Oatmeal for Breakfast: Rolled or Steel Cut?
The fact is that unless you prefer the taste of one over the other or you’re a hippie, it doesn’t really matter. They’re both healthy. I was in the grocery store recently, holding two canisters of oats, scratching my head pondering my choices. My friend, who was standing next to me, told me steel cut oats are what all the oat aficionados buy because they, the oats, are healthier. “Really? Well, what’s the difference?” I asked. And he said, “I think steel cut oats aren’t processed as much and somehow have more nutrients.” Have I been buying rolled oats all this time and not been getting the full oat experience? I bought the rolled oats because I’m not dead yet and I’ve been eating them since I was a toddler so I was sure they weren’t going to kill me before I did my research. And, they haven’t.
What are Oats?
Oats, unlike other grains, are quite difficult to process. They contain as much as 5 times the fat of wheat. They carry large amounts of a fat digesting enzyme, and become rancid if left unprocessed. All oat groats (whole grain oats) undergo a heating treatment that deactivates that enzyme. So, why do we eat oats if they’re such a hassle? Because they’re really healthy, that’s why. They’re super rich in beta-glucans (indigestible carbohydrates) which absorb and hold water and which are responsible for lowering blood cholesterol. Oats also contain loads of antioxidants – which is always good.
Oats are used as whole grains because the endosperm, germ, and bran can’t be separated like with corn and rice. Thus they are simply parsed into smaller pieces. First, the groats are heated at a low temperature to deactivate that enzyme I was talking about before. After the initial heating the only difference is in what shape and size you prefer eating your oats, and how easy you’d like to make breakfast.
Steel Cut: Whole groats cut into several pieces for faster cooking
Rolled Oats: Whole groats that are steamed so they can be flattened between rollers. Their flattened nature makes them better able absorb moisture. Muesli is made with rolled oats for that reason.
Regular, Quick, Instant: These designations refer to the thickness of the rolling. .8 mm thickness are regular rolled oats while .4 mm thickness is typical for quick-cooking oats. Instant oats are the thinnest.
Let it be known that the nutritional value of steel cut and rolled oats are identical. Some purists believe that the steaming process utilized to make rolled oats degrades the nutritional value of the oats. My research says otherwise. According to On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, 2004, no nutrients are lost in the process of making groats into edible oats of any size and shape.