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How to pick and prepare oats for breakfast

Should you buy steel-cut or rolled oats? What is the correct way to enjoy oats without spikes in sugar level? All your questions answered in this column

(From left) Chocolate Granola; and Savoury Spiced Granola/Oats Chivda. (Photos: Nandita Iyer)

By Nandita Iyer

LAST PUBLISHED 24.06.2023  |  09:30 AM IST

The way we have embraced oats as top tier breakfast food, it is easy to forget that it was initially grown for animal feed by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Human consumption of oats came much later. There is some evidence to show oats have been consumed by humans since 3300 BCE in the colder parts of Europe, where it was easier to cultivate oats than wheat. This made it the grain of choice for porridge, bread and other hearty dishes in places like Scotland and Ireland.

The oats nomenclature can be quite confusing. Here’s a quick explainer to help you choose the variety of oats depending on what you are planning to cook, from least to most processed.

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• Whole oats or oat groats is the whole oat grain minus the hull—it takes around 45 minutes to cook and has the texture of cooked barley. It is good for risottos, salads and soups.

• Steel-cut oats or Irish oats is the whole oats cut into three-four pieces—it takes 20-30 minutes to cook.

• Rolled oats or old-fashioned oats is made by steaming whole oats and flattening it between rollers, like rice flattened into poha. This variety has the widest range of culinary applications and takes around 5-10 minutes to cook.

• Instant oats is obtained from pre-cooked, dried and finely chopped rolled oats. This cooks instantly, on soaking in hot water, or takes one-two minutes in the microwave. Instant oats mixed with flavours and additives is available as packaged sweet and savoury instant breakfasts.

I feel a lot of people pretend to like oats—so they can convince themselves to eat a bowl of porridge first thing in the morning. It is often the most ignored thing in a hotel’s breakfast buffet, getting all gluggy, waiting to be eaten—a tough ask when there are interesting dishes like poha, vada, eggs and parathas made to order. Yet, oats is one of the drivers of the breakfast cereal category market in India. According to the management consulting firm Praxis Global Alliance, oats has seen 24% growth in the past few years, overtaking the entire breakfast cereal category.

Oats is often considered a superfood by health-conscious people and the general perception is one of feeling virtuous when you eat it for breakfast. The big brands, which have realised that bland food will not work in their favour when it comes to the Indian palate, have packaged a variety of savoury and sweet flavours like masala, tomato, veggie, dark chocolate, blueberry and so on, which make oats as processed as any other ready-to-eat packaged foods.

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French biochemist Jessie Inchauspé, better known by her Instagram handle, Glucose Goddess, says oats for breakfast can lead to glucose spikes.

But there are a few correct ways to get the health benefits of oats without spikes in sugar level.

• Choose steel-cut oats over instant and rolled.

• Oats is 60% starch, so make sure you add some protein and fats, such as nut butter, full fat milk or coconut milk, nuts, Greek yogurt, egg, etc. to your oats which slows the release of sugars.

• Don’t add tropical fruits or dried fruits to oats; this will increase the sugar content.

Chocolate granola

Makes around 1.7kg

Ingredients

Wet mixture

Half cup peanut butter

One-third cup coconut oil or ghee

Half cup honey or maple syrup

2 tbsp cocoa powder

2 tsp cinnamon powder

2 tsp vanilla extract

Quarter cup water

1 tsp salt

Dry ingredients

1kg rolled oats (or old-fashioned)

Half cup pumpkin seeds

Quarter cup sesame seeds

Quarter cup flax seeds (or chia seeds)

1 cup chopped almonds

Half cup chopped walnuts

Half cup raisins

Half cup dried cranberries

Method

Add all the wet mixture ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. To this, add the dry ingredients, except the raisins and cranberries. Mix thoroughly; the mixture should be damp. If it is too dry, sprinkle some more water and mix well.

Preheat the oven at 160 degrees Celsius. Spread the mixture on three lined trays. Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden and crisp. If you have a smaller oven, then make a smaller batch or do the baking in batches. Once baked to golden brown and crunchy (it will turn crisp on cooling), cool well and break into small clusters. Combine the raisins and cranberries. Store in airtight jars.

Eat as is as a travel snack or with cold milk for a breakfast cereal, as toppings on smoothie bowls or even ice creams.

Savoury spiced granola / Oats chivda

(This Indian chivda-inspired savoury granola can be eaten as is or with yogurt, or as part of a salad.)

Makes around 700g

Ingredients

2 tbsp ghee

Half tsp turmeric powder

Quarter tsp citric acid crystals (optional)

One and a half tsp salt

1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder

Half kg rolled oats

1 tsp black mustard seeds

A handful of curry leaves, finely chopped

Half cup peanuts

Quarter cup cashew nuts

Quarter cup almonds

Quarter cup flax seeds

Quarter cup sesame seeds

Quarter cup thinly sliced coconut

Method

Take the melted ghee in a small bowl. Add the turmeric, citric acid crystals, salt , chilli powder and mix well. Put all the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Transfer the ghee mixture over this and rub well to coat the dry ingredients with it. Sprinkle some water to make the mixture slightly damp to prevent spices burning in the oven.

Preheat the oven at 160 degrees Celsius. Spread the mixture on two lined trays. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and crisp, cool well and transfer to airtight jars.

Note: Only rolled oats (also called old-fashioned oats) will work for these granola recipes.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is The Great Indian Thali—Seasonal Vegetarian Wholesomeness (Roli Books). @saffrontrail on Twitter and Instagram.