All About Oats

Understanding Spices

oat grain

What are oats?

Oats are grains from the Avena sativa plant, a species of cereal grain grown for its seed. Oats are believed to have been cultivated by the Greeks and Romans as far back as 1000 BC, where they were primarily harvested for animal feed. Although today they’re still used for livestock feed, oats are also an increasingly popular and healthy ingredient in all kinds of dishes.

Pure oats are gluten free and safe for people with a gluten intolerance. However, oats are sometimes processed in the same factories as other grains like wheat, rye and barley, and may be contaminated by gluten.

Oats are defined by their degree of processing which impact their cooking time, texture and flavour. As a rule, the more processed the oats are, the faster they will cook. These are the five basic varieties of oats that you’ll most likely see in the supermarket:

  • Whole oat groats: these are the purest and least processed kind. The husk is removed, but the bran and the germ remain. These oats have a chewy texture and can take a while to cook.
  • Steel-cut oats: also known as Irish oats, these are toasted whole oat groats that have been chopped into small pieces with a steel cutter. These cook faster and have a chewy, creamy texture with a subtle, sweet flavour.
  • Scottish oats: these oats get their name from the traditional Scottish way of processing oats with the stone-ground method, rather than with steel. These are more finely ground with a smoother texture and creamy consistency.
  • Rolled oats: these oats are the most common variety, and are made from steamed, rolled and flattened whole oat groats. They’re flat and disc-shaped, and have a fluffy texture when cooked. Rolled oats are also turned into a whole-grain, nutritious flour.
  • Instant oats or quick oats: these oats are made when rolled oats are steamed for even longer. These are the most processed kind and cook within seconds.
oat bars

Uses of oats

Oats are a quintessential breakfast ingredient, whether they’re cooked in porridge, or added to granola, muesli and overnight oats. But these grains of goodness have so much more potential to be limited to just a breakfast item.

Oats go really well in baked goods, whether that’s bread or sweet bakes. Add them to cookies for a (healthy-ish) treat or mix them in with flour, butter, sugar and almonds when making a crunchy mixture for an apple crumble. They also taste amazing when baked into muffins and scones.

If you’re looking for healthier ways to cook oats, they also make a good base for fruity breakfast bars or baked together with winter fruit and warming spices.

You can also add oats to your smoothie for a thick, fibre-rich blend that’ll keep you full for hours. Want to make your smoothies even more interesting? Check out these ten superfood ingredients to add to your morning smoothie.

Oats can also be made into a plant-based milk. It’s made from steel-cut oats or whole oat groats that are soaked in water, blended and strained. As oats absorb water easily, more of the grain passes through the strainer which gives the milk a creamy texture. Oat milk is very nutritious compared with other milks and contains more fibre than cow’s milk and almond and soy-based milks.

But it’s not just non-dairy milks that oats are a key ingredient in — they can also be used in several different beverages. They’re sometimes used for brewing beer, and to make a Scottish drink called Atholl Brose. Oats are steeped in whisky and then blended with honey and cream. In Latin America, a drink called avena is made from ground oats and milk.

Feeling inspired? Take a look at these recipes which use oats:

oat bread

Benefits of oats

Oats are among the healthiest grains on earth. Not only are they gluten free, but they’re also rich in important vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. They’re a healthy source of carbohydrates, and contain more protein and fat compared with other grains.

A typical serving of oats (around half a cup) contains:

  • Manganese: 191% of the RDI
  • Phosphorus: 41% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 34% of the RDI
  • Copper: 24% of the RDI
  • Iron: 20% of the RDI
  • Zinc: 20% of the RDI
  • Folate: 11% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamin): 39% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 10% of the RDI
  • Smaller amounts of calcium, potassium, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and vitamin B3 (niacin)

Lower cholesterol levels

Heart disease is the leading cause of death around the world, and high blood cholesterol is a major risk factor. The beta-glucan fibre in oats is effective at reducing bad cholesterol levels in the body. When bad cholesterol goes through oxidation, this also causes heart disease. The antioxidants in oats work together with vitamin C to prevent this oxidation from happening.

Blood sugar regulation

Type 2 diabetes is a common disease, and consuming oats can help to regulate blood sugar levels. Beta-glucan forms a thick gel which delays glucose being absorbed into the blood. Oats can also improve insulin sensitivity which allows the body to use blood glucose more effectively.

Weight loss

Oats are very filling, so they can help you consume less calories and lose weight. The beta-glucan fibre delays the time it takes for your stomach to empty food out, which makes you feel full for longer.

Relieve constipation

Not only do oats contain insoluble fibre, but they also contain soluble fibre. Oat bran is the outer layer, fibre-rich part of the grain of oat. When consumed regularly, oats help to relieve constipation.

Help with skin care

Oats are a common ingredient in numerous skin care products, especially those used to treat itch and irritation in skin conditions such as eczema. Oats are also a natural exfoliant, sloughing away dirt, oil and dead skin cells.

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