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Rolled oats vs steel cut oats

s there any difference between rolled oats vs steel cut oats?

Some people think not. Oas is oats, they say. And they find it ridiculous for others to claim that oats cut into smaller pieces might be different from oats rolled flat.

Once, I read an article that ridiculed such claims about differences between rolled oats vs steel cut oats by comparing it to difference between sandwiches cut into squares and those cut into squares.

The author of the article might have felt smart to come up with such an analogy. Yet he only revealed his ignorance and the shallowness of his thinking,

Those who actually bother to find out if will conclude differently. One Consumer Reports article advises: "For best oatmeal taste, be patient."

That article was based on taste tests on difrerent types of oats and it concluded that steel cut oats, which took the longest time to cook, tasted the best.

I do not totally agree with the article, which I feel is overly concerned about salt or sodium. But I agree fully with its conclusion that steel cut oats, which take the longest time to cook, tasted best.

And even among the many forms of rolled oats, those that are more thickly cut - and take longer time to cook - do taste better.

Those who offer recipes and cooking tips for steel cut oats swear by it. Personally, I have tasted oats that take even longer to cook - whole (uncut) oats that require more than 45 minutes of cooking time, versus 30 to 40 minutes for steel cut oats, versus one to five minutes for rolled oats, depending on the thickness.

And I would say whole oats tastes even better than steel cut, except that whole oats are extremely chewy and difficult to eat on their own. I used to mix about 10 percent whole oats with brown rice, to give the rice added flavour and texture.

Health differences - oxidation of broken grains

To understand the health differences between rolled oats vs steel cut oats (and vs whole, uncut oats), we need to just observe what happens when certain foods are cut.

The best known example is the apple. Once cut, the apple starts to turn brown. This happens because the apple oxidizes when it comes into contact with air.

The same thing happens when oats and other whole grains are cut, rolled, milled into flour or otherwise broken. They come into contact with air and begin to oxidize - except that the process is not obvious because it does not happen as quickly as in the case of an apple.

If you have ever eaten, for example, bread or noddles made with fresh flour, you will know there is a difference. In Singapore, there is a Japanese soba (buckwheat noodle) restaurant - at the basement of Paragon Shopping Mall - where the noodles are are made on site, from flour that is freshly milled right at the entrance of the restaurant for everyone to see. I can tell you, the soba tastes very different from any other soba that I have eaten.

Once, I met two ladies in Hong Kong who were very serious bakers, and they would bake their own breads using flour that they freshly mill themselves. They told me they could tell a difference even if the flour was just one-day old. In fact, they did not even have to eat the bread to tell the difference. They told me that when they kneaded the bread dough, the colour of their palms would be different if they used fresh flour vs flour that was just slightly old.

This is why it is always healthier to eat whole grains rather than broken or rolled grains, or flour products such as bread and noodles. Of course, there is no great harm in enjoying flour products now and then, just that they are not ideal.

In the case of oats, the oxidation effect would be even more pronounced because oats have a higher oil content than other grains like wheat, rice or barley. Because of this, oats oxidize more quickly.

Whole, uncut oats would have the least oxidation, followed by steel cut oats, which only have small areas exposed to air. In contrast, rolled oats and oatmeal (flour) have the most pronounced oxidation because they have larger surface areas in contact with air.

Taste differences

The oxidation process, besides affecting the health quality, would also affect the taste.

In extreme cases, broken grains and flour products might turn rancid and have an "off" taste that indicate the presence of toxic substances. In fact, this is one of the reasons for refining flour because it was found that by removing the bran that contains oil, the shelf life of flours is improved.

Whole grains, or minimally broken grains like steel cut oats, are not immune and they, too, can also turn rancid. It is just that the chances are lower, that's all.

A lot of factors affect the taste of food. And one of those factors is the cooking time. For example, an opnion that is cooked for a very long time will turn very sweet, compared to onion that is quickly stir-fried foir just a minute or two, which would still retain part of its pungent flavour.

Cooking transforms food and there is every reason why steel cut oats cooked for 30 to 40 minutes might taste differently from rolled oats cooked for one to five minutes.

Many forms of rolled oats, particularly instant oats, have actually been steamed and pre-cooked before rolling. The final few minutes of "cooking" are therefore more akin to "re-heating" than actual cooking.

Cut and taste

So there are many reasons why there might be differences between rolled oats vs steel cut oats. I'd like to end off citing just one more reason - they way they are cut.

Try this simple experiment... Take one raw carrot. Cut half of it very finely. Cut the other half into large chunks. Now eat the two different cuts of the same raw carrot, They taste different, don't they.

For whatever reason, foods might taste differently simply because they are cut differently. It could, again, be due to oxidation. Or due to contact with the metal knife blade - which makes vegetables cut with a ceramic knife taste differently from those cut with metal blades. It might be due to somethint else they we do not know and do not understand.

So maybe it is not too far fetched after all to suggest that cut sandwiches would taste different from sandwiches that have been rolled flat.

Or that there are health, taste and other differences between rolled oats vs steel cut oats.

Finding steel cut oats

In Singapore, most of the oats sold in supermarkets are either "instant" or "quick-cooking" and it is hard even to find the steel cut variety. In fact, it's hard to find even thick rolled oats that may require slightly longer cooking. I won't be surprised if the situation is the same in most other countries.

I went to several Market Place supermarkets and initially, the closest thing I found was a price label, but not the actual product on the shelf. This was for a packet of of steel cut organic oats from Bob's Red Mill, a company that sells a wide variety of grains, flours, beans and lentils.

Oh well, at least I know it exists and I did find it at the supermarket subsequently. After much further searching, I found a packet of the same brand at the organic foods store Brown Rice Paradise (that I started but sold off in 1999). But... it costs $7.50 for 500 grams, a dollar more than at Market Place, which is already regarded as costly.

No thank you, I was not in a hurry. Then a few days later, I finally found my steel cut oats - at my neighbourhood health foods store. This was packed by The Organic Paradise and the company distributes quite widely to smaller health stores.

Best of all, it cost less than half the price of Bob's Red Mill, at only $3.20 for 500 grams. And it's still organic.

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