It’s confession time: I used to eat a lot of instant oatmeal. There, I said it. I was a convenience food user. Not an addict but a habitual user to be sure. More shameful, yet, I tried to drag my child down with me.
It’s not that I didn’t know how delicious homemade oatmeal tasted; it’s just that I got hooked on the convenience of instant oatmeal. This lazy girl’s gruel was a quick way to fill the void when I was too busy to sit down at the table. Instead I’d make my instant oatmeal in a coffee mug to eat at my desk while I wrote recipes for more delicious things.
After a few months, I forgot what a pleasure it was to eat the homemade stuff and I started buying instant oatmeal for my family, too. Rolled oats were still in the cupboard but they were reserved for baking cookies and the toasted oatmeal scones pictured above. These were dark times.
As I personally became more aware of the benefits of soluble fibre, I drifted back into cooking rolled oats and then I picked up a can of Irish steel cut oats. After a few good bowls of the real thing, my son banished instant oatmeal from our grocery cart forever. There was absolutely no going back to the instant stuff or even rolled oats. He just wouldn’t have it.
Does buying oatmeal confuse you? If so, don’t be ashamed, it comes in a lot of forms. Here’s a little glossary to help you choose the right oatmeal for the right cooking occasion:
• Steel cut: steamed or rolled, whole oat kernels are cut into pieces and require a long, slow simmering. Although I’ve never used them for anything other than making breakfast cereal, Tara Mataraza Desmond and Joy Manning use them to replace some of the meat and add fibre to the Lamb Albondigas in their book Almost Meatless.
• Quick: steel cut oats that have been steamed and then rolled to create a light, fluffy-textured meal that cooks quickly into cereal. Quick oats are often used in baking and for breakfast cereal.
• Rolled: when groats are steamed and then rolled and dried, they become whole rolled oats, about the size and shape of the nail bed of your pinky fingernail; they can be used to make cereal or in baking recipes.
• Instant: made from cut groats that are cooked and then dried, this form of oatmeal needs only to be rehydrated and is not suitable for baking.
• Groats: when first picked, oats are a whole seed on an oat stock. Once the hull is removed by crushing the whole seed, they are called groats and can be cooked like rice.
• Cavena Nuda: or Naked Oats are a Canadian oat plant variety developed by Agriculture Canada. While regular oats need heat-treating once the hull is removed, Cavena has a thin, waxy coating that the seed has developed because the hulls themselves are loose. These loose hulls are removed during threshing, leaving the entire seed intact. Cavena nuda is cooked in boiling hot water and is similar in texture to wild rice. It’s used in baking and as a cereal but also as a substitute for rice in savoury cooking.