Oats 101: What You Need to Know

What are oats?

Oats begin their journey as groats, the seed of a cereal grain. They’re usually roasted to make them more shelf stable and to give them a toasty flavor, then processed in a number of ways.

Variations of Oats

Oats vary in how the groats are processed, and there are generally four ways this can go.
  • Steel-cut: Groats are cut up rather than rolled, giving them an almost rice-like appearance. Because the pieces are larger, they take the longest to cook and have a chewy texture.
  • Rolled (or old fashioned): The groats are steamed to make them pliable then flattened to create disc-like oats. These cook faster than steel-cut and absorb more liquid.
  • Instant: These are precooked and flattened even thinner than the rolled, making instant oats the quickest cooking variation. These don’t hold their shape well, so the result will be a bit mushy.
  • Oat flour: Groats are finely ground into a whole grain flour. This can be used in baking or for thickening soups and such.
And did you know that all four variations have the same nutritional values? They all start from the same groat, and are simply processed differently.

How to Cook Oats

This article has info on exactly how to cook each variation of oats, though generally speaking you’re going to need 2 to 3 cups of liquid for 1 cup of oatmeal, with your less processed oats (steel-cut) needing more time than your finer variations (instant). Here are some handy tips for optimal oatmeal:
  • Adding oats to cold water and bringing it to a boil will result in creamier oatmeal, while adding oatmeal to already boiling water will result in more textured oatmeal. Know what you’re going for and cook accordingly!
  • Be sure to add a pinch of salt! And experiment with adding spices like nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon while you’re at it.
  • Try toasting the oats before boiling for an even toastier, nuttier flavor.
  • Oatmeal is a blank canvas! Don’t settle for boring; spruce it up with any number of fruit/spicy/savory additions.