Oats are a hardy grain able to tolerate poor soil conditions other crops normally could never withstand. It is hard to believe that oats were once thought of as a weed growing rampant among wheat and barley fields. For centuries the wild oat was considered tolerable feed only for livestock; while the wheat berry was an acceptable food staple. The Chinese meanwhile understood its valuable properties cultivating the oat for use in medicine. The oat was not widely consumed as a cereal for still sometime. We read tell of oats eaten in the form of porridge as far back as the 7th century. Oats were most likely introduced into the diet in small villages as a necessity to avoid starvation. The oat porridge was reserved for the lowest of society. Kings and their offspring on the other hand were offered porridge derived of wheaten meal topped with new milk. Despite its humble beginnings oats today contain rich nutrients that substantially lowers cholesterol reducing the risk of heart disease, boosts the immune system, and stabilizes blood sugar levels.
Unlike wheat, oats and barley must be hulled before human consumption. Groats have been heat treated to inactivate enzymes which cause rancidity. It is a good idea to soak grains (1 hour to overnight depending on use) before using them with baked goods or in oatmeal as the moisture ends dormancy. Soaking in essence wakes up the nutrients activating the enzymes to aide in digestion. This versatile grain can be used as groats or its sub varieties, turned into oat milk and milled into oat flour.
Raw hulled oats, that are untreated, may be sprouted for salads. Unprocessed hulled oats turn rancid quickly due to the reaction between the oils and oxygen; therefore, if you plan to sprout oats you will need to purchase hulless raw oats specifically labeled for sprouting. Hulless oats are grown so that the hull falls off during reaping. Thus eliminating the need for heat processing. Sprinkle sprouted oats on vegetables, salads, and sandwiches.
Oats have high amounts of cholesterol lowering soluble fiber, vitamins B, calcium, protein, and are low on the glycemic index. The amount of nutrients lessens with additional heating and processing. From a nutritional standpoint the purest form of nutrients comes from raw sprouted seeds followed by groats and oat bran. There are 6 variations of oats to choose from, excluding oat flour.
Once the outer husk, or hull, has been removed from an oat it is called a groat. Oat groats are minimally processed allowing them to retain their rich nutrients. Once processed and if stored properly groats will last at least 36 years. Groats have a nice chewy firm texture and a nutty flavor similar to a wheat berry. Those opposed to the mushy texture of porridge find groats more pleasing. Groats are a hard grain requiring a longer cooking time than rolled oats. It is not necessary to soak overnight however a minimal soaking of an hour or so is beneficial nutritionally. Use oat groats in stuffing, pastas, soups, stews, mixed in an omelet and as oatmeal. Grind groats into flour to thicken soups or replace all-purpose flour in baked goods.
To soak: If you have a crock pot groats may be cooked and soaked in one step (6 1/2 cups water to 1 1/2 cups groats cook on low overnight for 7-9 hours). Otherwise rinse the groats well then place in a bowl with enough water to completely cover plus 1-inch. Stir in a couple tablespoons whey, buttermilk or plain yogurt. (The yogurt works with the enzymes to make the oats easier to digest.) In the morning toss the water and cook according to recipe.
To cook: add fresh water (3 parts water to 1 part groats) to a pot; bring to a boil over medium heat. Add groats (soaked or dry). Turn heat to low and simmer for 15-50 minutes for dry groats and 15-30 for soaked; depending on your tastes.
Scottish oats are groats that have been ground into a meal for porridge. When cooled the porridge becomes thick and solid. In Medieval times they would cut the cooled porridge into thick slices then fry them for a hearty lunch.
The oat bran is the outer casing that is removed with the hull from the groats during the milling process. The bran contains the bulk of soluble fiber in the grain. Oat bran is used to make hot bran cereal or as an addition to baked goods such as pancakes and muffins.
Steel Cut Oats
Steel cut oats are groats that have been chopped into smaller pieces. Individuals who are opposed to the “mushy” texture of rolled oats might find the steel cut oat’s chewy texture appetizing. Replace rolled oats with steel cut oats in most recipes 1:1. Just remember steel-cut oats like groats may require soaking or a longer cooking time. In recipes such as baked oatmeal the oats will require soaking overnight according to the directions under groats. When cooking steel cut oats for oatmeal use 2 parts water to 1 part oats. If you have access to a Vita-Mix or grinder you can use groats and steel cut to make oat flour for baked goods.
Rolled oats are oat groats that are steamed, rolled, and flaked so that they cook quickly.
[To avoid mushy oatmeal never use quick oats. Use 1/2 to 1 cup more oats than called for. Boil the water first before adding the oats. Stir in the oats; turn down the heat to low. Cook 5 minutes longer until tender.]
Rolled oats may be processed into flour, quick oats (process in a food processor until the texture of quick oats) or used whole in many baked goods and smoothies. Sprinkle on top of bread down, stir into cookie dough, mix with hamburger, or make a crust for fish. Toast before adding to muffins to add an enhanced nutty flavor.
Quick oats are thinner flakes of rolled oats. Quick oats are often used in baked goods for a lighter texture than rolled oats. Substitute quick oats with rolled oats 1:1 in any recipe. Quick oats can also be made into facial masks and scrubs or used to calm inflammation from rashes to insect bites.
Instant oatmeal are rolled thin but are then cooked and dried. Instant oatmeal comes in single packets and contains additives and sweeteners.
A Couple Important Notes:
Oats contain a natural substance called purines; commonly found in plants, animals, and humans. Purines could pose a health risk in certain individuals. When broken down purines produce a form of uric acid. Excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to a build up of uric acid resulting in a condition known as gout and kidney stones. Individuals with kidney problems or gout should limit their intake of foods that contain purine.
Oats are non-scientifically grouped; meaning they are part of the gluten grains: wheat, oats, barley and rye. For those individuals with wheat allergies, such as Celiac, it is best to be cautious and eliminate the grain from the diet then try to slowly reintroduce it at a later date. Try soaking overnight with plain greek yogurt or whey to help with digestion.