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Rolled oats, a type of oatmeal
Alternative names White oats
Type Porridge
Main ingredients Oat groats
Cookbook: Oatmeal  Media: Oatmeal

Oatmeal is made of hulled oat grains – groats – that have either been ground, steel-cut, or rolled. Ground oats are also called "white oats". Steel-cut oats are known as "coarse oatmeal" or "Irish oatmeal" or "pinhead oats". Rolled oats can be either thick or thin, and may be "old-fashioned" or "quick" or "instant". The term "oatmeal" is also used in the U.S., Australia, and parts of Canada as another word for an oat porridge made from either the ground, steel-cut, or rolled oats.

Industrial preparation and varieties[edit]

The oat grains are dehusked 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.[1] These oat groats may be milled to produce fine, medium or coarse oatmeal.[2] Steel-cut oats may be small and contain broken groats from the dehusking process (these bits may be steamed and flattened to produce smaller rolled oats).

Rolled oats are steamed and flattened whole oat groats. Old-fashioned oats can be thick and take a while to boil to make porridge. Quick-cooking rolled oats (quick oats) are cut into small pieces before being steamed and rolled. Instant oatmeal is precooked and dried, often with a sweetener, such as sugar, and flavourings added.[3][4]

Food uses[edit]

Oatmeal cookies made with oatmeal, flour, sugar and butter
Baked oatmeal in a dish

Both types of rolled oats may be eaten uncooked, as in muesli, or may be cooked with water to make porridge. In some countries, rolled oats are eaten raw with milk and sugar, sometimes with raisins added, like a basic muesli. Porridge is served in many ways. In some Western countries, porridge is served with milk or cream and a sweetener, such as brown sugar. The term "oatmeal" sometimes refers to porridge made from the bran or fibrous husk as well as the oat kernel or groat.[5] Rolled oats are often used as a key ingredient in granola breakfast cereals (in which toasted oats are blended with sugar and/or nuts and raisins) and granola bars.

Rolled oats are also used as an ingredient in oatmeal cookies, oatcakes, British flapjack bars and baked oatmeal dessert dishes such as Apple Brown Betty and Apple Crisp. Oats may also be added to foods as an accent, as in the topping on many oat bran breads and as the coating on Caboc cheese. Oatmeal is also used as a thickening agent in thick, savoury Arabic or Egyptian meat-and-vegetable soups, and sometimes as a way of adding relatively low-cost fibre and nutritional content to meatloaf.

Health benefits of whole-grain oats[edit]

Oatmeal cooked with water to create a runny bowl of porridge

Daily consumption of a bowl of oatmeal can lower blood cholesterol, because of its beta-glucan content.[6] After it was reported that oats can help lower cholesterol, an "oat bran craze"[7][8] 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 their 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.[9]

Regional variations[edit]


Oatmeal has a long history in Scottish culinary tradition because oats are better suited than wheat to the country's low temperatures and high humidity.[10] As a result, oats became the staple grain of Scotland. 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?"[11]

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.[12] 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.[13] Ground oatmeal, rolled oats, and pinhead oatmeal, are all used (throughout Britain); one Scots manufacturer describes varieties as "Scottish Porridge Oats" (rolled), "Scottish Oatmeal" (medium ground), and "Pinhead Oatmeal".[14] 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 is much more filling.
  • Quick-cooking rolled oats (distinct from "instant" variations) are often used for this purpose nowadays, because they are quicker to prepare.[13]
  • 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
Oatmeal is a prime ingredient of haggis, seen here at a Burns supper
  • 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[15][16]


Staffordshire oatcakes are a local component of the full English breakfast. It is a plate-sized pancake, made with equal parts medium oatmeal and wheatmeal (flour), along with frothing yeast. Once the mixture has risen to produce something like a Yorkshire pudding batter, it is ladled onto a griddle or bakestone, and dried through. Staffordshire oatcakes are commonly paired with bacon, sausages, mushrooms, kidney, baked beans, among others.

