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Steel Cut, Rolled, Instant: What's the Difference Between Types of Oats?

We should all be eating more whole grains. They're one of the keys to a healthy diet. And among whole grains, oats are heavy hitters, delivering serious nutrition plus powerful cholesterol-lowering benefits. But are some types of oats better than others? Let's take a look.

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Clockwise: Quick-cooking oats, steel-cut oats, rolled oats, instant oats.

There are two main types of oats: Rolled and Steel-Cut

Both types begin as whole oats (groats), from which the outer layer (the hull) is stripped, leaving the fiber-rich bran, the endosperm, and the germ, which is home to vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and healthy oils. From there, the oats are either rolled or steel-cut. Either way, though, their impressive nutritional impact is essentially the same.

Rolled Oats

To make rolled oats, the whole grains are steamed and pressed flat with steel rollers. The rolling process shortens the cooking time. You'll find three kinds of rolled oats at the supermarket:

Old-Fashioned Oats: The whole grains are steamed, flattened by the roller, and then flaked. Enjoy them as oatmeal, or add them to baked goods. Of the three types of rolled oats, old-fashioned oats have the most texture.

No-Bake Energy Balls

No-Bake Energy Balls | Photo by Kim's Cooking Now

Recipes with Old-Fashioned Oats:

Quick-Cooking Oats: The oats are cooked, dried, and cut, then rolled thin (thinner than old-fashioned oats) for faster cooking.

No-Bake Chocolate Oat Bars

No-Bake Chocolate Oat Bars | Photo by SavedByGrace

Recipes with Quick-Cooking Oats:

Instant Oats: The oats are cooked and dried before being cut and rolled thin. Instant being quicker than quick, instant oats are the fastest oats of all, though they can sometimes be gummy or mushy. Read the label of instant oats; they can be less healthy than other types of rolled oats if sugars, salt, and other ingredients are added to the mix.

Oat and Blueberry Muffins

Oat and Blueberry Muffins | Photo by dreambig

Recipes with Instant Oats:

Steel-Cut Oats

Sometimes called Irish oats or Scottish oats, steel-cut oats aren't rolled. Instead, steel blades slice them into coarse nubs, giving them an appearance like cut-up grains of rice. Steel-cut oats are less processed than rolled oats. They take longer to cook than rolled oats, and their texture is a bit chewier. Beyond hot cereal, steel-cut oats are good candidates for cooking in stews and soups -- they absorb less water than rolled oats -- or for adding to meatloaves and even stuffings.

Blueberry and Banana Steel-Cut Oats

Blueberry and Banana Steel-Cut Oats | Photo by lutzflcat

Recipes with Steel-Cut Oats:

All Types of Oats Are Healthy

Oats' main claim to fame is soluble fiber, which helps prevent cholesterol from being absorbed -- and oats are loaded with it. Soluble fiber is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and with helping to lower blood cholesterol, particularly the LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Oat fiber may have additional benefits -- helping to control blood sugar, improve insulin sensitivity, and even lower blood pressure.

But that's just the beginning. Oats are a complex carbohydrate, so they'll keep you feeling full longer than simple carbs. And get this, oats have twice the protein as brown rice. They also offer iron, thiamin, zinc, magnesium, and selenium.

And the good news is that because both types of oats -- rolled or steel-cut -- includes the whole grain, they offer essentially the same impressive health benefits.

Dig into our complete collection of Oat Recipes.


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Carl Hanson

About Carl Hanson

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