Oats 101: 7 kinds of oats and how to prepare them

featured oats
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When it comes to oats, there are a number of terms thrown around that can sound unfamiliar to a lot of people: quick oats, steel-cut oats, old-fashioned oats, rolled oats, oat groats, Irish oats — the list seems endless. Especially if you’re at your local grocery store, it feels more comfortable and convenient reaching for the box of instant oatmeal you know only requires water and the microwave … rather than grabbing a cylinder of steel-cut oats, whatever those may be.  It may even surprise you that the extensive list is actually somewhat misleading, as some terms are simply another way of calling one thing two different names. That’s why Eating Berkeley has decided to finally look into and settle this oat dilemma once and for all by providing a handy guide to help distinguish the differences between all the oats typically available on the shelves. And to sweeten the deal, we’ll throw in a few prime suggestions for how you can prepare and enjoy each kind of oat. You’ll see that oats were never complicated in the first place, and the main difference is simply how they’re prepared!

1. Oat groats
groats

What they are: Whole oats that have not yet been rolled or broken up in any way, with the outside hull removed.
Preparation: Bring water and groats to boil. Cover and then reduce and simmer until tender.
Preparation time: 45 to 60 minutes (longest out of all, considering it’s the least processed)
Suggestions: Sweeten with honey or agave nectar; add fruit toppings, butter, spices

2. Steel-cut oats (also called Irish oats)

steel cut oatsWhat they are: Oat groats cut into smaller pieces for quicker cooking; minimal processing.
Preparation: Boil water, add oats, reduce heat and stir for alloted time until tender.
Preparation time: 20 to 40 minutes
Suggestions: Fruit, spices, butter, sweeteners — anything that goes well with the chewy consistency. 

3. Overnight oats
overnight oatsWhat they are: Oats (anything from rolled to steel-cut) soaked in liquid (milk, water) overnight.
Preparation: Place oats in a receptacle, and soak in preferred liquid overnight.
Preparation time: Overnight (5 to 8 hours)
Suggestions: Typical additions, such as raisins — you can add them with the oats overnight as well. If you’re doing this, avoid placing items that can get soggy quickly, such as cereal.

4. Rolled oats (also known as old-fashioned oats)
rolled oats
What they are: Oat groats that have been steamed, flattened and dried.
Preparation: Boil water, add oats, reduce heat and stir occasionally until tender.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Suggestions: Typical additions, such as fruit, sweeteners, spices.

5. Quick-cooking oats

quick oats
What they are: Rolled oats cut into small pieces prior to steaming and rolling.
Preparation: Boil water, add oats, reduce heat and stir occasionally for 3 to 5 minutes until tender.
Preparation time: 3 to 5 minutes
Suggestions: Fruit (fresh and dried) toppings, sweeteners, butter, spices; quick oats are a notch above instant oats and still relatively heavily processed, so try less-processed options!

6. Instant oats
instant oatmeal
What they are: Quick oats that are precooked, dried and include additives such as preservatives and sweeteners.
Preparation: Simply add hot water or milk. Stir and then microwave for a few minutes.
Preparation time: 2 to 4 minutes
Suggestions: Fresh fruit toppings, dried fruit such as raisins and cranberries; most processed form of oatmeal, so try other, healthier and less-processed options

7. Oat bran
oat branWhat they are: Finely ground bran of the oat.
Preparation: Include in recipes for baked goods, such as cookies, bagels, and muffins.
Preparation time: n/a
Suggestions: Soluble fiber and quick cooking time make oat bran a great baking addition.

All of the oats mentioned above can be found in your local grocery market, so feel free to experiment and choose what works with your schedule in terms of preparation time and taste. While Eating Berkeley is a big fan of steel-cut oats, considering how it’s also compatible for overnight oatmeal recipes, chewy and the least processed, we’ll understand if at the end of the day, instant Quakers is the way that works for your groggy mornings.

Image Sources: Dennis Wilkinson, Anja S, Miriam, Michael Newman, andiezoe, Bunches and Bits {Karina}, and Sean Dreilinger under Creative Commons. 

Contact Eunice Choi at [email protected].