I happen to love a good bowl of oatmeal and usually have at least one or two bowls a day. Oatmeal and its close cousin, porridge, have become popular in many places of the world in recent years. But, it wasn’t always the case. At one time, oats were considered a weed and not cultivated. For most of modern history, oats were used as livestock feed and not for human consumption. But, something changed in regards to people’s attitudes about oats. Where it was once considered only fit for animal feed or a weed, it is now considered a healthy grain.
Oats tend to grow in areas that are cool and damp. The best places for oats to naturally grow are in northern areas such as northern Europe, Asia and North America where it was brought in 1602. Oat cultivation most likely began in Asia Minor about 2000 years ago and was used as animal feed and bedding. It also began to be cultivated in other areas at about the same time. Oats popularity spread west into Europe and became a major crop in the British Isles. It became a popular food in Scotland, especially, but remained an animal food in England for a while longer. Eventually, oat porridge gained popularity in England.
There are several variations of domestically cultivated oats that one can find in the supermarket. There’s oat groats, which is a whole oat kernel or seed with the hull removed, steel cut oats which is, traditionally, groats that are cut into small pieces, rolled oats and quick/instant oats. In most countries, the main type of oat used comes from varieties of common oats. Other species of oats that have been cultivated are red oats, side oats, and naked oats, which are less often grown or used as common oats.
When I go to certain stores, I see several varieties of oatmeal on the shelves. This is because of the different ways that people around the world like to consume oats. For the Scottish, who laid claim to have invented oatmeal and porridge, their way to make it is to soak the oats in salt water and cook them. Other countries add milk and spices to their oatmeal. In the United States, it is common to add milk, sugar, and fruit to their oatmeal or make oatmeal cookies. More recently common uses include breads, rolls, and even desserts made from oats.
Oats were the last grain to be cultivated and even when it was, it wasn’t considered the healthy food that it is today.