What starts as an inedible kernel for human diets transforms into one of the world’s healthiest whole grains.
A bit understated and humble, oats may not always be given their due respect. This small but mighty grain supports good health and brain function by providing protein, fiber, many important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, along with unique plant compounds not found in other grains.
The history of oats is amazingly long and shows it has strived for recognition along the way. Archaeological evidence reveals that wild oat species were consumed by humans over 32,000 years ago. Eventually, four oat species were cultivated after long being characterized and treated as a “weed” that invaded more prized whole grain crops. It wasn’t until the Romans introduced oats to residents of the British Isles that it really came into its own. Oats were later brought to North and South America in the 16th and 17th centuries by explorers. Today, oats are grown and consumed worldwide, with Europe being the largest producer and North America following.
The kernels harvested from these grassy plants undergo a series of processing steps to become various types of oat ingredients used in cooking. The nutritional content remains similar in these different forms, with the less processed steel-cut and rolled oats providing the most benefit for lowering blood sugar.
- Once the hull is removed from the inedible kernel, the oat groat is revealed. The outer layer of the oat groat just beneath the kernel is milled to become Oat Bran.
- Steel-Cut Oats or Irish Oats are formed by using steel blades to cut whole groats into smaller pieces. They are course, chewy in texture, heartier in flavor, and require the longest cooking time.
- Rolled Oats are steamed and flattened groats. They are softer, milder in flavor and quicker cooking than steel-cut oats. Rolled oats are also known as Old Fashioned Oats.
- Instant or Quick Oats are flattened even thinner than rolled oats and are steamed for a longer period of time. They have the shortest cooking time of all varieties of oats and do not hold their shape well. Many times, manufacturers add flour, sugar or other additives to give instant or quick oats more flavor and body.
- Oat Flour is made when the groats are finely ground.
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WHY I LIKE COOKING WITH OATS
- Oats help protect against heart disease, lower cholesterol and blood sugar, and improve brain function (memory, mood, concentration, and productivity). They also contain compounds that nourish and help restore and maintain good gut health, which affects our whole being.
- Their nutty, slightly sweet flavor compliments and pairs well with many sweet and savory ingredients such as fruit, nuts, seeds, other whole grains, vegetables, creamy dairy and non-dairy items, honey and other natural sweeteners, and herbs.
- Steel-cut oats make flavorful and satisfying oatmeal and savory whole-grain dishes.
- Rolled oats make a nice addition to dishes like meatloaf and meatballs, providing texture and more nutritional benefits than bread crumbs.
- Oats are a great gluten-free option.
NOTE: many oats are processed in facilities that also process gluten products, so check labels to ensure non-gluten processing if necessary.
Oats retain a certain amount of moisture no matter how they are processed, so over time, they can go rancid. It is best to purchase them in tightly sealed packaging rather than in bulk. Check the “best by” date on the package to ensure the best quality and freshness when purchasing.
For the highest nutritional benefit, select plain oats without flavorings, sugar, or other additives.
Oats are readily available in grocery stores, and there are more brands available than I have been able to try! Four brands I find to be consistent in quality, freshness, and taste are:
- Unopened dry oats should be stored in a cool, dry pantry or cupboard.
- Opened dry oats should be stored in a tightly covered glass or plastic container or a resealable bag in the pantry. Dry oats can also be stored in a tightly sealed container or a resealable bag in the freezer. It is best to use opened oats from the pantry or freezer within one year.
- Dry oats can spoil or grow mold. Check for an off smell, look for a change in color or texture before use.
- If stored properly, oats will last approximately 12 – 24 months.
- Refrigerate cooled, cooked oats in a tightly sealed container for up to one week.
- If there is an off smell or taste, or the liquid used to prepare the oats has separated or is discolored, dispose of the cooked oats.
Photo: Micheile on Unsplash
Oatmeal comes to mind first for enjoying oats, but their use goes well beyond that. The type of oat used in recipes will vary depending on the dish.
Steel-cut oats retain a firmer exterior due to minimal processing so provide a chewier texture and hold more of their shape. They also have the longest cooking time of oat varieties. Use them in:
- oat risotto
- whole grain salad
- whole grain side dish
- with bread or other grains for stuffing or dressing
Rolled oats are broken down a bit further than steel-cut oats, allowing them to absorb moisture more quickly. Use them in:
- sweet and savory baked goods
- meatloaf or meatballs
- vegetable or whole grain casseroles
- oatmeal (less texture than steel-cut)
- granola or muesli
Instant or Quick oats are just that – much quicker to cook. They are finer in texture and tend to melt into the recipe. Use them in:
- breakfast porridge or quick oats
- savory porridge
- sweet and savory baked goods
- coating for meat, fish/seafood, vegetables
Oat flour is a nice whole grain option for
- coating meat, fish/seafood, or vegetables
- as a thickener for soups or sauces
To bring out even more of the nuttiness in steel-cut oats, toast them in a skillet on the stovetop before adding them to a recipe.
- Dry toasting – preheat a skillet (no oil or moisture) over medium heat; add the oats and toast just until they begin to release their fragrance and brown slightly, about 1 minute.
- Moist toasting – heat a small amount of oil or butter over medium heat, add the dry oats and saute them until fragrant and lightly browned, about 1 minute.
Additional recipes using oats that you may enjoy:
- Multi-Grain Breakfast Porridge – Love + Craft Kitchen
- Apple Crisp – Love + Craft Kitchen
- Spicy Oat Crusted Chicken with Sunshine Salsa – Whole Grain Council
- Steel-Cut Oat Risotto with Mushrooms – Whole Grain Council
What is your favorite way to have oats? Share it in the comments section.
Main photo: sunxiaoji on Pixabay
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