Steel Cut vs. Rolled Oats – What’s the Difference?

Oats are a breakfast staple for many people, and for good reason. They are versatile (you can flavor them in seemingly endless ways), filling and highly nutritious. However, when you head to the grocery store and are looking at the 10 different types of oats staring back at you, you are probably more than just a little bit confused. Two of the most commonly used types of oats are steel cut vs. rolled oats, so we’d like to offer some insight into the real differences between these two choices. While they can both be excellent options, they do differ somewhat in taste, consistency, prep time and nutritional value.

Steel Cut vs Rolled Oats

Quickly before getting into the differences between steel cut and rolled oats, let’s quickly recap where oats come from, in the first place. Avena sativa (aka, oats) is a cereal grain that originates in North America and Europe, comparable to the wheat or barley plant. All oats (steel cut, rolled, quick cook, etc) start out as oat groats that have had the outer husk removed. The difference between different types of oats that you see at the supermarket are due to the way they are processed.

For example, steel cut oats are cut into only 2 or 3 pieces, therefore producing a less-processed version (which is why you’ll need to cook them for longer). Rolled oats are made by steaming and rolling out oats for a more finely ground product, which can then be cooked much faster. Quick oats have been processed even further, making them quick even more quickly (and lessening their nutritional value, but that’s another story).

One quick note before getting into more detail, is that rolled oats and old fashioned oats are the same thing.

Nutritional Value

The nutritional value of rolled and steel cut oats are very similar, with certain, small differences. Let’s take a closer look at the differences between 1/4 cup of each (1):

Calories: steel oats offer 140, rolled oats offer 160

Protein: Both contain 5 grams

Carbs: Both contain 27 grams

Fiber: Both contain 4 grams

Sugar: Rolled oats contain 1 gram, steel cut 0 grams

Fat: Both contain 2.5 grams

Saturated Fat: steel cut contain .5 grams, rolled oats contain 0 grams

Calcium: Both contain 2% of the RDA (recommended daily allowance)

Iron: Both contain 10% of the RDA

Glycemic Index: Steel cut is lower on the Glycemic Index

As you can see, the nutritional differences between the two types of oats are minimal, but steel cut does win out in the end. Both are definitely healthy choices with no glaring differences.

It is worth noting that rolled oats and quick oats will have similar nutritional value, but instant oats are a less healthy choice, as they usually contain large amounts of added sugars and sodium.

Prep Time and Cooking Method

The real differences between steel cut and rolled oats are in how you cook them, their taste and texture. Because steel cut oats are less processed than rolled, they require longer cooking time. Rolled oats have a cooking time of between 5-8 minutes, whereas steel cut oats will need to cook for 20-30 minutes. However, if you soak your steel cut oats overnight, their cook time drops down to about 10 minutes.

Another easy option for steel cut oats is cooking them overnight in a slow cooker on low for 7-9 hours. Add 1 cup of steel cut oats to 4 cups of water, and allow to cook.

Consistency and Taste

Obviously, rolled oats win out in the convenience department, but the taste and texture of these two types of oats is really quite different. Steel oats taste more grain-like, and maintain their natural chewy texture that many people enjoy and find more satisfying. Rolled oats are slightly chewy, but turn more into a type of creamy porridge/cereal without being able to feel the individual grains as much as with steel cut oats.

Really, it’s just a matter of personal preference.

Cooking vs Baking

Both work well for cooking (such as having a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast). However, when it comes to baking, rolled or quick oats are decidedly tastier. The problem with steel cut oats in a baking recipe is that they retain their grain-like texture, while rolled oats will yield that chewy consistency you typically want. If a recipe calls for rolled, quick or old fashioned oats, it is not advisable to replace them for steel cut.

Last piece of info to note: steel cut oats are the same as Irish oats, so don’t be confused by having to learn about an entirely new type. Again, Irish should also not be substituted in baking unless a recipe specifically calls for Irish or steel cut oats.

That’s about it! Enjoy the oats that are most appealing to you, and know that you are nutritionally doing your body a lot of favors by including this superfood in your diet. And, check out our article here to dive deeper into the nutritional value of oats, and even some of their non-food benefits.

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