Love your morning oatmeal? Crave oatmeal cookies? Oats have been around for thousands of years and are found everywhere and in many people’s diets. But what exactly are oats? The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids has everything you need to know about this tasty . . . grass.
Rolling in the Oats
Oats are a type of grass. Wheat, corn, barley, and rice are grasses, too, but oats are higher in protein and healthy fats than are most other whole grains. Unlike most whole grains, oats grow in cool, rainy places. This is why oats became a popular, reliable crop in Scotland and Ireland.
Species of oats have names such as Large Naked Oat, Small Naked Oat (naked oats don’t have hulls), Desert Oat, Sand Oat, and Slender Oat. Varieties include ‘Astro’, ‘Cherokee’, ‘Clinton’, ‘Florida 501’, ‘Noble’, and ‘Stout’.
Common white oats, called Avena sativa, are planted in the spring and harvested in the summer. The stalks grow from 2 to 4 feet high and contain small branches that end in a “spikelet.” Each spikelet contains two seeds that are protected by an outer coating called a “hull,” which is too hard for people to eat. Oats in this form are called “whole oats.”
Once the hull is removed, the whole grain is called a “groat.” Groats look like brown rice and can be cooked and eaten. Groats are often steamed and flattened with a roller into rolled oats. These are softer and cook more quickly than groats. An 18-ounce package of old-fashioned oats contains about 26,000 rolled oats. Rolled oats are commonly used in recipes.
Instant oats are steamed longer and rolled to be thinner than rolled oats. However, this additional processing makes them less nutritious than other varieties. Steel-cut oats are groats that have been cut into three or four pieces. The cutting helps to speed the cooking process. Steel-cut oats are very nutritious and are used to make oatmeal.
Today, the world’s leading oat growers are the United States, Canada, Russia, Finland, and Poland. People eat oats in many prepared foods, including bacon, beer, bread, breakfast bars, butter, cakes, cereals, cookies, frozen fish, ice cream, meatballs, meat loaf, oat flour, oat milk, salad dressing, and sausage. This accounts for only about 5 percent of the world’s oats. The remainder is used for other purposes.