Recipe Substitutions: Oats, Cut-and-Dried

By Caroline Homan, Food Education Coordinator
One of the most frequently asked questions I hear about our Bulk department is the difference between the varieties of oats we carry: oat groats, steel-cut oats, rolled oats, and quick oats. There’s also some confusion about whether there is any nutritional difference between them, and about half the people who ask me phrase their question as, “So rolled oats are more nutritious than quick oats, right?” Actually, no.

Oat groats are whole oats with only the outer husk removed (comparable to a wheat berry). Once you get past the odd name, they are actually quite chewy and good and cook in about 1 hour. Most people eat them for breakfast, although you could also combine and cook them with brown rice for lunch or dinner.

Steel-cut oats (sometimes called Irish oats) are whole oats that have been sliced for a slightly faster cooking time (about 45 minutes) and still retain a chewy texture. Porridge aficionados talk glowingly about steel-cut oats because they have a nice, nutty texture.

Rolled oats are whole oats that have been lightly steamed and rolled flat, for a quicker cooking time (10-12 minutes). Quick oats have been steamed, rolled AND sliced for a very quick cooking time (1-2 minutes), but they are still a whole grain because nothing has been removed during the processing they have undergone.

So the answer to the question about the different varieties of oats is: They are all whole-grain oats, but which ones you choose will depend on personal preference and how you are using them.

If you are planning to cook oats for porridge, choose any variety based on the texture you like and how much time you have to cook them (anywhere from 1 minute to 1 hour!).

If you are baking with oats, use rolled oats if you want the oats to play a shining role in the recipe (such as in oatmeal cookies or oatmeal muffins). Their taste and texture will stand out. Use quick oats if you want the oats to play a subtler role, or perhaps even be masked completely. Due to how finely they are milled, they will almost disappear in recipes like quick-breads and pancakes, or in salmon patties or meatloaf, where they can be substituted 1:1 for breadcrumbs (and since they are whole-grain, and high in protein and fiber, they are almost always a more nutritious substitute).

And here’s the trick of the day: You can grind rolled oats or quick oats yourself in the food processor or blender and make oat flour (this goes for any rolled or flaked grain). Oat flour, being white in color and mild in taste, can be substituted for up to one-half of the flour in most baking recipes (other than bread, which requires a grain with a high gluten content): Think chocolate chip cookies (substitute up to one-half oat flour for all-purpose flour).

So from the mysterious oat groat down to the stand-by quick oat and the do-it-yourself oat flour, there are a lot of ways to use oats for a nutritious, whole-grain option.

In honor of this month’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration, I am including an ingenious recipe for Steel-Cut Oat Bars from one of our members, Adele Dienno. If you like the taste of steel-cut oats but don’t have the time to cook them on a daily basis, make these bars, and eat them all week for breakfast for an economical and tasty way to start the day.

Steel-Cut Oat Bars

  • 2 cups water with a pinch of salt
  • 2 cup steel cut oats

Bring water to a boil and add oats. Cook for about 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper. Spread the cooked oats onto the sheet. Score oat mixture into 3-inch square sections. Bake for 15 minutes.

Cool and refrigerate oat bars. To eat, pop into the toaster and spread with butter and jam or honey. Great breakfast on the run!

*Note: If time allows, soak your oats for porridge the night before with the water you will use to cook them the next day. Add a spoonful of yogurt or a few drops of lemon juice/apple cider vinegar to the oats and water to help release the enzymes and make them more digestible.