Oats are a cereal grain that is thought to have originated from wild oats that were found in Asia. They are a grass and have been cultivated for millennia and were first introduced to North America by the Scottish in the 17th century. Oats are grown in temperate climates and can tolerate cool weather and wet climates, thus the crop was well suited for cultivation in Northern Europe.
Oats have a variety of health benefits. They contain beta glucan, a fiber that helps the body lower its cholesterol level and is thought to help improve the immune system. Oats are slowly digested by the body so you feel full longer which can aid in weight loss. They also have been shown to lower blood sugar levels and are filled with antioxidants. Oats have the highest amount of protein of the cereal grains and have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
Unprocessed oats are comprised of an outer casing or hull and the oat groat. Oat bran is made from grinding the outer shell and is high in fiber. The oat groat is then heated to treat enzymes that lead to rancidity if not stabilized. Next the oat groats are sized and cut into small pieces, with a steel blade, and are called steel cut oats. Steel cut oats are nuttier and chewy as compared to rolled oats. They also take longer to cook.
After oats are steel cut they can then be processed into flakes. Typically flakes are rolled into a specific thickness based on the use, instant, quick, or thick cut rolled oats. Flaked oats are then milled into flour for baking.