Oatmeal, also known as white oats, is ground oat groats (i.e., grains, as in oat-meal, cf. cornmeal, peasemeal, etc.), or a porridge made from oats (also called oatmeal cereal or stirabout). Oatmeal can also be ground oats, steel-cut oats, crushed oats, or rolled oats.
The oat grains are de-husked by impact, then heated and cooled to stabilize the "Oat groats", the seed inside the husk. The process of heating produces a nutty flavour in the oats. These oat groats may be milled to produce fine, medium or coarse oatmeal. Rolled oats are steamed and flattened whole oat groats. Steel cut oats may be small and broken groats from the de-husking process; these may be steamed and flattened to produce smaller rolled oats. Quick-cooking rolled oats (quick oats) are cut into small pieces before being steamed and rolled. Instant oatmeal is pre-cooked and dried, usually with sweetener and flavouring added. Both types of rolled oats may be eaten uncooked as in muesli or may be cooked to make porridge. It is also used as an ingredient in oatmeal cookies, oatcakes, British flapjack bars and baked oatmeal, or as an accent, as in the topping on many oat bran breads and the coating on Caboc cheese. Oatmeal is also sometimes porridge with the bran or fibrous husk as well as the oat kernel or groat. In some countries rolled oats are eaten raw with milk and sugar or raisins. Oatmeal is also used as a thickening agent in savoury Arabic/Egyptian thick meat plus vegetable soups.
An oatmeal bath, made by adding a cup of finely ground oatmeal to one's bathwater, is also commonly used to ease the discomfort associated with such things as chickenpox, poison ivy, eczema, sunburn and dry skin.
Breakfast cereal health benefits
There has been increasing interest in oatmeal in recent years because of its health benefits. Daily consumption of a bowl of oatmeal can lower blood cholesterol, because of its soluble fibre content. After it was reported that oats can help lower cholesterol, an "oat bran craze" swept the U.S. in the late 1980s, peaking in 1989. The food craze was short-lived and faded by the early 1990s. The popularity of oatmeal and other oat products increased again after the January 1997 decision by the Food and Drug Administration that food with a lot of oat bran or rolled oats can carry a label claiming it may reduce the risk of heart disease when combined with a low-fat diet. This is because of the beta-glucan in the oats. Rolled oats have long been a staple of many athletes' diets, especially weight trainers, because of its high content of complex carbohydrates and water-soluble fibre that encourages slow digestion and stabilizes blood-glucose levels. Oatmeal porridge also contains more B vitamins and calories than other kinds of porridges.
Oatmeal has a long history in Scottish culinary tradition because oats are better suited than wheat to Scotland's short, wet growing season. Oats became the staple grain of that country. The ancient universities of Scotland had a holiday called Meal Monday to permit students to return to their farms and collect more oats for food.
Samuel Johnson referred, disparagingly, to this in his dictionary definition for oats: "A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people." His biographer, James Boswell, noted that Lord Elibank was said by Sir Walter Scott to have retorted, "Yes, and where else will you see such horses and such men?"
A common method of cooking oatmeal in Scotland is to soak it overnight in salted water and cook on a low heat in the morning for a few minutes until the mixture thickens.
In Scotland, oatmeal is created by grinding oats into a coarse powder. It may be ground fine, medium, or coarse, or rolled, or the groats may be chopped in two or three pieces to make what is described as pinhead oatmeal. Ground oatmeal, rolled oats, ans pinhead oatmeal, are all used (throughout Britain); one Scots manufacturer describes varieties as "Scottish Porridge Oats" (rolled), "Scottish Oatmeal" (medium ground), and "Pinhead Oatmeal". The main uses are:
- Traditional porridge
- Brose: a thick mixture made with uncooked oatmeal (or medium oatmeal that has been dry toasted by stirring it around in a dry pot over heat until it turns a slightly darker shade and emits a sweet, nutty fragrance) and then adding butter or cream. Brose is eaten like porridge but much more filling.
- Quick-cooking rolled oats (distinct from "instant" variations) are often used for this purpose nowadays, because they are quicker to prepare.
- Gruel, made by mixing oatmeal with cold water that is strained and heated for the benefit of infants and people recovering from illness.
- as an ingredient in baking
- in the manufacture of bannocks or oatcakes
- as a stuffing for poultry
- as a coating for Caboc cheese
- as the main ingredient of the Scottish dish skirlie, or its chip-shop counterpart, the deep-fried thickly-battered mealy pudding
- mixed with sheep's blood, salt, and pepper to make Highland black pudding (marag dubh).
- mixed with fat, water, onions and seasoning, and boiled in a sheep's intestine to make marag geal, Outer Hebridean white pudding, served sliced with fried eggs at breakfast. A sweeter version with dried fruit is also known.
- as a major component of haggis.
- in sowans, not strictly made from the meal but as a porridge-like dish made from the fermented inner husks of oats
In the U.S. state of Vermont, oatmeal making has a long tradition originating with the Scottish settlement in the state. While there are variations, most begin with steel cut oats. The oats are soaked overnight in cold water, salt, and maple syrup. Early the next morning, before beginning farm chores, the cook adds ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon, and sometimes ground ginger. The pot is placed over heat and cooked for 90 minutes or more, and served after the chores with cream, milk, or butter. As most contemporary Vermonters no longer have farm chores, the recipe is simplified to a briefer 10 to 30-minute cooking at a higher heat. Vermont leads the U.S. in per capita consumption of cooked oatmeal cereal.
The havregrynsgröt, havregrød or kaurapuuro (in Finnish) - is a porridge made from rolled oats, water and/or milk and often added raisins. It is a traditional breakfast staple in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. Porridge made from rye (vattgröt) or barley (bjuggröt) was more common during the Middle Ages.
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