Oatmeal or stirabout is the finely ground oat groats or the meal that is produced by grinding the oat grains. The term ‘oatmeal’ is also used to refer to the porridge prepared by cooking the ground oat with milk, water and sugar.
Oatmeal has a very ancient history and it was commonly used in porridge form in ancient Egypt. Oats have been found in Egyptian tombs that date back to 2001BC. However, the exact process by which the oatmeal was cooked to make the porridge is not known. By the late 1400BC, the term oatmeal was invented as the grain could be ground finely to produce the oat flour which was called oatmeal. The oatmeal was used to make cakes that were consumed by the peasant class. The grain was also commonly grown in Scotland where it was an essential part of the cuisine. Oats and oatmeal porridge was considered to be the staple dish of the country. The Scots are credited with brining the grain over to the US.
How is Oatmeal Prepared?
The grains of oat are de-husked with a special pressure technique and the inside grain is warmed. Then, it is followed by a rapid cooling process that ensures the stability of the grain structure. This produces the seed or oat groats. Heating and cooling the grain rapidly acts like a toasting process and imparts a nutty taste and flavor to the grain. The oat groats then undergo additional processing techniques to form fine, coarse or medium versions of oatmeal. The most common varieties that are produced include the following-
- Rolled oat is made by steaming the oat groats and then rolling the oat grains into flat grains. There are two varieties that are produced and referred to as old fashioned and quick cooking. The old fashioned rolled oats are made by steaming the whole groat, partially cooking them and then rolling them out. Quick cooking rolled oats are finely cut rolled oat groats that cook faster due to the smaller size.
- Steel cut oats are a variety of oats that are produced after the dehusking process. This variety consists mainly of small broken groats. These are also referred to as pinhead oats, Scotch oats, Irish oats or rough oatmeal. This variety still contains the whole oat grain and is considered the most nutritious variety for consumption. Due to the large size of the grain, this variety also takes the longest time to cook (about 30 minutes) and has a very chewy consistency.
- Instant oatmeal is precooked and dried oatmeal does not require any cooking.
The exact method of preparing the oatmeal depends on the type of oatmeal that is used. For example, quick cooking rolled oats is prepared by simmering the meal in water or milk along with sugar. This will take 15 minutes to cook. Instant oatmeal has added sugar and flavorings. Hot water is added and the oatmeal is left to soak for ten minutes and it is ready. Steel cut oatmeal requires the most time to cook and the cooking time may range anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour.
Different countries prepare savory, salty and even sour versions of the dish that are consumed as soups, gravies and porridges. For example-
- In Sweden, havregrynsgröt is an oatmeal porridge made by simmering rolled oats, water and raisins.
- In the US state of Vermont, steel cut oats are soaked overnight in salted cold water, and maple syrup. The oats are cooked the next morning with nutmeg, cinnamon and ground ginger.
- In Germany and Switzerland, a cold uncooked version of oatmeal is prepared. The oats are combined with honey, milk and spices and soaked overnight. Nuts are sprinkled on in the morning and the dish is consumed cold.
In Scotland, the oatmeal is prepared in a large variety of methods -
- Steel cut oats are soaked in salted water overnight and then simmered with milk and water in the morning to form a thick porridge.
- Brose is thick uncooked oatmeal made by toasting the oatmeal and then mixing cream or butter.
- Gruel is prepared by combining oatmeal and cold water. It is considered to be a restorative dish.
- Sowans is a fermented version of the inner husks of oats.
A single serving of steelcut oatmeal contains about 170 calories. The same serving contains about 3 g of fat, 5 g of dietary fiber, about 29 g of carbohydrates, and 7 g of protein.
The obsolete Middle English name for oatmeal is haver. This term is still used in many Germanic languages.