The subject of the rawness of steel-cut oats recently came up on the frugalraw mailing list . It got me thinking, and I ended up spending a couple of hours roaming the Internet and learning quite a bit about oats, commercial oat production, oat farming, and oat sprouting.
As much of what I learned was eye-opening, I’ve decided to include the results of my research here, in an expanded form of my original post to the mailing list.
Are steel cut oats raw? Good question! I googled oats and steel cut oats, and found that most sources tend to pussy-foot around the issue.
Wikipedia states that hulled oats ” pass through a heat and moisture treatment to balance moisture, but mainly to stabilize the groat. Oat groats are high in fat (lipids) and once exposed from their protective hull, enzymatic (lipase) activity begins to break down the fat into free fatty acids, ultimately causing an off flavor or rancidity. Oats will begin to show signs of enzymatic rancidity within 4 days of being dehulled and not stabilized. This process is primarily done in food grade plants, not in feed grade plants. An oat groat is not considered a raw oat groat if it has gone through this process: the heat has disrupted the germ, and the oat groat will not sprout.”
Does this mean that oat groats and steel-cut oats which are sold as food products raw or not?
Wisegeek.com says “Just as with all types of prepared oats, steel cut oats are made from oat grains that have been hulled and steamed. Generally the finished oat groats that are destined for preparation as steel cut oats are also roasted, helping to release an enhanced flavor in the oat groats.”
Companies which produce and package oats and steel cut oats do not say that their oats are a raw product. The closest that any such company comes, per my research, is McCann’s claim that other companies’ oats undergo extensive heat processing, which affects the flavor. McCann’s does not state, however, that their product is *not heat processed*)
Bob’s Red Mill, which offers both flax seed meal (known to go rancid quickly) and steel-cut oats, cautions consumers to keep the flax meal refrigerated for freshness, but does not offer similar advice for its steel-cut oats (what does this say?)
Sprouthouse.com lists “Oat Groats Raw Organic” but says “These are NOT oats for oat grass.” (and why not? This statement does beg the question.)
Sproutpeople.com lists oats for growing oatgrass “these are the same seeds we sell for Oat Sprouts. Hulless Oats do not usually grow a great crop of grass.” Under the sproutpeople.com listing for sprouting seed, “hulless Nebraska oats” are listed as “Hulless, tender and very quick to sprout. These are a wonderfully tender grain with a mild sweetness. Raw, not cooked, not heated, not hulled.” The claim is very clear, here, however confusing — if these oats are not hulled, how are they hulless?
The question of how those Nebraska oats got to be hulless is answered, at length, in Katherine Czapp’s article “Naked Oats”, on the Weston A. Price Foundation site , which suggests that “hulless oats” (avena nuda, as opposed to the more common avena sativa) were once commonly grown in America:
“Naked oats, so called because the kernels thresh free of the hulls, have been grown for centuries ….can also be easily used as porridge or other food for humans.
The nutrition profile of naked oats is quite impressive, with contributions rich in minerals and vitamins and a fat content rivaling that of corn, along with high-quality protein similar to that found in soybeans…… Naked oats also supply unsaturated fatty acids that contribute to the production of higher quality eggs, milk and meat products.”
This article also tells us that early colonists grew “silpee”, also known as “pilcorn” and “peelcorn” (avena nuda), which they sometimes referred to as “corn,” both to feed their livestock and to make the traditional Scottish porridge “sowens.”
Seedsofchange.com, an on-line organic seed supplier, says of its avena nuda (listed as hulless oats) “produces oats without a thick hull, easy process [sic] for home use. ”
TO MAKE A LONG STORY SHORT: If your steel-cut oats have been made from “naked oats”, then they may well be raw. If the oat groats you buy are from “naked oats”, then they may well be raw. Pointedly ask your supplier/food market if the oats you are interested in buying can be sprouted. If your oats are from “avena sativa”, the most commonly available oats in America and Europe, their rawness must be suspect. If this concerns you, you should track down the producer and pin them down to a specific yes/no answer on the question of heat-processing.