Oatmeal has earned praise as an easy-to-make, filling and heart-healthy breakfast. But with so many different oat labels on the grocery store shelves -- instant, regular, rolled, old-fashioned, steel cut, Scottish, Irish -- it can be hard to decide what to buy. Two common whole-oat varieties, steel-cut and regular, differ slightly in taste and texture because of how they're processed and cooked.
Chopped whole oat kernels get packaged and marketed as steel-cut oats. They retain a three-dimensional shape and hard texture. In comparison, regular oats, also known as rolled oats, go through a metal roller than flattens them into thin flakes. Regular oats, sometimes called old-fashioned oats, differ from instant oats, which are rolled oats that get cooked and dried before packaging.
Unprocessed steel-cut oats must cook longer than pre-steamed regular oats. The hard, coarse steel-cut oats require about 30 minutes in boiling water, at a ratio of 1 part oats to 4 parts water. Alternately, regular oats have already been steamed and flattened, and consequently only need to be cooked for about 5 minutes at 1 part oats to 2 parts water.
Nutritionally, steel-cut oats and regular oats are quite similar. They both contain high levels of dietary fiber and minerals such as manganese, selenium and phosphorus. Andrew Weil, MD, explains on his website that while both steel-cut oats and regular oats register low on the glycemic index, steel-cut oats digest more slowly and convert into sugar more slowly as well. Foods low on the glycemic index do not cause blood sugar to spike due to their slow digestion time, which helps control weight, blood pressure and diabetes risk.
Taste and Texture
Steel-cut oats and regular oats differ in taste and texture. The harder steel-cut oats end up coarse and chewy, with a nutty flavor, while regular oats are soft and mushy and don't have much flavor at all. Taste preference depends entirely upon the individual. Since both types of oats are considered rather bland on their own, they can be served with a variety of added ingredients, such as fresh or dried fruit, honey, maple syrup and nuts.