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Oats are processed by rolling (steamed and pressed) or steel-cutting (cut into pieces). There is little difference nutritionally between the two styles, but steel-cut oats do take longer to cook.
Although oats are a type of grain, they don't contain gluten. Some oat-based products, however, may have been processed in places that also handle wheat. Oat-based baked goods such as snack bars could include wheat flour, too.
Nutritionally, oats are rich in fibre and provide slow-release energy, which helps you to stay fuller for longer. They may also help maintain good heart health as they contribute to lowering cholesterol.
Widely available all year round.
Rolled oats are whole grains that have been lightly roasted, steamed and rolled flat, which breaks down the outer husk.
Steel-cut oats have been lightly roasted and chopped into small pieces without steaming. They take longer to cook than rolled oats, but many think there's a flavour advantage. The texture makes them a good addition to stuffings such as haggis.
Pre-cooked varieties usually have fewer nutritional advantages and may also contain unnecessary ingredients.
Instant oats are rolled thinner than usual, so they cook faster and make a smoother porridge.
Rolled oats can be eaten raw after soaking overnight as it plumps and softens the grain; many sources say that soaked, raw oats are easier to digest.
Keep them in a cool, dark place to stop them from oxidising.
One generous bowl of oats with milk or water takes around 3-4 mins to cook in the microwave. If the porridge is too thick, you can add more liquid, stir well and microwave another minute or so. Slow cooking rolled oats, particularly after soaking overnight, gives a much creamier result. A little salt will enhance the flavour of your porridge, but the level of sweetness is up to you. Porridge is often topped with maple syrup, jam or fruit, especially sliced banana. Oats can also be soaked overnight in milk, fruit juice or yogurt and eaten uncooked the next day.
Steel-cut oats take longer to cook. They usually require more milk or water, and retain a chewier texture.
Oat flour can't be used on its own with yeast as there will be no rise. It can, however, be used in recipes where baking powder is used, but even here it's usually mixed with wheat flour.