The Great Norwegian Porridge Feud

A tempest in a porridge pot or microcosm of nutrition and health science in 1865 Europe?

“The more things change, the more it is the same.” The newest and best is here! Modernizers, scientists, doctors, the new adopters, the “experts” backed by the latest discoveries tell you, “Yes, there were mistakes in the past, but trust us, now we got it right, this is the answer, the best!”


Note that porridge so-called was made with grains not exclusively oats; the same general use of the word kasha in Russian. Oats may have been most common in Scotland, buckwheat in Russia, maze corn polenta in North Italy; not clear here what was the most common grain used in Norway at that time.

At first glance, it sounds like much ado about nothing, with a silly name to boot — the Norwegian Porridge Feud, indeed! — but once upon a time in Norway, the preparation of a simple bowl of porridge became a nexus for deeply-held, passionately-argued views about the natural sciences, nutrition, economy, the role of women in Norwegian society, education, tradition, nationalism, progressivism and enlightenment.

It was the custom of Norwegian farmers’ wives to prepare porridge by throwing a quantity of flour into the porridge as soon as it was ready to eat. One might see such a practice — adding uncooked grain to cooked — as a redundancy, but the author of Fornuftig Madstel, Peter Christen Asbjornsen (writing under the pseudonym Clemens Bonifacius) attacked this practice as worse than redundant: he argued that it was in fact a loss to the eater, as the flour would pass unabsorbed through the body, and it was a loss to the Norwegian economy, as all of this unused flour could be put to better use. He argued further that the only way to reverse this chronic waste, and the resultant weakening of the Norwegian population, was to revise the known methods of cookery and optimal consumption of foods to adhere to the principles of natural sciences; since women were the primary cooks for their families, they were responsible for the deleterious effects of bad cookery, and they should be retaught everything they knew from scratch, in accordance with natural science.

The tenacity of Asbjornsen’s ideas is all the more remarkable when we learn that the argument that started the Norwegian Porridge Feud — uncooked flour, added to cooked porridge, passes unused through the body — was disproved two years after the publication of Fornuftig Madstel, when a Norwegian doctor put it to the test…

A more recent review and analysis proposes that the enzymatic/amylase sweetening effect of the added flour explains the preference for the traditional porridge cooking method in dispute so long ago.

To study cooking practices in depth, transdisciplinary
approaches (Ramadier, 2004) are required; uni- or
interdisciplinary approaches may fail to notice vital

Bonus alphabetical listing of porridge names and ingredients from Atole to Wheatena:




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