Today's kitchen tip is a quick lesson in soaking and cooking oatmeal.
Recently, I've been asked multiple times what kind of oats we use, and to explain the details of how I make our breakfast cereal, so here goes...
For the longest time, we have been buying organic rolled oats in 5 lb bags from Azure. When I run out in between orders, I will buy organic rolled oats from Superstore, one of our local grocery stores, but these are a bit more processed (not quite a quick oat, but a bit more along those lines), so I prefer the Azure ones.
My next step was to make the transition to Steel Cut Oats. These retain more nutrients, and a chewier texture, and so I felt that they might be a better choice for our morning oatmeal. I also buy them in bulk from my co-op, although most grocery stores carry them as well.
The directions I give below can also be used with an alternative rolled grain, such as spelt or kamut. I recently purchased spelt flakes for the purpose of a specific diet I was on, and found that they were simple to use in place of oat flakes. The texture was slightly different, as was the taste, but the procedure remained the same.
If your desire is to use oatmeal as a healthy and frugal breakfast, (which it most certainly is!) I would highly suggest finding a good source of bulk, organic oats in whichever form you choose. Our 5 lb bags are a good deal, at $4.50 US. Now that our family is growing and we are going through them faster than ever, I was planning to start purchasing the 25 lb bag for $17.05. I think, though, that we're going to switch and buy steel cut oats or oat groats instead, for the same price.
Oats: Defining the Options
1 ) Instant Oats-- These are pre-cooked, and simply need hot water added. They have little nutrition and are fairly bland and mushy.
2) Quick Oats-- These have been pre-steamed, rolled very thinly and cut into smaller pieces. They are not nearly as flavorful as other options. They are the thinnest, and thus, the mushiest.
3) Rolled Oats-- These are a great middle ground. They are less processed than quick oats, thus retaining more nutrients. They are pre-steamed to make for faster cooking, but a bit thicker and larger flakes (and thus take a little longer than quick oats), but they are a bit thicker, heartier and nicer tasting.
4) Steel-Cut Oats-- These are oat groats (whole oats) that have been chopped into pieces, but not cooked or rolled. They are the most nutritious, as well as the most flavorful and the heartiest. They have a great chewy texture. They take the longest to cook, but are worth the wait. They are also known as Irish Oats.
The only two options that I would really recommend to you are #3 and #4. They take only minimally more work, are not too difficult to find in stores, and are very, very well worth it. Over time, I think you will grow to enjoy their heartier taste and texture much more than quick or instant oats!
Image by little blue hen
How to Soak and Cook Oats
Soaking is a crucial step, especially for a grain such as oatmeal, which contain more phytates than almost any other grain. If not soaked, over time these phytates can lead to mineral losses, allergies, and irritation of the intestinal tract (source: Nourishing Traditions). Another excellent read is this post on oatmeal and phytic acid.
Since most of us eat oatmeal for breakfast, the most obvious soaking time is overnight.
After dinner cleanup, pull out the pot you want to cook your oatmeal in. Put your oats in, and add the necessary water for cooking. To this, add about a Tbsp. of an acidic liquid. This can be either yogurt, kefir, or buttermilk, whey, or even apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. Personally, I usually use yogurt, buttermilk or whey, as I find these give nice results.
Edit: I now also add a tablespoon of some type of wheat flour, and yes, kamut or spelt will work just fine in place of whole wheat. This helps to reduce the phytates even more than simply soaking the oats alone. See the above post on oatmeal and phytic acid for more on this.
You do not need to drain before cooking, and in fact, it would be rather impractical, as your oats will soak up most of the water overnight. I have heard that some find them a bit sour (from the yogurt, etc.). If this is the case for you, you could rinse and drain them I suppose, before adding a bit more water and cooking. I find this step unnecessary though, and don't find that the taste is too sour.
When you wake up in the morning, all that is needed is to turn on the stove and cook the oats according to the type that you are eating. Because they have been soaked, you will find that they require less cooking time than usual.
General Guidelines for Cooking Oats
Rolled Oats: This is what I have made the most often, and I find these only need to be brought to a med-high heat, then turned lower to simmer with the lid on. They will be ready in about 5 minutes. Water ratio is 1 (or 1 1/2) cups of water to 1 cup of oats. Some prefer an even softer oatmeal, and if that's you, use more like a 2:1 ratio of water instead.
Steel Cut Oats: Same procedure, but I would give these more like 10 minutes or more to simmer. Use 2 cups of water to 1 cup of oats. Again, for those who prefer an even softer oatmeal, up the water ratio to more like 3:1.
I know that many also swear by using their crockpot overnight, on low, to prepare their oatmeal. I don't cook mine this way, but here is a recipe for trying it using steel cut oats.
Our favorite way to eat oatmeal is with raw milk or cream, a drizzle of honey (or even maple syrup as a splurge), raisins, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. It's also good with other fruit, such as berries. I didn't grow up eating hot cereals, and actually thought they were quite disgusting, but now I have overcome my old prejudices, and have learned to really enjoy a hot, comforting and delicious bowl of oatmeal.