Thursday, February 28, 2008

The evolution of oats into non-food


These are oats, growing.








This is what oats look like unrefined. In this form, they are not edible by humans. (Which may be a strong clue that we shouldn't be eating them at all, but since we've been eating them for thousands of years and they're part of many traditional diets that have kept many people healthy for centuries, let's just pretend that for our purposes of defining real food, at least a few oats in our diet are okay.)

These are hulled oats or oat groats. These can be cooked and eaten by humans, and a porridge made from oat groats is probably the first way people ate oats 3000 years ago in eastern Europe. They take a long time to cook, though -- about 45 minutes -- so eventually people started refining them further. This is a food.

These are stone ground oats. Oat groats are roughly ground to allow them to cook more quickly, in about 20 minutes. From this, traditional diets make oatmeal (and if you haven't tried stone ground oats made into oatmeal, you don't really know what oats taste like.) There's one ingredient: oats. As far as I know there's no source of stone-ground oats in our area. This is a food.

Pinhead or steel-cut oats. Still only one ingredient, but these are a recent development after the industrial revolution made machine-processing possible. The hulled oats are put through a machine that cuts each groat into four pieces which allows them to cook more quickly than oat groats, in about 20 minutes. This is a food.

Rolled oats. The oat groats are steamed to soften them and then flattened. Because of the steaming, they're partially cooked and therefore cook more quickly than pinhead oats, in about five minutes. There's still only one ingredient: whole rolled oats. This is a food.

And of course Quaker discovered that this partial pre-cooking could be taken even further to make 'quick-cooking' oats which cook in one minute. Still one ingredient: whole rolled oats. This is a food, barely.


Instant Oatmeal. Here's where we cross into definite non-food. Notice the health claim -- banner reads 'Oatmeal Helps Reduce Cholesterol.' The ingredient list for Quaker Instant Oatmeal is whole grain rolled oats (with oat bran), calcium carbonate (a source of calcium), salt, guar gum, caramel color, reduced iron, niacinamide, Vitamin A palmitate, pyroxidoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin, thiamin mononitrate, folic acid. This is not a food.


Oat cereal. General Mills has taken a healthy and very inexpensive food and turned it into a collection of expensive ingredients. Again note the health claims -- the banner says "Cheerios May Reduce Your Cholesterol."





Here is the ingredients list for Cheerios. As you can see, even before we get to the list of added vitamins and minerals, there are multiple ingredients, including some I can't identify. Not a food.

Honey Nut Cheerios Milk 'n' Cereal Bars. This one's even easier to recognize as not a food. They've even stopped making direct health claims and have moved to only implying health claims -- the small banner on the lower right, superimposed over a glass of milk, reads "The nutrients of cereal and the calcium of 6 oz. of milk."

Here's the ingredient list for Honey Nut Cheerios Milk 'n' Cereal Bars. Hard to believe, isn't it? I don't even want to count how many ingredients there are, much less eat them. Not a food.











Oats are somewhat of a challenge to find as a locally-grown product, but they are grown in Ohio. The issue is the processing -- removal of the hulls takes special machinery. However, up in Millersburg, Stutzman Family Farms grows organic oats, hulls them, rolls them into rolled oats and grinds them into flour themselves, and distributes them through Van Kampen Foods of Alliance in the form of groats, rolled oats, and oat flour. Van Kampen Foods' website isn't online yet, but their phone number is (330) 823-2007.

19 comments:

vudutu said...

Valereee, great post, I love it, you already know what I say...
Read labels, if you can't pronounce it, or don't want to take the time to read it don't eat it.

valereee said...

Vudutu, and if it's got more than five ingredients, consider whether it's something you can make at home. I'm planning this year to make several pantry items that are made from ingredients grown locally and that I use frequently: tomato sauce, tomato paste, chili sauce, dill pickle relish.

vudutu said...

Good ideas, we do a killer relish and pickles, tomato sauce, as of last night we want to add more pickled vegies. Go down to Lavomatic and try their in house pickled vegs.

CityKin said...

I enjoyed this post a lot. Thanks

valereee said...

Thanks, CityKin! I'm hoping to do more of these. All grains can be looked at this way, I would think.

vudutu said...

This is one of your best posts Val, do more. Do you know of any local steel cut oatmeal? We eat it most mornings, currently buying Trader Joes.

valereee said...

Thanks, Vudutu! I don't know of a local source for steel-cut oats, but I'm looking!

I'm addicted to a wonderful stone-ground oatmeal from Ireland, and it's one of the things I'm loathe to give up for the sake of eating locally. I'll buy the Stutzman rolled oats to use in recipes, but for breakfast I love my stone-ground oatmeal with milk.

Anonymous said...

MORE PLEASE! I feel like I could use flash cards: food, not a food, Sesame Street style for the whole grocery. Thanks for a lesson in the basics!

vudutu said...

Val, Whose stone ground oatmeal?

valereee said...

It's Macroom. I buy it through Zingerman's -- it's imported from Ireland. :D I love it too much to give it up, but if I find a stone-ground local product I'd give it a shot!

The Baklava Queen said...

Hey, valereee, I had to look this post up again last evening (enjoyed it the first time around) as my sweetheart was asking about home grinding and rolling of oats. Have you ever tried that, or have you ever connected with someone who does that at home? We were looking at grain mills at Lehman's (nearby general store for all sorts of amazing low-tech equipment) and were dreaming a little, I think...

Drop me an email sometime... there was something else I wanted to ask you. :-)

valereee said...

I do know folks who grind their own flour at home, but I've never heard of anyone rolling their own oats. It's a special machine that steams the groats to soften them, then rolls them flat between big rollers, then dries them back out again on sheets.

You're much more ambitious than I am! I like the idea of grinding my own flour, but in practice I'm way too lazy.

The Baklava Queen said...

Kind of what I thought, but I'd like to check out the equipment for it sometime. I can source rolled oats locally, but we are both interested, I think, in gradually doing more of this full-cycle approach on the homestead scale, from growing through processing to eating.

valereee said...

Maybe contact Stutzman and see if you can visit and see their equipment? They're Amish, so you'd have to contact them by mail.

BeatricCaldwell said...

Keim Family Market in Adams County is an Amish market that carries groats and thicker oats (rolled oats that aren't rolled as thinly as you'd normally see). The groats are labeled steel-cut oats because their labeling machine doesn't have the word "groats" in it. If you ask them, they can point you to it.

They're only open during daylight hours, and they're closed Sundays, but they do have a phone.
http://www.ohiotraveler.com/keim_family_market.htm

It's a great place to visit -- I bring a cooler so I can grab butter and cheese while I'm there.

valereee said...

Beatrice, wow, thanks for the heads up! I've been wanting to take a trip out to this place for months, maybe I'll try to get it onto my agenda!

whoopieg said...

I mill my own flour and roll my own oats, too. They do not need to be steamed before rolling--I just toss them in the mill and have at it. I've also rolled barley and rye. If you google "flake mill" or "roller mill" you'll come up with a number of mills that will roll grains.
Have fun!

valereee said...

Thanks, whoopieg! I'm planning to buy a grain mill sometime soon.

Anonymous said...

General Mills has some nerve!!! I could not believe that Cheerios, often a first finger food for nearly every American baby, contains two ingredients that are increasingly causing allergy and digestive problems: peanuts and wheat. SHAME ON GENERAL MILLS