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In the United States and Canada, oatmeal means any crushed oats, rolled oats, or cut oats used in recipes such as oatmeal cookies. Oatmeal is a product made by processing oats. Oatmeal is coarsely ground unsifted oats. Rolled oats and steel-cut oats are also called oatmeal. The porridge made from this is also called oatmeal or oatmeal cereal. However in other parts of the English-speaking world, oatmeal means coarsely ground groats (i.e. oat-meal, cf. cornmeal, peasemeal, etc.). The groats are coarsely ground to make oatmeal, or cut into small pieces to make steel-cut oats, or steamed and rolled to make rolled oats. The quick-cooking rolled oats are cut into small pieces before being steamed and rolled. Oatmeal porridge contains more B vitamins and calories than other kinds of porridges. Oatmeal is used in some alcoholic drinks, cosmetics, soaps, external medical treatments, and is sometimes an added flavour in canned animal products. It is also used as a thickener in some brands of canned chili con carne.
There has been increasing interest in oatmeal in recent years due to its beneficial health effects. Studies have shown that daily consumption of a bowl of oatmeal can lower blood cholesterol. After reports found that oats can help lower cholesterol, an "oat bran craze" swept the U.S. in the late 1980s, peaking in 1989. The food fad was short-lived and faded by the early 1990s. The popularity of oatmeal and other oat products again increased after the January 1997 decision by the Food and Drug Administration that food with a lot of oat bran or rolled oats can carry a label claiming it may reduce the risk of heart disease, when combined with a low-fat diet. This is because of the beta-glucan in the oats. Rolled oats have also long been a staple of many athletes' diets, especially weight trainers', given oatmeal's high content of complex carbohydrates and fiber which encourage slow digestion and stable blood-glucose levels. Despite these developments, according to the New York Times, Harry Balzar of the NPD Group stated that "the proportion of Americans who eat oatmeal for breakfast has not changed in 20 years;" "one in five Americans eat oatmeal."
Some of the items added to oatmeal porridge to enhance its flavour include salt, white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, honey, molasses, maple syrup, butter, milk, cream, strawberries, blueberries, apples, peaches, mangos, bananas, raisins, dried cherries and dried cranberries. Many times nuts are also added including pecans and walnuts. Peanut butter is also a tasty addition.
Oatmeal in Scotland
In Scotland, oatmeal is created by grinding oats into a coarse powder. Various grades are available depending on the thoroughness of the grinding, including Coarse, Pin(head) and Fine oatmeal. The main uses are:
- as an ingredient in baking
- in the manufacture of bannocks or oatcakes
- as a stuffing for poultry
- as a coating for Caboc cheese
- as the main ingredient of the Scottish dish, skirlie, or its chip-shop counterpart, the deep-fried thickly-battered mealy pudding
- mixed with sheep's blood, salt, and pepper to make Highland black pudding
- mixed with fat, water, onions and seasoning, and boiled in a sheep's intestine to make "marag geal"' Outer Hebridean white pudding, served sliced with fried eggs at breakfast.
- Traditional porridge (or "porage")
- Brose: a thick mixture made with uncooked oatmeal and butter or cream; eaten like porridge but much more filling.
- Rolled oats, crushed oats, and other "instant" variations are often used for this purpose nowadays, since they are quicker to prepare.
- Gruel, made by mixing oatmeal with cold water which is then strained and heated for the benefit of infants and invalids.
Oatmeal has a long history in Scottish society because oats are better suited than wheat to the short, wet growing season. Hence it became the staple grain of that country. Ancient Scottish Universities had an holiday called Meal Monday, to permit students to return to their farms and collect more oats for food. Samuel Johnson referred, disparagingly, to this in his dictionary definition for oats:
- A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.
To which his biographer, James Boswell (a Scot), is said to have retorted
- Which is why England is known for its horses and Scotland for its men.
A common alternative method of cooking oatmeal in Scotland is to soak it overnight in salted water and cook on a low heat in the morning for a few minutes until the mixture thickens.
Oatmeal in Vermont
In the U.S. state of Vermont oatmeal making has a long tradition originating in farm families. While there are variations, most begin with heavy steel cut oats. The oats are soaked overnight in cold water, salt and maple syrup. Early the next morning, before beginning farm chores the cook will add ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon and sometimes ground ginger. The pot is placed over heat and cooks for upwards of 90 minutes, being served after the chores with cream, milk, or butter. As most contemporary Vermonters no longer have farm chores, the recipe is simplified to a briefer 10 to 30 minute cooking at a higher heat. Vermont leads the U.S. in per capita consumption of cooked oatmeal cereal.
- New Standard Encyclopedia, 1992 by Standard Educational Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; page O-8.