It’s no great news flash that oatmeal is good for you. Oatmeal is high in fiber with a good amount of minerals, vitamins and protein. A small bowl in the morning, made even more tasty when topped with fresh fruit and nuts, can keep your energy steady until lunch.
But all oatmeal is not created equal. You probably know that when you head to the store to get oatmeal for cookies or other baked goods. Rather than grab a container quickly, you end up staring at the row of choices. Which kind to buy?
Oatmeal starts from whole grain oats. The husk is removed to reveal what is called the oat groat. Groats are then processed in various ways to provide us with breakfast cereal. To make the groats cook more quickly, they are steamed and then rolled, which is why what we see in the container of oatmeal is usually flat. A whole grain oat is not.
Oatmeal is naturally gluten free but make sure you read the label before you buy a particular brand. Some oatmeals can be mixed with wheat flour during processing.
Here is a quick primer about common oatmeals on the market. Use it to help you figure out what to buy, whether it’s for bread or for breakfast.
Instant: When you buy instant oatmeal in packets with flavorings, you are sacrificing some nutrition, mostly less fiber and additional sugar, for convenience. Instant oatmeal is precooked and thinly rolled oat groats. Water and heat, usually from the microwave, revives the dry cereal.
Quick-cooking: This version of oatmeal is similar to instant but the oat groats have not been precooked as much. They are also dried and then rolled to make them flat. These take a few minutes longer to prepare than instant, but sometimes they can be a bit mushy.
Old-fashioned: This is the variety you want for cookies and other baked goods. They are also called rolled oats. The oat groats have been steamed and flattened but are not as thin as quick-cooking oatmeal. They are considered whole grains and take longer to cook on the stove.
Steel-cut: Nutrition experts are high on steel-cut oatmeal because they say it offers more nutrition. Instead of being rolled and flattened, the groats are cut with steel blades which make them look more like rice. When cooked, they have a nutty taste and chewy texture. They are not steamed and dried, so they take longer to cook; at least 20 minutes. Steel-cut oatmeal can be made in advance, cooled and refrigerated, then reheated when ready to eat.