Winter seems to finally be here and we tend to start thinking of warming foods. Oatmeal becomes a popular breakfast for many but have you tried steel cut oats instead?

Winter seems to finally be here and we tend to start thinking of warming foods. Oatmeal becomes a popular breakfast for many but have you tried steel cut oats instead?
Why might you want to switch to steel cut oats instead of oatmeal? First, steel cut oats taste better—not to mention their nutritional superiority. When I tried steel cut oats, I quickly lost interest in oatmeal.
Oats and their processing is a lesson in nutrition for those who are not familiar with processed foods; what are they; how have they come about; why are they not good for us? You can learn, from the humble oat grain, how nutritious foods are being processed until they are little more than eating flavored cardboard.
The oat grain starts out whole with a husk around it. It contains enough nutrition to sprout and grow a new plant. The husk is removed and what is left is still the whole oat grain, better known as an oat groat. Oat groats contain all the nutrients that nature provided but require long cooking.
Next in the processing chain comes steel cut oats. They are just as they sound; the whole oat groat is cut into two or three pieces, making it cook more quickly. Steel-cut oats, the tastiest cereal I have ever eaten, are also known as coarse-cut oats, pinhead oats, Scotch oats, or Irish oats. They are inexpensive when purchased as plain steel cut oats, especially when compared in weight to processed cereals and they are often available in bulk. This very filling nutritious cereal can be prepared in many delicious ways.
Then, we have thick rolled oats, which usually have to be purchased at a specialty store, health food store, etc. Thick oats still retain the oat flavor but the consistency is changed.
The next step in the processing produces "old fashioned" oats. They still taste like oats but the texture is mushier than with the thick oats.
Instant oats are the stage in processing where the similarity to real oats falls apart. Instant oats are so tasteless that manufacturers have started adding sugar and all kinds of other stuff to make them sell. In this process before the oats are rolled, they are cut into little pieces. Supermarkets have rows and rows of this processed, flavored, chemical laden mush. It amazes me what people can get used to eating.
Competing with instant oats for last place in nutrition and flavor are the ready-prepared cereals. Processing has removed virtually all of the nutrients and flavor so they are fortified with a few synthetic nutrients and flavorings, sugars and all kinds of mysterious stuff. Some of these cereals contain several different forms of sugar. I heard a nutritionist say eating prepared cereals is much like eating out of the sugar bowl.
Each step in the processing decreases nutritional value and flavor. Sadly, most Americans have become accustomed to tasteless processed food that has been artificially flavored, sugared, and treated with all sorts of chemicals. They may all be advertised as "whole grain goodness" when there is very little left of the whole grain. Sometimes they even add MAY prevent heart disease. Never overlook the word MAY in advertising.
Steel cut oats are becoming so popular that websites and chat rooms are dedicated to their preparation. Some people use 1 cup of steel cut oats and 4 cups of water for a creamy texture; while others use only 3 cups of water. A teaspoon of salt per cup of oats is about right. Some people like them cooked in milk or part milk and part water. You may add to them raisins or other dried or fresh fruit. Some even sprinkle nuts on top. A few season them with herbs like oregano, chili peppers, etc.
Some said they cook a large batch on the weekend and have it for breakfast all week by heating up what they want in a microwave. Kept in the refrigerator it will become firm but will soften when heated. You may want to add a little more water or milk.
Some people bring them to a boil in a saucepan at night, turn the heat off and let them soak overnight. Then they are a quick cook in the morning. Otherwise, it takes 20 to 30 minutes to cook them, depending on how crunchy or creamy you want them.
My granddaughter says she puts 1 cup into a crock pot along with 1 ½ cup each of milk and water, 2 teaspoons ground flax seeds, chopped apples, honey, butter, cinnamon, and a little salt. She throws it all in a crock pot on low for 7 hours and said it makes a scrumptious breakfast. I am just glad she is not eating the instant stuff.
Preparation of real whole foods is creative and much more interesting than dumping some sad tasteless thing into a bowl and pouring water or milk and sugar over it! When did we get duped into believing that food preparation is boring and unimportant so fortunes could be made selling us processed junk? When did we become a nation of people who can be herded over a health-destroying cliff?

(Janice Norris lives in Heber Springs, has a B.S. in home economics from Murray State University, taught home economics, owned and operated health food stores in Illinois and Heber Springs, has taught numerous health and nutrition classes, and wrote a weekly newspaper column in Illinois for 15 years. She can be reached at