There are many different types of oats out there and sorting through these types can be confusing. So here is a little oat primer to make it easy on you.
- Oat groats, or whole oats: These are minimally processed – only the outer hull is removed. They are very nutritious, but need to be cooked and/or soaked for a long period of time to so you don’t break your teeth on them.
- Steel-cut oats, or Irish oats: These are groats that have been chopped into small pieces. They have a firmer texture than rolled oats, and people in the know often prefer them for hot oatmeal cereals and muesli. A tip on purchasing steel-cut oats: some of the name brand varieties are prohibitively expensive, so search for them in bulk, which usually sells for under $3/lb.
- Oat bran: This is the outer casing that is removed from the groats. The bran is particularly high in soluble fiber. Oat bran is very versatile, and can be used with groats or alone, and as an addition to baking recipes, or even raw in shakes.
- Rolled oats, or old-fashioned oats: These are oat groats that are steamed and flattened with huge rollers so that they cook quicker. Cooking times listed on the containers vary from 5 to 15 minutes, which is excessive. For the best results, minimize cooking time (1-2 minutes) to preserve the texture and flavor.
- Instant oats: These are made by chopping groats into tiny pieces, precooking them, drying them, then smashing them with a big roller. They need only be mixed with a hot liquid. They usually have flavorings and salt added. All of this processing removes all traces of the original texture and rich flavor of the groats and reduces the overall nutritional value.
- Oat flour: Oat flour is made from groats that have been ground into a powder, and contains no gluten so it does not rise like wheat flour. It can also be made at home by grinding rolled oats into a powder in a blender.
When in a hurry we usually choose old fashioned oats. However when you can budget for more prep, there’s nothing like the steel-cut variety.