Rolled Oats vs. Steel Cut Oats
For decades, oatmeal in the United States was dominated by rolled oats. The original variety was made from steamed and rolled whole oat grouts. Regular, also known as old-fashion, oats is a whole grain that can reduce blood cholesterol. A bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, lunch or dinner is a low calorie, low sodium alternative to sugar sweetened cold cereals made from refined wheat flour (white flour), corn or rice. All oats begin as whole oat groats.
One problem with regular rolled oat is the 15 to 20 minute cooking time (includes bringing water to a boil, cooking and setting prior to serving). When wives stayed home and prepared breakfast for their husbands and children no one thought much about it. You woke up in the morning to a bowl of cooked oatmeal. Times have changed. Many households consist of a single working parent who finds prepared breakfast foods like cold cereals, toaster pastries, doughnuts, cookies, microwave entrees eliminates cooking and cleanup. The children prepared their own breakfast and are off too school.
Too make life easier, oat manufacturers introduced quick cooking oats followed by packaged instant oatmeal complete with salt, sugar, preservatives and artificial flavors. A bowl of healthier quick cooking oats can be cooked using a microwave oven in less than 3 minutes and tastes better than the instant oatmeal. The portion size for instant oatmeal is so small, it can take two packages for a decent breakfast but it comes with double the sodium; 500 mg or more in many cases. If you are sodium sensitive or trying to maintain a low sodium diet, it is best skipping prepared oatmeal and making your own.
The nutritional value of regular, quick cooking and instant oats is essentially the same. The difference is the amount of processing. Regular oats is the least processed. Quick cooking oats is made of cut regular oats. If you have a recipe calling for quick oats and you have regular oats you can make quick oats by pulsing it in a food processor. Most bread and cookie recipes require regular oats. Instant oats have the most processing. They are cut, precooked, rolled and dried.
The new kid on the block recommended by nutritionists and celebrity doctors and chefs is steel cut oats.
Steel cut oats, also known as Irish oats, are whole oat groats cut into small pieces to reduce cooking time. It can take hours to cook whole oat groats. Steel cut oats are ready in about 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the desired consistency, using the traditional cooking method and about 15 minutes using an overnight soak.
Steel cut oats have more flavor and a chewy texture many people prefer over rolled regular, instant or quick cooking oats. Rolled and quick cooking oats are convenient and provide the same health benefits of steel cut oats, but they they can be very mushy forming a paste when over cooked that is undesirable for reheated leftover oatmeal. Reheated steel cut oats have about the same consistency as freshly cooked oats.
I like steel cut oats. If you are unsure if you will like the flavor and texture, find a store that sells bulk foods, buy one cup (about 6 oz., 170 g) and cook according to the recipe linked below. That way you’ll only invest a small amount of time and money.
Try steel cuts oats and you may never eat instant oatmeal again.