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Exploring Oats and Oatmeal (Plus Recipes)

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

Learn about oats and oatmeal.

Learn about oats and oatmeal.

The oat is the Horatio Alger of cereals, which progressed, if not from rags to riches, at least from weed to health food.

— Waverley Root, 'Food' (American journalist for the Chicago Tribune & Washington Post.)

Our Story Begins...

…in the womb of life we call the Fertile Crescent. A bold sea of green emerged from the earth, waves of grass moving with the breeze, their nodding seed heads swaying, swirling, rippling like the waters of the Tigris. The warm sun toasted the slender green tufts to a golden hue. The kernels swelled and burst from their hulls. Some fell to the ground to germinate inches from their parent plant, but others were caught by the wind, washed away in rivulets of rainwater, or redeposited by birds and small beasts.

Avena sativa was favored by nomads with beasts of burden; their journeys aided in the spread of the grain. That migration took years, perhaps centuries, but eventually, Avena reached the banks of the Nile River. There it was deemed insignificant, a mere weed, but strays intermingled with other grains, and its remnants have been found interred with the Pharaohs in tombs dating 4,000 B.C.

The mutation of grass

The mutation of grass

Over time the grass mutated. Stronger, more viable strains became dominant. By the time of the Bronze Age (the 2nd millennium in northern Europe), the grass was no longer shunned as a substandard weed. It was cultivated in Switzerland, and there it grew as oats.

In Samuel Johnson's dictionary, oats were defined as "eaten by people in Scotland, but fit only for horses in England."

A Scotsman's retort to this is, "That's why England has such good horses, and Scotland has such fine men!"

A Perfect New Home

The ancestor of oats sprang from Asia, but succeeding generations found a more comfortable home in northwest Europe. There the moderate temperatures of summer and more generous amounts of precipitation provided the perfect climate. By the Middle Ages, oats had become the staple grain of Scotland.

And, it was a Scot, Bartholomew Gosnold, who in 1602 brought oats to North America. The first plantings were on the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts in Buzzards Bay. On the east coast and plains of North America, oats again found a hospitable climate. The colonists of Jamestown planted oats in 1611 (for the horses and for beer), and then oats quickly spread throughout the colonies. They were recognized as a cheap and reliable source of feed for domestic animals and eventually became a major crop, that is, until 1920.

And Then the Erosion Began

This was not erosion by wind or water but progress. The Machine Age ended our reliance on “horsepower” and thus our need for oats. But although horse feed was superseded by fossil fuels, oats were still a viable commodity for livestock.

The next assault occurred when animal feed technology (the feeding of cattle and poultry) replaced oats with corn and soy. And then…

There Was a Post-War Re-awakening

After the 2nd World War, Americans began to embrace a look to the future. In general, American society became more affluent. The GI Bill of Rights allowed veterans to attend college and purchase homes. The automobile industry converted back to producing cars. By 1956 a majority of U.S. workers held white-collar rather than production jobs.

Gone were radio shows; enter the television set. In 1946 less than 1 percent of all American households had a television set; by 1955, over half of all households were glued to the “tube”. And according to an article in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library:

After WWII, many Americans worried that US citizens were growing overweight and out of shape. The nation's economy had changed dramatically, and with it, the nature of work and recreation changed. Mechanization had taken many farmers out of the fields and much of the physical labor of farm work. Fewer factory jobs demanded heavy labor. Television required watching rather than doing. Americans were beginning to confront a new image of themselves...and they didn't like what they saw.

President Eisenhower was certainly aware of the issue of physical fitness, or lack thereof. During the 2nd World and Korean Wars, officers complained about the condition of draftees. In response, Eisenhower established the President’s Council on Youth Fitness. The goal was to focus attention on the problem, but words without action are meaningless. The program was ineffective because there was no clear definition of purpose.

After his election in 1960, President John Kennedy demonstrated his commitment to improving the physical fitness of our citizens; his article “The Soft American” was published in Sports Illustrated and established four talking points on how his program could be implemented. One-quarter million school children took part in pilot projects in six states, and physical education programs around the country were revamped. The result? At the end of the year, half again as many students passed a physical fitness test as they had a year earlier.

Families became more aware of the need for exercise and proper nutrition, and nutritionists began to focus on cholesterol and the need for dietary fiber. And oats once again became the breakfast of champions.

