZ,
    people like to add a scoop of nieve de limon = REFRESHING + DELICIOUS
    I’m almost certain that the drink origin goes back to the aztecs.

    I wonder of the origin of the word PUPUSA

    ( we have the mexican version, depending the region: GORDITAS DE CHICHARRON
    When your are preparing the dough, make it like tortilla shape, then add fragments of chicharron,on the inside; then put it in the comal, 5′ mi later is ready + serve with some salsa de cascabel.+ maybe fresh cheese on the top
    Some people have them for breakfast, with atole ( de Pina de Fresa, de Guayaba de Nuez de arrayan etc etc ) or champurrado,

    MMH ! I’m feeling hungry : )
    * I agree with the linguistic differences : ) = LIFE is FUN !
    next post my recipe for: ” POZOLE NEGRO ” not very common, = DELICIOUS !

    • Hi again, Rene!

      Thanks for the information on Tejuino. As soon as I get a chance to try it, I definitely will.

      As for the origin of the word pupusa – I’ve heard a few different theories regarding the word’s origin but all the theories I’ve read say it comes from indigenous Pipil words. The most plausible in my opinion is that “pupusa” comes from a combination of the Pipil words “popotl” which means stuffed, and “tlaxkalli” which means tortilla.

      Have a good day!

  5. Tracy, thought I’d share my recent story about this. So a couple of days ago I decided to make breakfast for my Catracho and decided it would be oatmeal. I finished making it and brought it upstairs for him along with toast, the way I grew up eating mine. I didn’t give him a lot, less than half a mug because I knew he wasn’t the biggest fan of it but I was hoping that he’d like mine and ask for more even. Well, when he took the mug, he just stared at it and then at me. He was looking at it like I filled the mug with poop or something. I kept asking him, what’s wrong, why are you looking at me and like that. He asked, what is THIS? I said “OATMEAL! You know, avena???” Again with the looking at me and then the mug! I was getting upset. It doesn’t take that long to make oatmeal but I did put forth the effort to make it and it was getting cold and we all know how it changes after it sits for too long. I grabbed the spoon and some oatmeal and said “open up! Gosh, you’re worse then Veronica (my 3 yr old neice)!” And he actually turned his head away!! I couldn’t understand. “Just taste it!” He stuck his tongue just enough to touch a tiny but then scrunched his face up. Well, by then I’d had it! I threw the spoon in the mug and said “Fine! I’ll make you eggs and toast!!” and stormed back downstairs. Hours later I didn’t have much to say to him and he didn’t go out of his way to try and make me feel better either. Later that evening I finally asked what the deal was with the oatmeal. He said “I don’t like cereal. The amount you put in that mug is enough to feed my whole family!” I couldn’t understand what he meant by that. How could that little bit feed his WHOLE family?! I kept telling him, that’s how oatmeal is made in the U.S.! Then he said the words that finally made me think of this article you’d just posted. He described how they used a tiny bit of avena and ALOT of milk or liquid which made it more like a soup. When I went to my phone to pull up your recipe, it clicked. Like he said our oatmeal is to eat, theirs is to drink! I apologized for shooting the daggers at him for not eating what I cooked for him and promised I’d try your recipe so I can see what this tastes like cuz for the life of me I cant imagine, haha. Wow! What a learning experience for both of us! Even though it did make me a little angry, I still look forward to our future lives together learning more and more about each other and our cultural differences. Thanks for sharing the post.

    • Ay, Teresa! I’m smiling but I also feel bad for you. I’ve totally been there and know how frustrating it is. Thanks for sharing this. I’m sure many people who read this blog are going to relate to this misunderstanding. I hope the atol de avena goes over better with him!


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