Meal Planning

The Complete Guide to Oats

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Do you remember when you were a kid and there was only one kind of oats? Not anymore. One trip through the grocery store and you will likely find old fashioned oats, instant oats, quick cooking oats, oat groats, and steel cut oats. Not to mention Irish Oats, Scottish Oats, and multi packs of instant oats filled with sugar and other questionable ingredients. You may know not to buy the processed packets filled with sugar, but what about the rest of them? What is the difference and how can you use the various types of oats?

guide to oats

The Complete Guide to Oats

Oats are a delicious breakfast that many of us enjoy. However, have you ever felt confused about all of the different kinds of oats? Different kinds of oats are created by how they are processed. Additionally, the processing of the oats can affect how you use them or when they work best. For example, some types of oats have a lower glycemic index while others have a much faster cook time.

I’ve put together a guide to oats to help you to decide which type of oats you should use for various situations.

Oat Groats

guide to oats

Processing: Oat groats are the entire oat with the inedible hull removed.

Pros: Least processed
Cons: Take longer to cook; Not available at many supermarkets

How to Use:

  • Typically oat groats will be cooked on the stove. They take 50-60 minutes to cook on the stove, so allow plenty of time.
  • Use 1 part oats to 3 parts water (i.e. 1 cup oats, 3 cups water)
  • They can be served in a traditional manner for breakfast or used in a pilaf served along with vegetables at dinner.

Notes: You can buy them on amazon or you can sometimes find them in bulk bins at grocery stores featuring health foods.

Steel-Cut Oats

guide to oats

Other Names: Irish oats (Note: Scottish Oats are often confused with Irish oats, but they are in fact different in that Scottish Oats are ground on a stone mill as opposed to being cut with steel into 2-3 small pieces.)

Processing: Oat groats are simply cut into smaller pieces with a metal sharp blade (hence the name steel-cut oats.) Next to oat groats, they have the least processing and are also much easier to find than oat groats.

Pros: Minimally processed; Easy to find at mainstream groceries; Cooking time is significantly less than oat groats, yet they still boast a lower Glycemic Index than rolled oats. This means your body digests them more slowly and turns them into “sugar” at a slower rate.

Cons:  Steel cut oats still take significantly longer to cook than rolled oats; Not microwavable

How to Use:

  • Steel-cut oats fall somewhere between oat groats and old-fashioned rolled oats, usually taking 10-20 minutes to cook.
  • Use 1 part oats to 3 parts water (i.e. 1 cup oats, 3 cups water)
  • Cook in your crock pot or instant pot (try these delicious Apple Cranberry Instant Pot Steel-Cut Oats)

Notes: I usually buy my steel-cut oats in the bulk food bins, but you can also find them in brands such as Bob’s Red Mill if none of your local grocery stores have a bulk food section.

Rolled Oats

guide to oats

Types of Rolled Oats: Instant Oats, Quick Cooking Oats, and Old-Fashioned Oats

Processing: All rolled oats are steamed, toasted, and then rolled by giant rolling presses. Beyond this, however, the different types of rolled oats (Instant, Quick Cooking, and Old-Fashioned) are all processed differently and this even varies slightly from brand to brand. Refer to the table below for further information on each type of rolled oats.

Pros: Shortest cooking times; Widely available at grocery stores, restaurants, and even hotels
Cons: More processed; Higher Glycemic Index (meaning they digest quickly)

How to Use: Refer to the table below for basic cooking times. They can easily be worked into baked goods. If you want the oats to be obvious in your baked goods use old fashioned; however, quick cooking oats are best if you wish for them to blend in.

guide to oats

A Note on Instant Oats

Instant oats are usually sold in the single serve packages. As you can see from the picture below, even the “original” instant oats which do not have added sugar have a multitude of ingredients in addition to oats, including caramel color. These are the most processed oats you can purchase.

guide to oats

So, where do we go from here?

Rolled oats have the same nutritional content as steel-cut oats and oat groats. However, as mentioned above they differ in the way they digest in your body. The processing of rolled oats increases the surface area which results in quicker cooking time, but also quicker digestion in your body. Therefore, steel cut and oat groats both provide a more sustained release of energy from an extended digestion period.

I hope my complete guide to oats helps you answer some of your questions on the different types of oats and aid in choosing the type of oats you wish to use. Coming soon is a post on my favorite type of oats and all of the ways we use them (including tips to make them more convenient!) Can you guess which type is my favorite? 


The Whole Grain Council
Dr. Andrew Weil
Bob’s Red Mill -Instant Rolled Oats
Bob’s Red Mill – Quick Cooking Rolled Oats
Bob’s Red Mill – Steel Cut Oats

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