Like most grains, oats are made up of a few layers, some you can eat, others…not so much. So, the outer part of an oat is called a chaff, you really don’t want to eat this, but unless you’re out actually in a field of oats, chances are you won’t come across it in your daily life. So that’s fine. Next is a coating of bran, which is usually peeled away and used for livestock feed (which is usually cooked into their own porridge – isn’t that cute). Next is the groat, this is the bit we eat.
Eating oats that have been processed in a certain way in the wrong setting can put you off porridge and oats for life (trust me!). Here’s all you really need to know:
Steel-cut oats:- these are also called pinhead oats. It is the whole oat (including the outer shell, the groat) that has been sliced into pieces by big steel blades. They are really coarse textured, and though they are used when making traditional Scottish porridge, it can be a little rough. A lot of people love them though because they produce a lovely nutty flavour and nibbly texture. They are especially good for making oat-cakes!
Because of their minimal processing, they take longer to cook, so if you choose this particular oat, it’s best to give it a bit of a soak overnight for porridge.
Rolled oats:- these are the most common in England. These are the pinhead oats (the sliced groats) that have been steamed a little bit and pressed under huge heavy rollers to flatten them out to make flakes. These are the oats you’ll find in single-use sachets and pots, because they are really quick to cook.
Jumbo Rolled oats:- these are whole groats that have been steamed and rolled flat. They are the biggest form of the oat, and they often produce a beautifully thick porridge, with a little more texture than the regular rolled oats.
Oatmeal:- this is the classic. It comes in coarse (which is pretty much just steel-cut oats), medium and fine ground. It takes quite a lot longer to cook than the other varieties and it produces quite a thick, gloopy sort of texture. Good for babies, perhaps not so much for adults, it can end up a little bit like wallpaper-paste. It often has a nice flavour though, so if you want to mix it up and use a little bit of oatmeal and some rolled oats/pinhead oats, you can get some seriously nice results.
Oat Flour:- the last broad type. This is the finest of all of the types (as you’d imagine). It can still be classed into coarse, medium and fine like oatmeal, but you can use this grind in cakes, biscuits, and you can include it in porridge to thicken it too.