There are few things more frustrating for a baker than embarking on a recipe, only to find that a crucial ingredient is missing. Sometimes that's a showstopper, but not always. For example, full-sized rolled oats are almost identical to quick-cooking oats, aside from their larger size. That means if your recipe calls for rolled oats, you can substitute the quick oats without missing a beat.
A Bit of Background
Oats are an unusually nutritious grain, but they have a couple of interrelated quirks that make them awkward as a food. They're among the highest grains in naturally occurring oils, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but they also contain an enzyme that makes the oils go rancid in an inconveniently short time. Processors address this by par-cooking the oats to deactivate the enzyme, resulting in oat groats. Many go further, cutting the oat groats into smaller pieces -- steel-cut oats -- that cook better as porridge. The oats can also be steamed and then pressed between rollers while they're soft, resulting in rolled oats.
Rolled Oats Versus Quick Oats
When a recipe calls for rolled oats without any further elaboration, it almost always means large-flaked traditional or "old-fashioned oats." These are made by steaming and flattening the entire oat groat. They're relatively thick, and can take up to 20 minutes to cook into porridge. Quick-cooking oats are made by first cutting the groats, then steaming and rolling the partial oats in the same manner as whole rolled oats. They're smaller and thinner, and make porridge much more quickly. They have precisely the same nutrition as the larger-flake oats, and the two varieties can be used interchangeably in baking.
Switching It Up
Substituting the smaller flakes of quick-cooking oats for the larger traditional oats makes a visual and textural difference. Rolled oats are relatively large and chewy, and give your baked goods a relatively rustic appearance. Quick-cooking oats give baked goods a smoother, finer appearance, which in some cases is preferable. For example, cookies made with quick-cooking oats have a finer texture and more regular appearance, and they're much easier to chew. In moist baked goods such as breads and muffins, the smaller quick oats can disappear entirely into the crumb of the finished product. That makes them a sneaky way to add nutrition to your family's favorite treats.
Feeling Your Oats
That's no small thing, because oats are a nutritional powerhouse. They're high in protein and low in carbohydrates compared to most grains, and contain a high level of healthy oils. They're a rich source of thiamin, folate and a number of other minerals. Most importantly, they're a potent source of both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. The insoluble fiber aids your digestion, while the soluble fiber has been shown to help regulate blood pressure and cholesterol.
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- Whole Grains Council: Oats -- January Grain of the Month
- Baking Bites: Regular vs Quick Cooking Oatmeal for Baking
- Healthaliciousness: Nutrition Facts Comparison Tool -- Cereal Oats Regular and Quick
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