What Are Rolled Oats?

When you're in aisle 5 looking at all the oatmeal choices, how do you decide between rolled, old-fashioned, quick, instant and steel-cut? Read on and then make a choice.

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September 24, 2021
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Photo by: OatmealStories/Getty Images

OatmealStories/Getty Images

By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen

Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.

When we enjoy a warm bowl of oatmeal on a cold winter morning, we’re taking part in a tradition that spans millennia. Oats grow well in darker, wetter, colder climates so they are often breakfast, lunch and dinner options in places we think of as, well, cold, dark and maybe wet. Northern Canada and Russia are cold - and where the most oats are grown.

When oats are processed for human consumption (as opposed animal feed), the tough parts get taken off and the oats are steamed to make them more tender for eating, then kiln-dried to add some toasty flavor and extend their shelf life. Once they go through processing, they are destined for many, many uses. In this article we’re going to learn about rolled oats and how they're different from (or similar to) whole grain oats, quick oats, steel-cut oats and instant oats.

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661775523

Photo by: Westend61/Getty Images

Westend61/Getty Images

What Are Rolled Oats?

All oats start out whole, with the grain and the husk intact. The husk is the tough covering that encases and protects each individual grain. Once that is removed, the oats (often called groats at this point) are steamed and flattened between heavy rollers, hence the name rolled oats. Afterwards, the oats are dried in a kiln to add flavor and to deactivate a naturally occurring enzyme in the oat that can break down fats into fatty acids, which cause oats to taste rancid.

Rolled oats, also called old-fashioned oats, are the most common type of oats found around the world.

Are Rolled Oats Healthy?

According to Food Network's nutritionist, Dana Angelo White, M.S., R.D., A.T.C., 1 cup of cooked oats has about 150 calories, 3 grams of healthy fat, 4 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. Oats also contain iron and energy-boosting B-vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin and niacin and are especially high in soluble fiber, the kind that helps lower cholesterol when you mix it into a healthy diet. The answer to this question is a resounding "yes."

Rolled Oats Versus Quick Oats

When oats are rolled in the process described above, the rollers are a set distance apart, just enough to flatten the oat, which speeds up the cooking process. For quick oats, the grain is soaked a little longer in the water before rolling, and the rollers are closer together, making thinner pieces. The thinner pieces are also cut up a bit, so they have more surface area and they cook faster. In most baking or smoothie recipes, rolled oats and quick oats can be used interchangeably. When making a bowl of hot oatmeal, rolled oats cook in a saucepan on the stove in about 6 minutes. Quick oats will be ready in 2 minutes.

Rolled Oats Versus Instant Oats

Instant oats are the tiniest of all the oats. They are steamed the longest, cut and flattened the most, and their tiny little pieces can absorb boiling water and become an edible bowl of hot cereal in less than 2 minutes. It can all be done in the microwave.

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Uncooked Steel Cut Oats on a Wood Spoon

Photo by: Michelle Lee Photography/Getty Images

Michelle Lee Photography/Getty Images

Rolled Oats Versus Steel-Cut or Irish Oats

Steel cut outs, also known as Irish oats, are whole oat groats that are not steamed or rolled, and they don’t go through the drying process that rolled oats go through. Instead, they are cut using very sharp blades, usually into 3 pieces each. Steel cut oats can’t be used in most baking recipes because they won’t soften at all in a batter or dough. Due to their unprocessed nature, steel cut oats take more water and a much longer cook time than any other type of oats. Stove-top cooking in water, milk or a combo takes up to 40 minutes, with frequent stirring. An overnight cook in a slow cooker is the most convenient option, but if you’re looking for the maximum chewiness in your oatmeal, the stove top method is your best bet.

When buying these oats, it's best to purchase just what you'll use in a month. Here's why. Because steel-cut oats aren't heat treated, the enzyme that causes fast spoiling is not deactivated. If these oats sit around too long on the shelf in your cupboard, they will take on the acrid smell and flavor of rancid fats.

Rolled Oats Versus Scottish Oats

Like steel-cut/Irish oats, Scottish oats are untreated whole oat groats, but instead of being cut into pieces with blades, they are milled between stones or steel burrs to give irregular, smashed pieces in the end. The advantage is a slightly faster cook time, but they won’t have a texture that is as chewy as steel-cut oats. Like steel-cut oats, Scottish oats don’t work in recipes, so it’s pretty much porridge all the time for the. In addition, they also still contain the enzymes that cause spoiling, so eat them quickly and don't buy too much.

Substitute for Rolled Oats

If you’re looking for a substitute for rolled oats in a recipe that has you just adding them to a batter, say muffins or cookies, quick oats are the option. We like to add a few extra tablespoons of the liquid the recipe calls for when making the switch, because the quick oats will absorb more while the batter or dough is resting or cooking, yielding a drier cookie or muffin.

If you’re looking for an alternative to a bowl of oatmeal, the list of whole grains you can cook as a porridge is long. Try brown rice, polenta, buckwheat, quinoa, spelt, faro or any other whole grain you enjoy. There’s no rule about what can or can’t be served hot and a little soupy in a bowl with brown sugar and raisins or some maple syrup.

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Porridge with berries in a bowl. Healthy food, healthy breakfast, clean eating concept

Photo by: Arx0nt/Getty Images

Arx0nt/Getty Images

How to Cook Rolled Oats

Rolled oats are the most versatile of all the processed oats available, used in cookies, muffins, breads, porridge, granola, smoothies and more.

Here's how to make a bowl of oatmeal.

  1. Measure 1 cup water or milk per person; add to a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Add 1/2 cup of rolled oats per person and a pinch of salt to the boiling liquid.
  3. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is creamy and the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. That’s it. If you forget what to do, fear not: unless you buy in bulk, the recipe will be on every package you get.

Oatmeal Recipes 

Classic 100 Oatmeal Cookie

Photo by: Caitlin Ochs

Caitlin Ochs

It’s nice to have options, so this cookie recipe gives you the choice between chewy oatmeal cookies or cakey cookies. Your pick.

Openers and Cookmark and FN Star Winner and Ayesha Key Lime Pie

Openers and Cookmark and FN Star Winner and Ayesha Key Lime Pie

Photo by: RYAN DAUSCH

RYAN DAUSCH

Overnight Oats are the perfect grab-and-go breakfast you get to customize for yourself.

HOW TO MAKE APPLE CRISP Food Network Kitchens Apples, Rolled Oats, Flour, Brown Sugar, Salt, Butter, Pecans

Photo by: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Matt Armendariz, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Be sure to scatter the crisp topping on the apples so you get the maximum crunch after it’s baked.

FNK_HealthyBananaOatMuffins_H

FNK_HealthyBananaOatMuffins_H

Food Network Kitchen’s Healthy Banana Oat Muffins for Year of Oats/Drunk Pies/Diners, as seen on Food Network.

Photo by: Renee Comet ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Renee Comet, 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Brown butter brings serious flavor to these muffins with whole grain oats.

FNK OATMEAL RAISIN COOKIE GRANOLA Food Network Kitchen Food Network Unsalted Butter, Light Brown Sugar, Maple Syrup, Vanilla Extract, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Rolled Oats, Raisins, Golden Raisins

Photo by: Matt Armendariz ©Copyright 2015

Matt Armendariz, Copyright 2015

Who says granola at breakfast can’t taste like dessert? Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Granola is perfect on yogurt at 9 a.m.

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