Think about the last time you stood in the hot cereal aisle at the grocery store. If you felt overwhelmed by the options, you’re not alone. Oat groats. Steel cut. Rolled oats. Quick cook and instant oatmeal. What’s the difference? Is one healthier than the others? How will they work in your favorite recipes? Let’s take a look at some of the different types of oats and the benefits of each.


Whatever type you prefer, oats are good for you


First off, it’s important to note that no matter what type of oats you buy, they’re going to be a nutritional powerhouse. When compared to many other grains, oats are higher in fiber, essential vitamins, and protein. They’re also a great source of beta-glucan, which promotes better gut health and can reduce stress and inflammation. 


And, according to Cooking Light’s recent experiment, “All types of oats—even instant oats—are whole grains and are good sources of fiber and plant-based protein. The nutrition only varies slightly between each type of oat, with the major differences being cook time, texture, and flavor.” 


Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at the different types of oats, how they’re processed, and what that means for your favorite recipes. 


All oats start as whole groats


Groats are whole oats, which means they include the cereal germ, the bran, and the endosperm of the grain. Groats are the most nutritious and least processed type of oat. But they often require soaking before cooking and remain chewy. Because of this, they’re recommended for hearty dishes like strews or slow-baked dishes. 


The two main types of oats


That brings us to the two most popular types of oats: steel cut and rolled oats. These are the oats you’ll likely see in most grocery stores. And they both start their food journey as whole oat groats. So what’s the difference? It all comes down to how they’re processed. 

Steel cut oats

Steel cut oats (sometimes called Irish oatmeal) are processed by chopping up the whole oat groat. Because they’re smaller, they cook faster than whole oat groats. But they still maintain the groats’ firm texture and nuttier flavor. In terms of nutrients, they retain all the goodness of whole oat groats. However, because of their firmer texture, they’re not great for baking. Instead, you should cook them into oatmeal, added to stews, or served as a replacement for rice and other grains. 

Rolled oats

On the other hand, rolled oats are whole grains that get steamed and pressed with flat rollers. Because they’re flattened, they’re faster to cook and achieve a lighter, fluffier texture when cooked. They’re the perfect addition to your favorite baked goods. They also result in creamier oatmeal, making them an excellent choice for no-cook recipes like overnight oats or no-bake cookies. 


The truth about instant and quick cook oatmeal


Instant oatmeal gets a bad reputation. But in reality, quick cook and instant oats are just pre-cooked, dried, rolled, and then pressed slightly thinner than rolled oats. You know that old saying, “The best diet is the one you can stick to”? Well, the best oats are the ones you can eat. If you’re rushed in the morning and need a two-minute breakfast, instant oats are better than none. A word of warning, though: keep an eye out for added sugars, preservatives, and additives in your instant oat package. 



Whether you take them whole, steel cut, rolled, or instant, oats are a nutrient-rich, high fiber addition to your diet. And in the future, Northerly hopes to carry a different type of oat for every taste and texture preference. But for now, don’t forget to stock up on our hearty, single-source rolled oats.