Oats are a wonderful grain. They’re a Canadian crop, extremely versatile, and very nutritious. There are quite a few types of oats and oat products found in the grocery store, all with their own best uses. Here we will explain the differences between them and what you can use each type for.
It’s important to remember the differences in oats have to do with how they are processed before they end up in their packaging in the store. Just like other grains, a whole oat has an endosperm, germ, bran, and outer hull. However, unlike other grains, processing doesn’t remove most these items but rather modifies the oat as a whole while removing the inedible hull.
Large Flake Oats
Large flake oats are made by taking the whole oat and rolling it flat. They take a little longer to cook than an ‘instant’ oat variety, but they contain more insoluble fibre (the rough stuff) and more beta-glucans which are an insoluble fibre that helps your GI tract maintain it’s beautiful flora! They are very versatile, can be used in many different recipes, and retain their shape during the cooking process.
Instant oats have been rolled flat like the large flake oats, but then they’ve been beaten up by way of being chopped up. This ‘chopping’ causes them to soak up by water much quicker during cooking than their intact large flake friends which allows them to cook much quicker. They have a more flaky consistency than the large flake oats.
Instant oats can be used almost anywhere a large flake can be used but they aren’t providing as much of a fibrous punch because the oats are in smaller pieces.
Steel Cut Oats
Steel cut oats (or Irish oats) are made by taking the whole oat and chopping it up. This is different from the chopped up instant oats because the instant ones were rolled flat first, these ones are not. Steel cut oats take quite a bit longer to cook because they are still very enclosed in their outer fibrous layer, but they also pack a nice fibre punch.
I’ve mentioned before that oats contain a lot of fibre – two types to be precise! They contain the rough stuff, or soluble fibre as well as beta-glucans (just like barley), which is an insoluble fibre. There is also a health claim about oat fibre content in Canada where: “Oat fibre helps reduce/lower cholesterol.”
Oats do not contain gluten however the harvesting and processing of oats may lead to cross contamination. If you have celiac disease be sure to read labels carefully to find a brand of oats that is gluten free.
Large flake oats can be used in many dishes including bulking up burgers or meatloaf or in desserts like apple crisp. They add extra nutrition and texture compared to their ‘instant’ counterparts. We prefer large flake oats over instant oats when making oatmeal because they have a bit more of a bite to them than instant oats. However, instant oats are great for a bowl of oatmeal when you only have a few minutes.
Steel Cut oats can be made a head of time and served in the morning topped with your favourite nuts, seeds, and fruit. You can also freeze them into pucks in a large muffin tin for perfect individual portions.
Other oat products include: Oat bran (can replace wheat bran in a pinch) and oat flour.