BLUE SPRINGS, Mo.–Most of us are familiar with oats and oatmeal, but many are not sure what steel-cut oats are.

“This is a common question I receive,” says Susan Mills-Gray, University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist.

“There are basically three types of oats on the market,” she said.

First, there are the old-fashioned rolled oats, which are nothing but the whole oats that are rolled flat. Then there are the quick oats, which are rolled oats that have been ground a little bit, which allows them to be cooked faster. Then we have the steel-cut oats, which are whole raw oats cut into smaller pieces.

“You can describe steel-cut oats as a whole grain where the inner part of the oat kernel has not been flattened but instead has been cut into more than two pieces,” she said. This is why it takes a long time to digest steel-cut oats, and the reason they keep us feeling fuller over a longer period.

“Steel-cut oats look like chopped nuts and have a golden color,” Mills-Gray said. “When cooked, they look like wild rice and have sort of a nutty flavor. You will find that they are definitely chewier, as it takes a while to chew each bite.”

Whole grains are an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and steel-cut oats are an easy way to improve your diet, she said. “Steel-cut oats are definitely a better alternative to the rolled oats.”

A single 1/4-cup serving of uncooked steel-cut oats contains 140-160 calories, about 28 grams of complex (healthy) carbohydrates, 8 grams of fiber and 5-7 grams of protein.

One serving also provides 10 percent of the iron you need each day and 2 percent of the recommended daily amount of calcium. Steel-cut oats are a rich source of the B vitamin complex and are low in fat and sodium.

“Steel-cut oats require more time to cook than regular oats,” Mills-Gray said. Unsoaked steel-cut oats take about 30 minutes to cook thoroughly. This can be a problem if you want to enjoy steel-cut oats on a busy weekday morning. Soaking the oats overnight will shorten cooking time to about five to 10 minutes.

Boil oats in water then simmer until they are chewy yet tender. Add 1 cup milk and cook an additional eight to 10 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.

You can substitute steel-cut oats for traditional oats in recipes, Mills-Gray notes.

“Add the same amount of steel-cut oats a recipe with rolled oats calls for, cup for cup,” she said.

Add 10 to 15 minutes to the cooking time to soften the oats, checking frequently to make sure your baked goods don’t burn.

Another option is to let the batter set for an hour to allow the oats to absorb more liquid, then bake or cook. Some steel-cut oat manufacturers suggest soaking oats before adding as an ingredient.

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