Oats are a versatile ingredient and full of goodness, adding crunch to winter bakes
“This bread I break was once the oat, This wine upon a foreign tree Plunged in its fruit; Man in the day or wind at night Laid the crops low, broke the grape’s joy” Dylan Thomas, ‘This Bread I Break’
Oats are the grains of the cereal plant, Avena sativa, a hardy species which thrives in cool, temperate climes and will grow in less fertile soils. They are believed to have first been cultivated in the bronze age. Regarded by the Romans as an inferior crop, oats were cheap to produce and by medieval times had become a staple food for livestock and the poor. However, Scottish historian John Major declared in the 16th century that their high levels of protein, minerals and fibre had fortified the armies of both Scotland and England. Farm workers and crofters in Scotland had special drawers which were lined with freshly cooked porridge and left to cool and set. It was then cut into slices and taken out onto the hills by workers for sustenance through the day. During the Second World War, oats were used to bulk out rations, but this meant they fell out of favour when the conflict ended, due to their association with times of deprivation. Today, oats have seen a revival due to their nutritious qualities and versatility as an ingredient in satisfying but healthy dishes. They are high in vitamins and minerals, including iron and vitamin B1. A wholegrain food, oats are a complex carbohydrate, so they help to improve the feeling of fullness for longer. They also offer many other health benefits, including helping to lower blood sugar levels and reducing the risk of heart disease. Oats can be rolled or crushed into oatmeal, as used for traditional porridge, and are popular in other breakfast cereals, such as muesli and granola. They can also be ground to make oat flour for baking and thickening stews or soup. However, they can also be used to make flapjacks, cakes and bakes, and even incorporated into smoothies. Oats should be stored in an airtight container, in a cool, dry place. In the right conditions they should keep for 12 months or more.