Oats are affordable, fiber-packed, and make for a nutritious meal or snack. Learn about the common types of oats and their variety of culinary applications.
Oats are a common pantry staple, but with so many types to choose from, you may be wondering what the differences are. Before they hit our kitchens, this type of cereal grass may be cooked, cut, rolled or crushed. And they’re often eaten as oatmeal, used in homemade granola, muesli, bread, baked goods, and even uncooked preparations like overnight oats.
They boost nutrition while incorporating interesting flavors and textures. It’s versatile, neutral in taste, and has impressive health benefits to match. This article will explain the key differences between varieties like steel-cut, rolled, and instant oats, and how to use them in your daily cooking. The following list shows the least to most processed oats.
Also known as oat berries, these whole-grain oats have been hulled and cleaned. The groat contains the germ, endosperm, and bran. Most of the fiber in a groat is found in the oat bran, making this highest in nutritional value.
The longest cooking time, about 50 to 60 minutes. The chewy texture and hint of nutty flavor is 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)
Also called Irish oats, are simply oat groats cut up into smaller pieces with a steel blade. The larger the pieces, the longer they take to cook. Steel-cut oats take longer to cook, about 25 to 30 minutes. Quick-cooking steel cut oats are available, that are cut using a special granulator mill, making it ready in a third of the time, about 5 to 7 minutes.
They have a nutty flavor and a chewy texture, that can become creamy and have a porridge-like consistency. Ideal for hot cereals, or even risottos and pilafs. Cook them on the stovetop, slow cooker, microwave (best using quick-cooking steel cut oats), or pressure cooker. Toasting the oats in a pan before adding water enhances the nutty flavor!
Made from stone-ground oat groats that turn into a porridge when cooked. Gives the best of both worlds, creamy texture from the finer ground oats, with bits of toothsome chew. It takes about 10 minutes to cook hot porridge on the stove stop, or about 3 minutes in the microwave.
Rolled Oats (Old Fashioned Oats)
Oat groats that have been steamed, rolled and flattened into flakes and then dried. They have a mild flavor, slightly chewy texture, and slightly creamy consistency when cooked. They come in old fashioned or thick-cut versions for even more bite.
A classic to use for oatmeal, overnight oats, oat milk, smoothies, baked fruit toppings, granola, muffins, snack bars, cookies, pancakes, quickbreads, and bread. For oatmeal, it takes about 5 to 20 minutes on the stovetop depending on the desired consistency, or 2 to 5 minutes in the microwave.
Instant Oats (Quick Oats)
Also sold as quick-cooking oats, they’re similar to rolled oats but rolled into thinner flakes or steamed for a longer time. This process allows them to absorb water quickly and cook quickly. Instant oatmeal typically takes 1 to 3 minutes to cook.
They are also great baked fruit toppings, overnight oats, cookies, smoothies, muffins, pancakes, or meatloaf as a binder. Many brands have added sugars, flavors, and artificial sweeteners. It’s best to choose unsweetened oats if looking to limit those added ingredients.
The separated bran from oat groats that look like small tan flakes. It has been further milled to create a quick-cooking product, eaten as a rich and creamy hot cereal. As a smooth hot cereal it can be boiled on the stovetop or cooked in the microwave and ready within 5 minutes, or in a slow cooker within an hour. The high fiber bran can also be added in small quantities to pancakes, muffins, cookies, smoothies, and other quickbreads for a boost of nutrition.
A versatile finely-milled ingredient using the bran, germ, and endosperm from whole grain oat groats. The tan-colored and nutty-flavored flour product can be used to replace about 20% of wheat flour in breads, cakes, and cookies, more than that and the texture can become tough and chewy. It can be used at 100% in muffins and pancakes. It’s unique consistency when cooked can be used as a thickening agent for gravies, sauces, and soups.
Gluten-Free Oat Products
Gluten is a protein that’s found in many ingredients like wheat, rye, barley, and triticale, but not pure oats. Some brands offer gluten-free oats that have been certified gluten-free by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization. This is a great option for those following a gluten-free diet.
However, if you’re gluten or oat intolerant or sensitive, or have celiac disease its best to refrain from eating gluten-free oats at risk of cross-contamination during harvesting or processing in the manufacturing facilities.
Ways to cook oatmeal
Steel cut, rolled oats, or instant oats are the best choice to use for preparing oatmeal. 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.
Instant and rolled oats will cook faster than steel cut. You can choose the type of oatmeal product based on convenience. Brands even sell quick-cooking steel cut oats, if you want to balance time and nutrition.
Fun ways to add oats into recipes
- Oatmeal raisin cookies are always a classic dessert.
- Oat pancakes for breakfast.
- Add some chewiness and sustained energy to no-bake energy bites.
- Add creaminess to a smoothie.
- Make a crunchy topping for a baked apple crisp or cobbler.