Oatmeal is totally a thing now. For many of us, growing up there were only two different kinds of oatmeal: quick-cooking or long-cooking. And it felt a little bit like punishment to eat it on a chilly morning when you needed a hot, hearty breakfast to stick to your ribs (or whatever your elders said to make you gag down a few more bites). But oatmeal is all sexed-up now, spending the night hanging out in your fridge so it can be extra luxurious for you to spoon out of your mason jar in the morning. Looks like it’s hanging around for the next while, so you might as well get to know the different kinds of oatmeal you might find at the store.
All cereal oats are made from groats, which are the whole, unbroken grains that come from the plant. If you find them in the store, they’ve likely had their hulls removed and have been lightly toasted to make them shelf-stable by deactivating the enzyme that causes them to go rancid. They take longer to cook than other forms of processed oats, but long-cooking transforms them into a chewy, satisfying breakfast. They can also be ground down into oat flour, which can be used in a lot of gluten-free baked good recipes.
These long-cooking oats are groats that have been cut with a blade—shockingly enough, a steel one—into several pieces and make a marvelous thick, hot cereal or a congee alternative. They’re sometimes packaged as Irish oats and make a cracking match with a slow cooker.
Take oat groats, grind them down into meal, and you’ve got Scottish oats. They’re a little bit coarser than flour, and boiled with water, they make a pretty perfect porridge.
You might see these touted as “whole” or “old-fashioned” oats, but these are groats that have been steamed until slightly soft, then pressed to flatten them until irregular discs. These fiber-packed grains are probably what pops into most people’s heads when they hear the word “oatmeal” and they’re a classic component in cookies, muffins, meatloaf, and as a standalone dish.
These quicker-cooking oats are rolled, too—just a little bit thinner—and often pre-cooked and dried so they go from container to hot cereal in a matter of minutes.
If you’re looking to up your fiber intake, oat bran is a dandy way to do it. This is the outside layer of the oat grain, so it’s not considered a whole oat (like rolled oats are), but it still packs in plenty of healthy benefits. Cook them down with water or milk for a hearty morning meal, or add them to baked goods for a nutty, beneficial boost.