Cooking with Oats

Cooking with Oats

A cereal grass, oats were first brought to the United States in 1602, when they were planted on an island off the coast of Massachusetts by a sea captain. This whole grain is highly nutritious in all of its many forms. The type of oats you choose depends on how you plan to use them.

Old-fashioned oats, which have been steamed, rolled into flakes, and dried, make a popular hot cereal but also add instant crunch to crumb toppings and supply whole-grain nutrition to a soup or stew. Quick-cooking oats, which are cut into small pieces and then steamed and flattened like old-fashioned oats, can be used in baking in place of old-fashioned oats. Steel-cut oats (Irish oats) are cut into small pieces but not rolled; they look like tiny, irregularly shaped grains and take a bit longer to soften than old-fashioned rolled oats. Instant oats are cut into tiny pieces, precooked, and then dried, so you can just add hot water to reconstitute them. Avoid using these in baking; their very fine texture can make baked goods turn out gummy. Oat flour is a whole-grain flour made by grinding the grain to a powder. It must be combined with gluten-containing flour when used in yeast breads because it lacks gluten.

Oat bran is the fiber-rich outer coating of the oat kernel; it makes an easy and healthful add-in to cereals, quick breads, and yogurt. When substituting it for flour in baking, replace only about one-quarter to one-third of the total amount of flour with oat bran, since it can impart a slightly bitter taste when used in large amounts. Like oat flour, oat bran lacks gluten, so it is not suitable to use in large quantities for bread dough. But it makes a great addition to ground meat mixtures such as meatballs, meat loaf, chilies and casseroles.

Oats will keep in a sealed container in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months. Store oat bran in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. When making oat flour, grind old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats in a food processor or blender until they reach the texture of fine meal. Use in baked goods, substituting up to one-third of regular flour with oat flour.

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