Oats are championed as one of the world’s healthiest foods and have been cultivated for thousands of years. They are a good source of protein, dietary fiber, thiamin, folate, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, vitamin B6, and niacin. Oats are rich in minerals including manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc, iron, potassium and calcium.
The news regularly boasts the benefits of oats including; increased weight control, better bowel function, lower cholesterol, lower risk of heart disease and diabetes, lower blood pressure, stabilization of blood sugar, enhanced immune response and reduced risk of cancer. Regular consumption of oats contribute to increased overall health.
In addition to all of the health benefits, oats have a long shelf-life which make them perfect for longer term food storage. Several varieties have a shelf life of up to 30 years under ideal storage conditions. At least 10-15 years in a #10 can stuffed under a bed at room temperature. Once opened, oats should be consumed within a six months to a year.
Let’s take a quick look at the different varieties of oats available for purchase.
Whole oat groats have been cleaned and minimally processed to remove the inedible outer husk. The kernels are then heat treated to increase shelf life. This treatment prevents the fats from going rancid. Groats will not sprout due to the kilning process. To cook whole oat groats, bring 1 cup of groats in 3 cups of water to a boil and simmer for 45-60 minutes until tender. Soaking reduces the required cooking time. Oat groats can be ground into rich nutty-oat flour. They make a delicious breakfast cereal. Once cooked, they can be added to baked goods, soups, salads, stuffing, or served as a side dish.
Steel cut oats (Irish or pinhead oats) are oat groats which have been cut into 2-3 pieces with steel blades. They take less time to cook (20-40 minutes) than the whole kernel. To cook bring 1 cup steel cut oats and 3-4 cups water to a boil and then simmer for 20-40 minutes, depending on how chewy you like your oats.
Scottish oatmeal is stone-ground which creates various sized broken bits. It makes a creamier porridge than steel cut oats and requires only 10 minutes to cook. Standard recipe is 1 cup of Scottish oatmeal and 3 cups of water.
Regular old-fashioned rolled oats are oat groats that have been steamed, flattened and dried into flakes. This process stabilizes the healthy oils in the oats so they stay fresh longer. They cook faster (in about 5 minutes) due to the greater amount of surface area. Regular oats use a ratio of 1 cup of oats to 2 cups of water.
Quick–cooking rolled oats are processed like old-fashioned oats except they are cut a little finer before rolling. Prepare them just like regular rolled oats, but cook them for only one minute. The nutrition is similar, but the texture is different from regular rolled oats.
Instant oatmeal is produced by cooking the whole grain oat groats, very thinly rolling and drying. Salt, sugar and flavorings are frequently added to the finished product. Add boiling water and you have a quick breakfast. Instant oatmeal is not a good candidate for long term storage.
Oat bran is the outer bran layer of oat groats ground into a fine meal. It requires a very short cooking time. Oat bran has a smooth texture and is very high in soluble fiber.
Oat flour is the result of grinding oat groats into flour just like wheat. Rolled oats can be ground in a blender or food processor to create oat flour. It can be used in baking or to thicken soups or stews. It does not make good yeast bread due to the lack of gluten.
Each variety of oats requires a different amount of cooking time. During a crisis, fuel is a precious commodity and must be used wisely. It is a good idea to consider fuel consumption when deciding which varieties to store. Remember whole oat groats may take a long time to cook, but when ground into flour they can thicken a gravy in a minute. Presoaking will reduce required cooking time. Store what you enjoy eating and plan fuel accordingly.
Stove Top – Cook quick, regular, steel cut or whole oat groats by bringing water and grain to a boil, then simmering until tender. Stir occasionally.
Pressure Cooker – This method significantly reduces cooking time over standard stove top methods. Place water and grain in pressure cooker. Pressure cook whole oat groats 15-18 minutes, steel-cut or Scottish oats 10 minutes, regular oats 2 minutes. Quick and instant rolled oats do not need to be pressure cooked.
Thermal Cooker – Another way to save both energy and time is to use a thermal cooker. Bring the water and oats to a strong boil and then place them in the thermal cooker to finish cooking without additional fuel. Whole oat groats and steel cut oats are perfect when left overnight. Rolled oats take less time to actually cook, but still work well in a Thermos or thermal cooker. Learn more about thermal cooking by clicking here.
Sun Oven – Utilize the free energy of the sun by using a solar oven to cook your oats. Place the water and grain in covered pot inside the solar oven and put it in the path of the sun. Cooking time will vary depending on the UV index and type of oats. It might take a little longer than on a stove top, but the payback in fuel savings is well worth it.
Oats for Storage
Experiment with the different varieties. What do you like to eat? Personally, each one serves a different purpose in my pantry, although I usually don’t buy instant. I have a no-bake chocolate oatmeal cookie recipe that works best with quick oats. Jonathan’s homemade granola demands old-fashioned oatmeal to be perfect. We love the texture and flavor of the steel cut oats for breakfast cereal.
Oat flour is a delightful addition to many baked goods. I usually put rolled oats in my food processor to get a nice, course flour that adds both flavor and texture to the final product. However, it is just as easy to throw oat groats in with the wheat when I grind it. I like having a variety of oats on hand.
Oats store best in a #10 can with an oxygen absorber to protect against critters and extend storage life. Plastic buckets are also a good option. Store containers in a cool, dry place. We go through oats so fast that I keep them in plastic buckets on the floor of my kitchen pantry fitted with a Gamma Seal lid for easy access.
Oats are absolutely irresistible with fresh or dried fruit, brown sugar or honey, chocolate chips or with a little milk. Think about how you like to spice up your oats and make sure to keep your pantry stocked with those tasty treats also. Food storage can be amazingly delicious!