How Oats Are Processed (or, All Oats Are Not Created Equal)

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Sorting out the differences among thick oats, quick oats, groats and steel-cut oats is mind boggling to say the least. The growing conditions and how oats are processed account for big differences in nutritional value, texture, cooking time and even taste.

“Do you or I or anyone know how oats, peas beans and barley grow?”. Oats grow on stalks with the kernels distributed along a loose tree-like framework. They are an annual grain-producing grass that has been in cultivation for over 4,000 years. They have been used to make a porridge type of cereal for centuries. In fact, there is a record of Europeans consuming oats approximately 3,000 years ago and ‘oatmeal’ remains very popular to this day.

Differences in Oats. Oats are highly nutritious, filled with cholesterol-fighting soluble fiber The nutritional value, however, varies according to growing conditions. The Northwestern region of the US – which includes Montana–has unique growing conditions that produce oats with very high nutritional content. This could be a prime reason why devotees of Montana- produced Cream of the West Roasted Ranch Oats rave about their nutty flavor and high nutritional content.

The difference in how oat kernels are processed (milled) results in the various products, such as oat groats, thick oats and steel-cut oats. The milling also affects oats’ nutty, robust flavor. Oat Groats are simply oat kernels with the hulls removed. Oat groats can be used to make a breakfast porridge but they take a long time to cook.

Oat groats that have been heat treated and milled turn into one of several types of rolled oats. Thick Oats are oat groats that are steamed, rolled, and flaked. For example, Cream of the West thick oats are a flattened oat flake, over .05 inches thick. Although thick oats take longer to cook, the cooking time can be shortened by soaking them overnight. When oat groats are chopped into little pieces on a steel mill, the result is Steel-cut Oats. These oats are chewy and often used for oatmeal and muesli. Quick Oats are steel cut oat groats that are flaked to .014 to .018 inches thick. They require minimal cooking but, as a result, sacrifice some of the nutty flavor and texture; they are most often used in baking.

Selecting the right type of oat depends on personal preference for taste, texture and purpose in addition to nutritional value. The bottom line is to choose carefully…all oats are NOT created equal.

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