I can tell when the weather starts to turn cold because I find myself craving hot porridge for breakfast instead of fresh fruit. So as this winter snow storm approaches, I thought this week I’d write about oats for my weekly ingredient series, and share some tummy-warming, rib-sticking, or simply plain tasty recipes.
These days oats are fairly widely cultivated as food, but until about 2000 years ago the plant was considered a weed. When they were harvested, it seems that their use was originally medicinal and that early cultivation was probably as animal feed. Even now most oats grown in North America are destined for farm animals. Human consumption of oats probably started in Northern and Western Europe where the grain was a staple in the diet. It was first introduced into North America by the early Scottish settlers in the 17th century. In additional to food and feed, oats are also used in cosmetics lacquers and dyes.
Oats thrive in cool, moist climates so it is not surprising that they are a common crop in Canada, particularly in the prairie provinces. They are also very hardy plants and adapt well to poor soil conditions and a range of climates. Oats are sown in the spring and generally harvested between August to October, although about 40% of oats are harvested ‘green’ during the summer as cattle feed, hay or silage. Canada produces over 3.5 million tonnes of oats annually and fluctuations in our harvest can impact the global supply significantly. About 40% of our oats are exported. I couldn’t find much information on organic oats except that in Canada, the demand exceeds the supply, and that much of our current organic crops end up south of the border.
Oats are a powerhouse nutritionally. They are an excellent source of magnesium, phosphorous, and thiamine, and a good source of potassium. They also contain iron, zinc, folic acid, vitamin B5 and copper. They are rich in fiber, especially soluble fiber which can help lower cholesterol, and a good source of protein. Unlike most cereals, oats retain most of their nutrition after hulling since the bran and germ are not separated from the kernel.
Oats are commonly used in baking (and as porridge), but can also be used in soups, pates, puddings, fillers in pies and meat loaf, stews and stuffings. Some beers and beverages are oat-based. Most recipes call for one of five types of oats:
- Steel-cut oats are hulled roasted oats that have been cut between steel blades to produce oat pieces of varying thickness.
- Old-fashioned rolled oats are hulled grains that have been steamed and rolled into flakes.
- Quick-cooking oats are smaller flakes of old-fashioned rolled oats, thereby allowing them to cook faster. They are not as flavourful as old-fashioned or steel-cut oats.
- Instant oats are partially cooked hulled grains that have been dried then rolled into very thin flakes. They often contain additives or preservatives.
- Oat bran is the bran of the oat found under the hull of the grain.
Here is the recipe for the porridge I make most mornings. It serves 1 or 2. If you don’t like raisins and walnuts you can omit them, or use something else instead. When I was visiting Ireland a few years ago, the hotel I was staying at served Irish whiskey and cream alongside the porridge in their breakfast buffet!
Amanda’s Breakfast Porridge
1/3 cup organic quick-cooking rolled oats
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup unsweetened organic soymilk
Small handful of raisins (about 2 Tbs)
Small handful of walnuts (about 1-2 Tbs)
Maple syrup or organic demarara sugar, to taste
Put the oats, water and soymilk into a small pot and heat over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until it is just about boiling. Add the raisins and stir. Cook for a minute or so more until it bubbles and becomes thick. Transfer the porridge to a bowl. Top with walnuts and maple syrup (or demarara). You can also add a dash of soymilk. Enjoy piping hot with a mug of tea!
Here are some other recipes using oats from around the world wide web:
- Haggis from the BBC (use steel-cut oats)
- Oatmeal Bannock from Food.com
- Cranachan from Traditional Scottish Recipes
- Apple Crumble from Jamie Oliver
- Soft Oatmeal Cookies from Ricardo
- Granola from Amanda’s Kitchen
The Cranachan recipe is similar to the one I make from my little Scottish cookbook, however, it calls for crowdie, a traditional Scottish Cheese like ricotta or fromage frais, instead of the cream and suggests yogourt as a substitute. Personally, I use a full-fat yogourt. I bet mascarpone would substitute well for the cream/crowdie as well.
I’m still old-school when it comes to recipes and most of my favourites are in books. I was hoping to find a tofu loaf recipe online similar to the one I make with oatmeal, as well as a vegetarian sausage recipe I make, but alas my Google-Fu failed me. Clearly, I’ll have to make some soon and post the recipes.
This post is one in a regular weekly series on seasonal produce and ingredients. Enjoy!Sources: The Visual Food Encyclopedia and Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. Photo credits: Zu Browka (Creative Commons License) and Spencer Ritenour.