A well stocked pantry includes basics to help create a last minute dinner or to enrich meals already in progress. Oats are a good thing to have in any pantry. There are four basic types of oats available to the healthy cook for meal planning and recipe creating, and they all relate to how processed they are – from the whole oat to the instant type. Oats can be used as is (a hot cereal), as a filler or binder (ground beef for meatballs), to add thickness (inside smoothies), or even a jolt of fiber (adding oat flour in place of some of the all-purpose flour when baking).
Oats are high in protein, and are great for good digestion. They are naturally whole grain. Oat themselves are gluten-free. Save any extra oatmeal prepared for breakfast, too. Any plain leftover prepared oats can be added to soups and chowders, or even stirred into quick breads.
Whole Oat Groats
These are the whole oats themselves, in their whole form. Groats in general are the actual hulled kernel of grains. Plain oat groats are cooked at a ratio of 1 part oat groats to 3 parts water with a pinch of salt. It takes about an hour to cook at a low simmer, but well worth it if you are looking for a chewy texture for a breakfast cereal. Whole groats can be cooked by themselves or added with other whole grains for a unique grain pilaf dish.
Steel Cut and Ground Oats
Often called ‘Irish’ or ‘Scottish’ oats, these oats are cut rather than rolled. Stone grinding produces pieces of oats of varying sizes. When looking at them, they resemble chopped up rice pieces rather than flattened oat grains. Scottish oats differs from Irish oats as these are ground rather than cut. Allow for longer cooking times when preparing both types, and when made for breakfast steel cut or ground oats will yield a heartier, richer, and more chewy texture than old-fashioned or instant oats.
These are sometimes just called rolled oats and look like flat ovals. This kind of oatmeal has the kernels steamed first, then rolled. These take longer to cook than instant or quick-cooking oatmeal but are much quicker than steel cut or ground. Since they are processed less than the quick-cooking types, and the texture is firmer than instant. These kind of oats can be added as a filler or binder to ground meat dishes and quick breads.
Quick Cooking Oatmeal
Also called instant, this type of oatmeal contains precooked oats that are dried and rolled, and cooking them is very easy, even with just very hot water. Quick-cooking oatmeal goes well into shakes and smoothies where a softer texture is needed or oats quickly softened is desired. It has the same nutrition as all the other oats, but the consistency and texture will be much softer and less chewy.