Delicious oatmeal

Delicious oatmeal

Oats Statistics and Trivia

  • Gluten-free
  • Nutrient-dense. One-half cup contains
    • Manganese: 191% of the RDI
    • Phosphorus: 41% of the RDI
    • Magnesium: 34% of the RDI
    • Copper: 24% of the RDI
    • Iron: 20% of the RDI
    • Zinc: 20% of the RDI
    • Folate: 11% of the RDI
    • Vitamin B1 (thiamin): 39% of the RDI
    • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 10% of the RDI
    • Smaller amounts of calcium, potassium, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and vitamin B3 (niacin)
    • 51 grams of carbs, 13 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat and 8 grams of fiber, but only 303 calories.
  • Contains the soluble fiber beta-glucan, which:
    • Reduces LDL and total cholesterol levels
    • Reduces blood sugar and insulin response
    • Increases feeling of fullness
    • Increases growth of good bacteria in the digestive tract
  • January is National Oatmeal Month
  • In the U.S., we purchase 40.5 million pounds of oatmeal each year (enough to make 470 million bowls of oatmeal).
  • Quaker Oats was the first U.S. breakfast cereal to receive a registered trademark
  • Seventy-five percent of U.S. households have oatmeal in their cupboard.
  • The most popular oatmeal toppings are milk, sugar, fruit (raisins, bananas) and butter/margarine. Among the most unusual are: eggnog, peanut butter, cottage cheese and brewer's yeast.
  • Oatmeal cookies are the #1 non-cereal use for oatmeal, followed by meatloaf and fruit crisp.
  • An 18-ounce package of Old Fashioned Quaker Oats contains about 26,000 rolled oats.
  • Oatmeal is still a bargain at less than 15 cents a serving.

There's No Change in Sight

The popularity of oats is expected to continue. Here is the trendline (perhaps we should invest in oats futures?).

The global oatmeal market

The global oatmeal market

Who Are the Top Producers?

Oats Production in 2014

CountryMillions of Tonnes











United States



Are You Anxious for Recipes?

You're getting close, but I feel that I must insert a caveat. There are hundreds, thousands (dare I say millions?) of recipes available for oatmeal cookies. You won't find those here.

Today I've assembled recipes that feature oats with a bit more imagination. Some are innovative because they utilize a slow cooker or instant pot; some are sweet, but many are savory.

And you thought oatmeal was only for breakfast or dessert? Take a look.

Recipes Featured in This Article

  • Vanilla oat smoothie
  • Crockpot apple cinnamon oatmeal
  • Carb Diva's (that's ME) oatmeal pancakes
  • Apple cranberry instant pot steel-cut oats
  • Oats chapati
  • Broccoli cheddar oatmeal bake
  • Steel-cut oats risotto
  • Masala oats
Vanilla Oat Smoothie

Vanilla Oat Smoothie

Breakfast Recipes

Vanilla Oat Smoothie

The blog LeahsPlate concentrates on whole foods that are quick and simple to prepare. Her vanilla oat smoothie is vegan and gluten-free.

Crock-pot apple cinnamon oatmeal

Crock-pot apple cinnamon oatmeal

Crock-Pot Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

Do you find it difficult to get up in the morning? I know that I do, especially when the weather is cold and that bed is just so warm and cozy. Knowing that a sweet, warm breakfast of apples and oatmeal is waiting for you could make it just a little easier to get going, don't you think?

This recipe slow-cooks for you overnight in your Crock-Pot.

Carb diva oatmeal pancakes

Carb diva oatmeal pancakes

Carb Diva Oatmeal Pancakes

Spoiler alert: If you want to make my oatmeal pancakes, you will need to prepare the batter the night before. But, once you do that, you know that morning breakfast will take just minutes. It's easy-peasy (my favorite expression) and the oats add extra fiber to keep you healthy and satisfied until lunch break.

Apple cranberry instant pot steel cut oats

Apple cranberry instant pot steel cut oats

Apple Cranberry Instant Pot Steel Cut Oats

I include this recipe for oatmeal with apples and cranberry because it is cooked in an instant pot. I know some of you have one of those amazing gadgets and wanted to include this for you. (As for instant pots, I'm still on the sideline, but considering).

Oats chapati

Oats chapati

Savory Recipes

Oats Chapati

Chapati is a flatbread popular in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. This oat version is easy, simple, full of healthy fiber, and it tastes wonderful.

Broccoli cheddar oatmeal bake

Broccoli cheddar oatmeal bake

Broccoli Cheddar Oatmeal Bake

Do you like broccoli cheddar soup? What if you could capture all of those flavors—the grassy taste of the broccoli, the rich, salty cheese, and the herbal flavor of garlic, and THEN add heart-healthy whole-grain oats? That's what HungryHobby has done for us with this quiche-like broccoli cheddar oatmeal bake.

Steel cut oats risotto

Steel cut oats risotto

Steel Cut Oats Risotto

OK, so the Italian-food-loving part of me wants to scream, "this isn't risotto"!

But, then I tried it. Technically not a risotto, but it has all of the taste and texture that you expect—toothsome grains, creamy sauce, herbs, and rich flavors. This steel cut oats "risotto" is wonderful!

Masala oats

Masala oats

Masala Oats

This vegetarian/vegan dish could be a light lunch or dinner. I would serve some fresh vegetables on the side. But in India, this could also be served as the first meal of the day.

© 2018 Linda Lum