All You Ever Wanted to Know About Oatmeal: A Guide to Choosing, Soaking and Cooking

Once you've made the switch to a real food lifestyle, those processed packets of oatmeal are out. Here's all you've ever wanted to know about oats – choosing them, soaking them, and cooking them!

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!

Rolled Oats (left) and Steel Cut Oats (right)

Image by little blue hen

How to Soak and Cook Oats

Soaking oats 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.

How do you like your oatmeal?

4 Healthy Habits

Looking for simple ways to live a healthier live in natural ways? This FREE ECOURSE focuses on 4 essential habits that you can incorporate in your family to live a healthier life, naturally!

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

Read Newer Post
Read Older Post


  1. You make several nutrition statements about oats in this article. Where are you getting your information from?

    I have to suggest you may be just assuming that nutrients automatically leak out when an oat grain is smashed (rolled) or cut into small pieces that cook faster. Looking at nutritional statements and analysis seems to paint a very different picture than you present.

    Also, I must dispute your assertion that rolled oats and quick oats are “pre-steamed”. If you look at actual product descriptions from oatmeal distributers you will not find anything about “pre-cooking” or steaming. Bob’s Red Mill very specifically states that quick oats are not pre-cooked. They are just rolled thinner for faster cooking.

    You are correct about texture, which is where the real differences lie (other than cooking time) between steel-cut (pinhead), rolled, or quick oats. Individual preference will determine which type of oatmeal presentation a person likes.

    As far as instant oatmeal goes, again you seem to be assuming that a commercial company pre-cooking the grains will deplete nutritional value more readily than a person cooking in their own kitchen. I’m not sure how you can substantiate this claim, since the commercial cooking process uses high-end commercial equipment far superior to anything found in a home kitchen. The more concerning part, I believe, should be what is added to instant oatmeal vs. nutritional value of the oats themselves. This can only be determined on a brand-by-brand basis.

  2. I have a question about soaking and oatmeal. Current studies on oatmeal show that it binds with cholesterol , lowering your cholesterol #’s, ( I have not read these studies, I am just repeating what I heard, )and is therefore very “healthful”. My thought is that no one in these studies soaked the oats because this is not the common method these days. So here is my question. Would soaking change that binding- with- the- cholesterol factor?

  3. Stephanie, I love Irish oats but have a question regarding the oats “after cooking.” Do you rinse the oatmeal after it is cooked or does that remove all the nutrition?

  4. I have been soaking/sprouting for awhile but I still don’t understand this: if you soak the phytic acid out into the water, then cook with it, aren’t you still consuming it?

    • My understanding is that soaking breaks down the enzyme – deactivating it – so it is then safe to consume.

  5. If you cannot eat wheat is there something else to use to soak the oats that will decrease the phytates?

    • Just do the soak with an acid medium (whey, lemon juice, yogurt, apple cider vinegar) and not with the flour. You will get more of the phytates if you keep your soaks on the longer end (rather than just 8-12 hours). Aim for more like 12-24 hrs.

  6. OR….you could go to your local farmer and buy a 50 Pound! bag of whole oats for about $8 buckssss, and chop them yourself!

  7. Hi there! This is an amazing, informative post. I was just wondering….have you ever tried or would you recommend adding a tablespoon of sourdough starter to the oatmeal the night before? Do you know if it would help with the break down of the anti-nutrients?

  8. Katherine says:

    Ok here is a strange question for you. I love steel cut oats, but I always rinse them after they are cooked to remove that creaminess/sliminess. It makes it really yummy with yogurt.. My question is, am I rinsing away the soluble fiber as well as the iron? Any ideas? And does anyone else do this with their steel cut oats?

  9. Just wondering if anyone else has soaked/cooked oatmeal in apple juice?

  10. Is there a maximum soaking time?


  1. […] I figured out was that I liked it best made with steel cut oats instead of rolled oats, because the texture stays chewier. Adding a pat of butter, plus using cream […]

  2. […] Soaked oatmeal with raw milk and honey (I'll do mine with some fruit and cinnamon since I can't have honey right […]

  3. […] pictures I've taken are just of the oatmeal mix, before I've added it to the actual oatmeal. My basic method […]

  4. […] back when I was into macrobiotics but had since forgotten or mostly stopped doing.  I’ll be soaking my oats overnight before cooking with them, suffice it to […]

  5. […] SnacksFruited yogurtMini-Apple piesKamut Oatmeal cookiesBreakfast CookiesLeftover BreakfastPancakesOatmealMuffinsProtein pancakesWafflesBreakfast Casserole BitesFrozen SnacksYogurt Popsicles (make with […]

  6. […] More information on soaking oats […]

  7. […] dairy products like yogurt, kefir, creme fraiche or sour cream, and cheeses.Whole grains that are soaked, sprouted or made using sourdough fermentation methods.Organic or ecologically grown vegetables and […]

  8. […] Breakfast: Soaked oatmeal with raw milk and honey (I'll do mine with some fruit and cinnamon since I can't have honey right now) […]

  9. […] Eat oats frequently (learn more about preparing them here), or use the milky oat tops as a tea daily.   I have found that long term use provides the […]

  10. […] apple pieces have been eaten as snacks and in oatmeal, but on a cold January day when no fresh fruit could be found pie just seemed right. With all of […]

  11. […] (Soaked) Oatmeal with milk/cream, honey, dried or fresh fruit, nuts, etc. […]