Exploring Oats and Oatmeal

Updated on February 12, 2018
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Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes... one ingredient at a time.

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. 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.

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 of 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, America 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 had 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 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.

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?).

Who Are the Top Producers?

Country
Millions of Tonnes
Russia
5.3
Canada
2.9
Poland
1.5
Australia
1.3
Finland
1.0
United States
1.0
Oats Production in 2014
Source

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
  • Chickpea nuggets
  • Masala oats

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.

Crockpot 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 crockpot.

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

I am including 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).

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

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

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, rich flavors. This steel-cut oats "risotto" is wonderful!

Chickpea Nuggets

This vegan recipe creates chicken-like nuggets with a coating of panko crumbs and oats. Who doesn't like nuggets? And these are healthy, full of flavor and fiber, and guilt-free.

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.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Linda Lum

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      • Carb Diva profile image
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        Linda Lum 2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Manatita, your kind words mean a great deal to me. You, sir, are an exquisite writer. Thank you.

      • manatita44 profile image

        manatita44 2 months ago from london

        I like the Scotsman's retort, purely because it's an intelligent piece of writing, like how you started this Hub.

        I think you have done a super-excellent job with this one! So many things to do with oats and off course your history, as you sometimes include, is highly appreciated. Alas! we, both East and West, still seem to have a problem with obesity and diet.

        I have been using oats for about three weeks now. A friend stayed here for three nights and left me some. Now I mix it with my muesli or other forms of dietary fibre. Excellent Hub!!

      • Carb Diva profile image
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        Linda Lum 2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Flourish, I wish I could say that I found those recipes exclusively for you, but honestly I chose them because they look so good!

        Thank you also for your kind words about the intro. I do enjoy that part, the history and research and telling of the story, most of all.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 2 months ago from USA

        Yep, I’m trying chickpea nuggets and the vanilla smoothie. Thanks for finding vegan food that isn’t yucky. I loved the story of oats. You have a lovely way of dramatizing what we all believed to be mundane. That’s why you’re the Diva!

      • Carb Diva profile image
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        Linda Lum 2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Kari, I'm so glad you liked this. The oatmeal pancakes are a Carb Diva family favorite. Mr. likes them with maple syrup (the real stuff), and I like diced apples sauteed a few minutes and then simmered with brown sugar and cinnamon (like apple pie filling).

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 2 months ago from Ohio

        So much mmm good in one small article. I did not find time yesterday to get to my computer, but the wait was worth it. All of these look so good. I'm a lover of risotto, and that picture is making my mouth water. I want to try the pancakes out on my kids. Again, they all look so good! I had been wondering how to incorporate more oats in my life. Thank you!

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 2 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Well knock me silly and call me Willy, what a great article ; https://delishably.com/misc/Exploring-Hazelnuts-Nu...

        Thank you so much.

      • Carb Diva profile image
        Author

        Linda Lum 2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        I think all of us could benefit from adding (more) oats to our daily diet. I hope after reading this, people will not immediately assume that eating oats means eating a bowl of oatmeal. I love the idea of using oats in savory foods.

      • Angel Guzman profile image

        Angel Guzman 2 months ago from Joliet, Illinois

        Mmm great article. I could use more oats in my diet.

      • Carb Diva profile image
        Author

        Linda Lum 2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Eric, you're making the oatmeal pancakes? That's awesome. Now, when you're done with breakfast hop over to my article on Hazelnuts. A penny for your thoughts.

      • Carb Diva profile image
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        Linda Lum 2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Bill, it is good for lowering your cholesterol, so I highly recommend that you pick some up today. And, while you're at it, live on the wild side and toss some of those oats into your other meals.

        My mom used oatmeal in place of bread or cracker crumbs in her meatloaf, although I don't think she was trying to make a healthier meatloaf, she was just using up what was available.

      • Carb Diva profile image
        Author

        Linda Lum 2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Mary, that makes me happy. Have a wonderful day!

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 2 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        As my boy and I like to declare for things of excellence "cha da cha sha shing!!"

        Rasberry, Cranberry, Strawberry, Blueberry and Blackberry panacakies are on the griddle.

        Thank you my heroine of food. You are the deliverer of fine food.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

        The only oatmeal I know comes in a round box with a smiling lady on it. :) I do love it, though...how come I never eat it any longer? Hmmmm....shopping trip in the making.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 2 months ago from Ontario, Canada

        We usually have oatmeal in the morning and had been wondering how good it truly is for us. Now, I am more encouraged to have it. I will certainly try that chapati.

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