Nordic countries and the Baltics[edit]

Throughout the Nordic and Baltic regions, oatmeal porridge made from rolled oats and water or milk is a traditional breakfast staple. Known under various local names meaning 'oat porridge', 'oat flake porridge' or 'oatmeal porridge', it is normally made either salty or sweet by adding salt or sugar, and it is often eaten with added raisins or other dried fruits. Local names for the porridge include Swedish havregrynsgröt, Danish havregrød, Norwegian havregraut or havregrøt, Icelandic hafragrautur, Finnish kaurapuuro, Estonian kaerahelbepuder, Latvian auzu pārslu (putra), Lithuanian avižinių dribsnių košė and Polish owsianka.

Oatmeal porridge has a long tradition in these regions, but during the Middle Ages porridge made from rye or barley was even more common in at least some parts of the area.[17]

Non-food uses[edit]

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 conditions as chickenpox, poison ivy, eczema, sunburn and dry skin.[18][medical citation needed] Also, oatmeal is widely used as a home remedy in getting rid of whiteheads, because it naturally exfoliates the skin and removes the skin pore blockage with the elements of dead skin.[19][medical citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "How Oats are Processed". buzzle.com. 
  2. ^ "Nairn's (2010)". Nairns-oatcakes.com. Retrieved 2012-10-08. 
  3. ^ Trowbridge Filippone, F. (2007) "Oatmeal Recipes and Cooking Tips" About.com
  4. ^ Hosahalli Ramaswamy; Amalendu Chakraverty; Mujumdar, Arun S.; Vijaya Raghavan (2003). Handbook of postharvest technology: cereals, fruits, vegetables, tea, and spices. New York, N.Y: Marcel Dekker. pp. 358–372. ISBN 0-8247-0514-9. Retrieved Feb 13, 2010. 
  5. ^ Prewett's (manufacturer of oatmeal)
  6. ^ Mayo Clinic Staff. Cholesterol: The top five foods to lower your numbers. MayoClinic.com
  7. ^ "Spokane Chronicle - Jan 24, 1990". News.google.com. 1990-01-24. Retrieved 2012-10-08. 
  8. ^ "How I Made $812 in the Oat Bran Craze". CNN. 1989-10-09. Retrieved 2009-08-30. 
  9. ^ New Standard Encyclopedia, 1992 by Standard Educational Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; page O-8.
  10. ^ Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England. Royal Agricultural Society of England. 1859. p. 169. 
  11. ^ The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.: Including a Journal of His Tour to the Hebrides. Volume 3 by James Boswell. New York: Derby & Jackson, , 1858. Page 11.
  12. ^ The Food Journal. London: J.M. Johnson & Sons. 1874. Retrieved Feb 14, 2010. The grain of oats, intended for human food, is generally prepared by being ground into meal; although it is also used in the form of groats, that is, of grain denuded of its husk, and merely broken into fragments. Oatmeal is of two kinds, both common in all shops in which it is sold, fine meal, and coarse or round meal. For various purposes, some prefer the one and some the other. There is no difference in quality, but merely in the degree in which the grain has been triturated in the mill. 
  13. ^ a b Sybil Kapoor (2010-01-07). "How to make perfect porridge | Life and style". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-10-08. 
  14. ^ Oatmeal product list of a Scots manufacturer
  15. ^ McNeill, F. Marian (1929). The Scots Kitchen. Paperback: 259 pages, Edinburgh: Mercat Press; New Edition (25 Oct 2004) ISBN 1-84183-070-4, p202
  16. ^ Mairi Robinson, ed. (1987). The Concise Scots Dictionary. Aberdeen University Press. p. 648. ISBN 0-08-028492-2. 
  17. ^ Ohlmarks, Åke (1995). Fornnordiskt lexikon. Tiden. p. 115
  18. ^ Forester, Elizabeth (2009-08-20). "Discovery Health "Other Uses for Oatmeal Baths "". Health.howstuffworks.com. Retrieved 2012-10-08. 
  19. ^ "How to Get Rid of Whiteheads: Clear Your Skin". Health Tips for a Busy Lifestyle: Be Fit for Life. 2016-02-12. Retrieved 2016-05-29.