The days are getting shorter, the mornings are getting colder, and there’s nothing like starting your day with a comforting bowl of steaming, hearty oatmeal. Oats are a common pantry staple, but with so many types to choose from, you may be wondering what the difference is between them.
All oatmeal is processed; however, processing in the oatmeal industry has nothing to do with artificial ingredients and added sugar. Oat processing is about how the whole oats are cut and prepared for cooking. Oats are processed to leave the nutritious bran or germ, so you get all of that whole-grain goodness. In honor of National Oatmeal Day, learn about this amazing grain.
Oats contain large amounts of beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber. This fiber is known to help lower levels of LDL cholesterol.
Oats are rich in many vitamins and minerals, such as manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc, iron, B vitamins, and selenium. One cup of regular, quick, or instant oats cooked with water and no salt has 166 calories. Oats are a complex carbohydrate, so they’ll keep you feeling full longer than simple carbs.
All oatmeal is made from oat groats, which are the whole grain of the oat with only the outer hard husk removed. A number of different types of oatmeal are offered:
Oat groats (oat berries) is another name for a grain kernel. Groats are the least processed form of oats. These oats have been hulled and cleaned. They take the longest to cook, about 50 to 60 minutes. The chewy texture and hint of nutty flavor are great for savory applications like side dishes, soups, stews, grain bowls, or hearty hot cereals. Boil it like you would pasta or a pilaf, then drain off the excess water.
Steel-cut oats (Irish oats) are made by cutting oat groats into smaller pieces. This type of oatmeal takes about 30 minutes to fully cook. Steel-cut oats are chewy and have a nutty flavor. This is a hearty go-to breakfast cereal. Steel-cut oats are good for cooking in soups and stews or adding to meatloaves and stuffings since they absorb less water than rolled oats. Steel-cut oats are not great for baking due to their rough texture.
With Scottish oats, the oat groats are stone ground, creating broken bits of varying sizes, which results in a creamier texture than steel-cutting and a toothsome chew. The cooking time is about 10 minutes.
Rolled oats (old-fashioned) are the most common form of oatmeal. Rolled oats are made by steaming oat groats that are then rolled and flattened into oat flakes and then dried. Rolled oats cook faster than steel-cut oats, absorb more liquid, and hold their shape relatively well during cooking. They cook in about five minutes. Rolled oats have a mild flavor, slightly chewy texture, and somewhat creamy consistency when cooked. They are a great choice for breakfast. Many recipes call for old fashioned oats as a binder or for dishes that will be cooked for a longer period of time.
Quick-cooking oats are pressed into even thinner flakes than rolled oats and cut into small pieces. This type of oatmeal cooks in about one to two minutes. Quick-cooking oats can be cooked on the stove or in the microwave. Quick-cooking oats make oatmeal with a very smooth, creamy texture. Quick oats are used in recipes that do not have a long cooking time.
Instant oats have been precooked during processing and dried. This means that they are rolled extra thin and milled finer than quick-cooking rolled oats for faster preparation. Since most instant oats are precooked, they are made to be cooked more quickly in the microwave or add boiling water to them. Instant oatmeal is fast, but it does not have the distinctive chewiness of regular oatmeal.
Oats have a relatively high-fat content and can go rancid if on the shelf for too long. Buy oats in small amounts and store them in a tightly covered container in a cool, dry place.
When preparing oatmeal, the oats can be cooked with water, milk, or a combination of both on the stovetop, in the microwave, or in a pressure cooker. Follow the instructions on the package for proper cooking times based on the type of oatmeal you purchase. “Overnight Oats” are also popular. These are oats that are soaked overnight in a liquid such as milk or yogurt. Adding your own flavor to oatmeal with cinnamon, nuts, vanilla, or even a quick drizzle of maple syrup is generally more nutritious than choosing flavored oatmeal packets.
Although oats don’t contain gluten, in rare cases, they are grown in the same fields as wheat or barley, and these crops can sometimes contaminate oats with gluten. Therefore, those who have gluten intolerance or celiac disease may have to exercise caution when eating oats.
When buying oatmeal, always check the ingredient list. No matter the type, there should only be one ingredient listed—whole-grain oats. Opt for plain oatmeal and top with various nutrient-packed, sweet, and/or savory toppings such as fresh berries, nut butter, Greek yogurt, sliced avocado, or a fried egg.
Written by Vicki Hayman, MS, University of Wyoming Extension Nutrition and Food Safety Educator
- nutritiondata.self.com; www.webmd.com; wholegrainscouncil.org