On a cold winter day, a piping hot bowl of oatmeal feels like the perfect choice for breakfast, but which type should you use: steel-cut or rolled oats?
Oats are comforting, hearty, and good for you. Karen Falbo, Director of Nutrition Education at Natural Grocers and a Certified Natural Foods Chef says, “The fiber content in oats is in the form of beta-glucans, a viscous, soluble fiber shown to support healthy cholesterol levels, digestive health, and satiety. High fiber foods such as oats support healthy blood sugar balance, which in turn can support healthy weight maintenance.”
The Difference in Steel Cut vs. Rolled vs. Quick Oats
According to Bob’s Red Mill website, “Whole grain oats, sometimes referred to as oat kernels, are made up of three parts: the germ, the bran, and the endosperm. When oats are referred to as groats, it means that they are the whole grain oat kernel without the husk.”
Steel-cut oats (sometimes referred to as Irish or Scottish oats) are made by taking the oat groats and cutting them with a steel blade into 2 or 3 smaller pieces. Steel-cut oats can take 15-30 minutes or longer to be cooked on a stovetop (to shorten the cooking time, they can be soaked beforehand.) Fully cooked, steel-cut oats tend to have a chewy, nutty bite.
Rolled (or old fashioned ) oats are made by steaming and flattening the groats with large discs (instead of cutting them). This process makes the oat flaky and soft. The result is that the rolled oats absorb liquid quicker. The cook time for rolled oats is shorter than for steel cut, anywhere from three to five minutes on the stovetop. Because of the absorbency, rolled oats are better suited for use in baked goods (although steel-cut oats can be used if pre-soaked).
Quick oats are steamed for an even longer period than rolled oats and then rolled thinner, so they cook the quickest (ready to serve after a few minutes in the microwave) and have a mushy, mild taste. Quick oats are sometimes confused with instant oats. Usually, quick oats are sold in a bulk container, while instant oats are pre-packaged for individual use. While convenient, instant oats usually contain artificial flavorings.
Why Steel Cut Oats Edge Out the Competition
Both steel-cut and rolled oats can be helpful for those trying to maintaining or lose weight. The water content combined with the high fiber makes oatmeal filling. It is also a good source of iron, protein, energy (complex carbs), low fat, and is naturally gluten-free.
But in a head-to-head nutritional competition, steel oats would edge out rolled. Falbo explains, “Rolled oats and steel-cut oats are almost the same when it comes to nutritional value. However, steel cut oats beat out rolled oats in two areas, fiber content and density, which make steel cut oats more satiating and the best bang for your nutritional buck.” The other big nutritional difference is their impact on blood sugar. Falbo says, “Steel cut oats contain a slightly higher amount of the beta-glucan and in a larger particle size which makes steel-cut oats slightly lower on the glycemic index.”
So Which Should You Eat?
If you prefer the taste of steel cut oats but don’t have time for their long prep in the morning, consider soaking them overnight in milk, water, coconut water, or any other liquid. Overnight oats are good for several days, getting softer the longer they sit in the fridge and can be eaten cold, or warmed up in the microwave. Or Falbo suggests making steel cut oats in an Instant Pot, which will considerably cut down the cooking time.
If you don’t have the time to prepare steel-cut oats or prefer a creamier, more mild taste, rolled or quick oats are the better choice. Beware of any flavored oatmeal (which can contain sugar, sodium, or artificial flavors), and stick to plain, unsweetened oats. You can add in fresh fruit (berries, apples, or bananas), unsweetened coconut, chia seeds, almonds, or sunflower seeds to bump up the flavor or add some texture. If you like your oats sweet, it is still more nutritional to add in your own honey, cinnamon, chocolate chip,, or maple syrup rather than eating pre-sweetened instant oatmeal.
While oats are great for breakfast, they are also delicious in baked goods like cookies and muffins, mixed into smoothies, or even added to your meatloaf.
Falbo offers this recipe to make Oat Stuffed Baked Apples. To use steel-cut oats instead of rolled, Falbo says, “Add extra water when cooking the oats (e.g., ¾ cup water for ¼ cup steel cut oats instead of a half cup water for ¼ cup rolled oats). The extra water is necessary because the higher fiber content in steel cut oats will soak it up.”