Get a New Grain: Oats

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With all the different types of oats out there, it can get confusing. Is one superior to the other? Is one healthier than another? Here’s the simple scoop: Oat groats are whole oat kernels that have had the hard outer hull removed. Steel cut oats are groats that have been cut into three or four pieces (they’re termed “pinheads” for their appearance, which you can see in the photo below). Rolled oats (sometimes termed “old-fashioned rolled oats) are groats that have been steamed and rolled flat. Quick-cooking rolled oats are steel-cut oats that have been steamed and flattened, as is instant oatmeal, only cut into smaller pieces. All of these forms of oats have the three beneficial whole grain parts intact; the texture is all that differs. But beware; instant oatmeal does often come with added sugar, fat and preservatives.

oats-postWhat They Look Like: Whole oat groats look a bit like plump, dull-sheened brown rice with a dimple running lengthwise. Steel-cut oats are dull, buff-colored, medium-sized grains (they look somewhat like bulgur) with jagged edges. Rolled oats are flat and powdery, and instant oatmeal is the consistency of coarse sand.

What They Taste Like: Oats have a lovely, very mild nuttiness to them. Because their flavor is so neutral, they’re a good whole grain to cut your teeth on—in whatever form you choose. Oat groats have a rice-like texture to them with a bit more toothsome chew. Steel-cut oats are dense and chewy with a delightful “pop” at the core. Rolled oats cook into a porridge-like consistency, with quick-cooking oats turning slightly runny and instant oatmeal pushing mushy.

How to Cook Them: For groats and steel cut, cook oats in a 1:3.5 ratio of oats to water. Heat a bit of butter in the pot and toast the oats before adding the liquid, then bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes for whole groats, 25 minutes for steel-cut oats. For rolled oats, use a 1:3 ratio and bring water to a boil, then add oats, reduce heat and simmer for 5-15 minutes for rolled oats and just 1-2 minutes or quick-cooking oats.

How to Use Them: Oats are, obviously, terrific breakfast food in whatever form you like. But also try leftover groats or steel-cut oats (before you flavor them) in place of rice in stir-fried rice or seasoned with savory additions and served like a risotto.

Additional Notes: Steel-cut oats in fancy cans can get expensive, but they’re downright cheap in bulk. They’re also incredibly healthy; starting in the 1960s, a significant number of studies identified a type of soluble fiber in oat bran, called beta glucan, as a major contributor in lowering total and LDL cholesterol. What’s more, that filling feeling from eating a bowl of oatmeal—which has actually been measured and quantified in the development of a Satiety Index–may help maintain a healthy weight.

(For more information on whole grains, see Gotta Get Your Grains. Also check out the other grains in our Get a New Grain series.)

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Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal with Toasted Pecans

This breakfast is downright decadent–like a pumpkin pie in a bowl. Don’t let its sumptuousness rob you of pleasure though, this oatmeal is super-healthy too. It’s loaded with fiber from the pumpkin and whole grain goodness from the oats.

pumpkin-spiced-oatmeal-recipe2 cups cooked steel cut oats
1 cup canned pumpkin (half a 15-ounce can)
1/2 cup low-fat milk
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg and 1/4 teaspoon allspice)
1/4 cup pecans, toasted and crumbled

Stir together all ingredients except nuts in a medium saucepan over medium heat until heated through.

Spoon into bowls and top with crumbled pecans.

Serves 4

  • http://www.wildplumcottage.blogspot.com Cara

    This sounds delicious. I know what I’m having for breakfast tomorrow.

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/liahuber/ Lia Huber

    I just had it (again) for breakfast this morning. It’s absolutely perfect for this time of year.

  • http://www.hertzmann.com Peter Hertzmann

    I find that I like my oats thick and not soupy. Plus I’m cheap and always in a hurry. My recipe for a single portion is 3/4 cup thick rolled oats, 2 tbsp flaxseed meal, 1/8 tsp fine salt, 1 cup water. Everything goes into a small saucepan over high heat. When it comes to a boil, i cover the saucepan, turn off the heat, and wait 4 minutes. I eat it either plain for with a spoonful of honey. The cost per serving, even using expensive organic oats purchased in bulk, is about 25¢. The whole process from start to eating is about 7 minutes. Easy to do, even when I’m running late.

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/liahuber/ Lia Huber

    Sounds like a good recipe, Peter. And I find the thick rolled oats to be quite tasty and toothsome too . . . it’s when you get into the thinner ones and the instant that things turn runny. It’s actually kind of cool that you can choose what kind of texture you want in your oatmeal with all the options.

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/mountainrn/ mountainrn

    I love oatmeal but have been eating the steel cut oats because I thought they had more of the grain than rolled oats. Interesting. I’m working on my cholesterol. I like my oatmeal not like paste – I like some texture which is why I like the steel cut style. When I cook rolled oats, I don’t cook them for long as I want them to resemble oats, not paste. I used to use sugar, butter and cream. Now I use Splenda, Smart Balance Spread, and soy milk. ;-)

    steph

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/mountainrn/ mountainrn

    Whoops – forgot the chopped walnuts.

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/ldgourmet/ Jacqueline Church

    I’ve heard people use their rice cookers to set up oatmeal the night before..?

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/devotay/ Kurt Michael Friese

    I tend to prefer my oats in Guinness…

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/jennyttu/ Jen Walsh

    Ummm… this looks delicious! I may have to pick up the ingredients tonight!

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/jennyttu/ Jen Walsh

    Where do you find steel cut oats?

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/liahuber/ Lia Huber

    Jen . . . You can probably find them in your cereal aisle (or oatmeal aisle) in a can like McCann’s. For a cheaper option, though, see if you can find them in bulk. Store like Whole Foods probably carry bulk–our local organic market does here. Happy breakfast!

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/jennyttu/ Jen Walsh

    Great! Not sure if I’ll be able to get it tonight, but I’ll definitely try for this weekend. Thanks!

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/ldgourmet/ Jacqueline Church

    Lia – I saw a BBC show last night with a Herring done with an oats breading – like a panko crust. Fabulous and sustainable!
    -Jackie

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/liahuber/ Lia Huber

    I’ve actually done that before with leftover steel cut oatmeal (cooked). It’s really good. In fact, I’m glad you reminded me of it . . . I have some leftover from earlier this week–I think I’ll do some pan-fried halibut with oatmeal coating. Yum!

    Jen . . . Enjoy the oatmeal this weekend!

  • Donna Wolfe

    Steel-cut original Mccann’s Irish Oatmeal comes in cylindrical paper “can “. There are two other choices of quick and instant, but the original has more definition. Sometimes it is hidden away in the “import” aisle but most graceries carry it now.