As many other things, oats seem to come in and out of fashion and we are now living one of the ‘in’ periods. Every social media platform is inundiated with ugly porridge bowls hidden by carefully arranged pretty toppings and overnight oats (bircher muesli for us non-trendy people).
The great benefit of ingredients becoming popular is that they usually become more easily available and more varies pop-up. The negative side is that prices tend to go up. Luckily oats seem to have mostly avoided the price hike and only benefited from the larger variety.
After harvesting oats usually go through 3 basic processes before they reach us:
- de-hulling: the hull (the hard protective part of the grain) is removed.
- steaming: the de-hulled oats are steamed (but not cooked). This is done to prevent oats from going bad, or rancid, too fast.
- milling: the oats are processed to their final form from whole groats to flour.
Even with all this processing all different varieties of oats, except for oat brand, are considered whole grains.
These are basically whole oats without the hull, but with no other process applied to them. They are not easy to find other than in health stores and online. Usually they are pricier than other options.
Groats are chewy and take a long time to cook (think wheat berried or barley). If you want to avoid the 45 to 60 minutes of cook time, using a pressure cooker or a slow cooker are good options.
Steel cut oats, Irish oats, coarse oats or pinhead oats
Groats that have been chopped. They are quite hard to find in the UK, but relatively common in the US.
They are chewy and take a long time to cook, but less than whole groats. Depending on size they can take anywhere between 30 to 50 minutes.
Similar to steel cut oats but instead of being cut they are crushed. Traditionally they were crushed with stones, but now it is done with machines.
Mouthfeel and cooking similar to steel cut oats, but slightly creamier.
Rolled oats, regular oats, old-fashioned oats, porridge oats or oat flakes
Probably the most common variaty of oats available, and the cheapest. These are made while groats are being steamed by rolling them into flakes.
Rolled oats can be cooked somewhat easily either on the stove or by using a microwave, and they have a creamy texture.
Instant oats or quick oats
Rolled oats that have been steamed for a longer period of time, have been cut into small pieces, or both.
All kinds of oats can be instant or quick due to longer steaming periods. However, most available ones are made instant by further rolling or crushing, making them more powdery than the other kinds.
Also, most instant oats come in individual packets and flavoured, but unflavoured ones are available (if hard to find).
Instant oats cook in minutes with only boiling water needed (much like instant noodles).
Oats that are milled into flour. As oat flour has no gluten, chemical raising agents need to be used when baking with it, and usually bakes require a lot of liquid compared to those that use wheat flour.
Baked products made with oat flour usually have a chewier and denser texture than those made with wheat four and they usually take a longer time to fully cook.
Basically the hull that gets removed from the groats. We can’t get many nutrients from bran, but we can make use of the fiber. Usually it is mixed with other cereals or added back to oats.
Most bran is currently used as animal feed.
Click here to read all the posts in the oats series.