Gruel is a type of preparation consisting of some type of cereal, wheat or rye flour, and also rice, boiled in water or milk. It is similar to porridge, but is more often drunk than eaten. Historically, gruel has often been an important part of the human diet, especially that of the working class. The importance of gruel as a form of sustenance has been lessened in the more modern times.
Maize gruels were once one of the main food sources for many Mesoamerican peoples, such as the Maya and Aztecs. Atole was a preparation of ground maize that was often flavored with chili and salt. It could be consumed or drunk both as an important calorie source and as a refreshing thirst quencher.
In Sweden, gruel is often given to small children, but is rarely eaten among adults.
In the Western world, gruel is remembered as the food of the child labour slaves in Charles Dickens' Industrial Revolution novel, Oliver Twist. The eponymous character asks the master of the workhouse for some more, and is struck a blow to the head for it. Also, in The Simpsons episode "Kamp Krusty", Bart and some of the other children are forced to eat "Krusty Brand Imitation Gruel" as their only meal, punctuated by the comment "Nine out of ten orphans can't tell the difference."
A counter example of literary reference to gruel can be found in Jane Austen's Emma, wherein the title character's well-off father, Mr. Woodhouse, is depicted as most fond of it for sustenance, health and good character.
Congee is a popular Asian preparation of gruel made with rice.