Off to the grocery store to get some oats?
While they might look as though they are all the same, oats come in many different types.
With so many varieties available, you can actually mix things up a bit by using different oats and preparing them in various ways.
How sure are you that the type of oatmeal you eat all the time is a healthy breakfast option?
Learn more about the different types of oats and how to make other oat-based meals here.
What is an Oat?
Oat is a breed of cereal grains belonging to the genus Avena of the grass family.
It is widely cultivated for its seeds, which also carry a similar name in its plural form.
Oats comprise the brans, germs, and endosperms of the oat grains.
What is the difference in oats and oatmeal?
While oats are the uncooked and unprocessed version of the grain, oatmeal refers to the processed and pre-cooked oats versions.
Oats can be steel-cut or rolled for human consumption, and they can also be used in raw form to feed livestock.
Different Types of Oats
The different types of oats vary in the processing methods, cooking time, and resulting texture.
Additionally, many processed oats may have more ingredients than processed grains.
Some products have different flavors and shelf-lives depending on their added sugars and preservatives.
Raw oats are the newly harvested, unprocessed state of oats.
It is the form of oats not typically seen in grocery stores because the edible parts, called oat kernels or groats, have not yet been separated from the hulls and stalks.
The first industrial processes a sheaf of dried raw oats goes through are called threshing and winnowing.
Threshing separates the stalks, and winnowing removes the chaffs or husks from the grains.
Once the stalks and husks are removed, what remains are the oats groats.
In agriculture, other terms for removing the chaffs are husking and hulling.
Also called whole grains oats, oat groats are the byproduct of harvesting, drying, cleaning, and removing all inedible parts.
Oat groats are the type of oats that take the longest time to cook.
Many grocery stores do not sell oat groats because most people prefer quick cooking oats.
Steel Cut Oats
Steel-cut oats are oat groats that go through an additional process of cutting through steel blades.
Depending on the size of the steel blades and sizing equipment, oat groats can be cut into two or more pieces.
Cutting the oat groats increases the surface area of exposure to the cooking liquid and makes this type cook faster than whole oat groats.
Having smaller pieces can speed up the cooking time significantly.
Although steel-cut oats take much less cooking time than oat groats, they can still take longer to cook than rolled oats.
Steel-cut oats are the best option for making slow cooker oatmeal.
Porridge is a staple food in Scottish homes, and oats are the most-used grain.
Scottish oats have a long-standing tradition of processing without the use of steel blades and heavy machinery.
Whole oat groats are stone-ground to create small broken bits of varying sizes.
When cooked, Scottish oats have a creamier consistency than steel-cut oats.
Producers found a way to supply oats that last longer and cook faster than steel cut oats or whole oat groats.
Instead of going through steel blades to become smaller pieces, they invented rolled oats, a flaky, flattened version of oat groats.
Oat groats acquire slightly more moisture content in a chamber with active steam to soften a bit for flattening.
The oats become flakes by being flattened to varying thicknesses between two rollers.
Rolled oats products come in different types: extra-thick, regular, or instant.
Thick Rolled Oats
To make extra-thick rolled oats, producers increase the distance between the rollers before flaking the steamed oats.
Regular Rolled Oats
Regular rolled oats are also called old-fashioned oats.
This type is the classic choice for overnight oats, oatmeal, baked goods, oat milk, and smoothies.
Regular rolled oat flakes are thinner than thick rolled oats, but you can still see the whole flattened oat groats.
Instant Rolled Oats
Active steaming is extended, and the groats are rolled into thinner flakes to make quick-cooking rolled oats.
Having quick oats is an excellent option for a healthy breakfast.
It is also called quick cooking oats, and it is intended to reduce the cooking time compared to any of the rolled oats.
Quick oats are made from steel-cut oats rolled into flakes.
Instant oatmeal is intended to cook faster than any of the other types.
It can be used to make the fastest hot cereal snack during a chilly afternoon.
Before instant oats reach the shelves, it is steamed much longer, rolled thinner, and milled into finer bits.
Like quick oats, some instant oats are rolled from smaller pieces of steel-cut oats.
Oat flour is the finely milled version of oats.
It can be used for creating baked goods and thickening stews or soups.
Take a whole grain oat without a husk, and remove the inner parts called the germ and the endosperm.
What will remain is called the oat bran.
Oat bran is the oat’s broken seed coat, while the germ and the endosperm are the seed itself.
Raw oats are always gluten free.
The only thing that contaminates oats is if it gets processed in a mill that also produces gluten-filled grains, such as wheat, barley, corn, and rice.
If you want gluten-free oats, search the packaging for a Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO) label.
Which type of oats are best?
It only takes a short time for oat groats, steel cut oats, and Scottish oats to become rancid.
The steaming process done on rolled oats stabilizes the lipids and enzymes present within the oat groats to prepare them for longer shelf life.
The best type of oats should not only be quick-cooking but also have a longer shelf life even without any additives.
If you are not concerned about shelf life and cooking time, any oats will do as long as it only has one ingredient: whole grain oats.
Oat bran is not whole grain oats, making it the least beneficial form of oats.
Check the packaging for any added sugars, sodium, and artificial flavorings.
Additional ingredients like these may cancel out the beneficial composition of any variety of oats.
Now that you know the types of oats, you can choose to purchase different variations and mix them up when making oatmeal.
The different types of oats undergo varying processes that result in different textures, flavors, and cooking times.
Still, they all have the same nutritional value.
Then again, this is true only unless the type you bought has been highly processed and includes many unhealthy additives.