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.
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Oats are an everyday pantry staple, but with so many types to choose from, you may be wondering what the differences are. Before they hit our kitchens, this healthy breakfast 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 exciting flavors and textures. It’s versatile, neutral in taste, and has impressive health benefits. This article will explain the critical differences between steel-cut, rolled, and instant oats and how to use them in 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 the highest nutritional value.
Has the longest cooking time of 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 pasta or a pilaf, then drain the excess water.
Steel-Cut Oats (Irish Oats)
Also called Irish oats, they 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 cut using a particular 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. You can cook steel cut oats 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!
It is made from stone-ground oat groats that turn into porridge when cooked. Gives the best of both worlds a creamy texture from the finer ground oats, with bits of toothsome chew. It takes about 10 minutes to cook hot porridge on the stove top or about 3 minutes in the microwave.
Rolled Oats (Old Fashioned Oats)
Oat groats steamed, rolled, flattened into flakes, and then dried. They have a mild flavor, slightly chewy texture, and somewhat creamy consistency when cooked. They come in old fashioned or thick-cut versions for even more bite.
A classic for oatmeal, meal prepping overnight oats, oat milk, smoothies, baked fruit toppings, granola, muffins, snack bars, cookies, oat pancakes, quickbreads, and bread. Oatmeal 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 for 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 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. A smooth hot cereal 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 to boost 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 replace about 20% of wheat flour in breads, cakes, and cookies. More than that, the texture can become inflexible and chewy. It can be used at 100% in muffins and pancakes. Its unique consistency, when cooked, can be used as a thickening agent for gravies, sauces, and soups.
Gluten-Free Oat Products
Gluten is a protein 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 an excellent option for those following a gluten-free diet.
However, suppose you’re gluten or oat intolerant or sensitive or have celiac disease. In that case, it’s best to refrain from eating gluten-free oats at risk of cross-contamination during harvesting or processing in manufacturing facilities.
Ways to cook oatmeal
Steel cut, rolled oats, or instant oats are the best 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 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 to balance time and nutrition.
Fun ways to add oats to recipes
- Oatmeal raisin cookies are always a classic dessert.
- Add some chewiness and sustained energy to no-bake energy bites.
- Add creaminess to a smoothie.
- Combine it in a recipe with nut butters.
- Make a crunchy topping for a baked apple crisp or cobbler.