Oats explained: know your ingredients
Oats, if you haven’t noticed, are kind of having a moment right now. Oat milk, oat flour, overnight oats, they’re everywhere. But what the heck is an oat? And why are there so many kinds?
Oats, as it turns out, are a grain grown for their seed, or groat – what they call the whole unbroken grain. The different ways of processing the groat is what yields steel cut, quick and rolled oats, which you’ve seen lining your grocery store aisles.
Before processing, groats are roasted at low temperatures. The roasting is to increase shelf life, as the heat deactivates an enzyme that causes the seed to go rancid. Plus, it adds a toasty flavour.
Steel-cut oats are roasted groats cut into smaller pieces, usually from – you guessed it – a steel blade. As they are the least processed, steel-cut oats require the most cooking time. They are also highest in fiber and often touted as making the nuttiest, heartiest oatmeal, or porridge, with the chewiest texture.
When you think “oat”, you’re probably thinking about rolled oats – it is for me anyways. This is the flat ovular grain you see in granola or oatmeal cookies. Rolled oats are made from groats that have been dehusked, steamed and rolled into flat flakes.
Sometimes called old-fashioned oats, rolled oats have a milder taste and softer texture compared to their steel-cut counterparts. They also take less time to cook as they’re already partially cooked by the steaming process.
Finally, we have quick oats. These are flakes that have undergone a similar process to rolled oats, except they are steamed for slightly longer and rolled even thinner in order to reduce their cook time. Quick oats are milder and softer than the other types, to the point that some find them to be tasteless and mushy.
Quick oats and instant oats are actually very different, though many people mistake them as being one and the same. Instant oats are sold in little packets with instructions to just add boiling water. That single serving maple-flavoured oatmeal your whip up when you’ve slept in? Those are instant oats. Instant oats are cooked and dehydrated oats packed with flavouring and preservatives. Quick oats have one ingredient – oats.
If you’re wondering about which oat is healthiest, of course with processing comes slightly different nutritional values. Having said that, with the exception of instant oats, rolled, quick and steel-cut oats don’t vary too much in dietary benefits.
All three are high in protein, fiber, and aid in lowering cholesterol and blood sugar. Oats help build a stronger immune system, a healthy heart and help prevent chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes. If you like all types the same, steel-cut is a better bang for your buck when it comes to nutrient density. Though in my opinion, any oat is a good oat.