If you grew up ripping open a package of instant flavored oatmeal, adding boiling water, and having your breakfast ready in two minutes, the different types of oatmeal may be confusing. Oats processed for oatmeal come in a variety of forms. They’re all made from the same grain, but the way they’re processed can change the cooking time and the consistency of the oatmeal once it’s cooked.

The nutrition in the oats basically remains the same, no matter how they’re processed. However, the sweeteners, salt and other ingredients added to instant oatmeal can make your bowl of instant hot cereal not as healthy. You can always flavor your own oatmeal, and create appetizing combinations like Pumpkin Raisin Oatmeal.

  • Whole oat groats: Groats are the least processed form of oats that can be made into oatmeal. They are the whole oat, with the inedible hull removed. Once the hull has been removed, what’s left is the bran, germ, grain and endosperm. They need to be soaked for hours before cooking, and take the longest to cook of all the forms of oats.
  • Steel cut oats: Steel cut oats are whole oat groats that have been cut into pieces. They retain all the nutrition of groats but because they are cut into smaller pieces, they take less time to cook because it takes less time for the water to soak in.
  • Scottish oats: Scottish oats are also made from whole oat groats, but instead of being cut into pieces, they’re ground. Once cooked, they have the consistency of porridge and porridge can be made from ground oats.
  • Rolled oats, slow cooking: Also called old-fashioned oats, rolled oats are the whole groat that’s been steamed and rolled into a flake. They’re called slow cooking, but they cook more quickly then whole oat groats, steel cut or Scottish oats.
  • Rolled oats, quick cooking: Quick cooking rolled oats are rolled out flatter than slow cooking ones and steamed longer. It changes the texture of the oats, making them mushier when cooked.
  • Instant oatmeal: The groats are cut into small pieces, steamed and rolled out the flattest for instant oatmeal. Pouring boiling water over them is enough to turn them into cereal.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Understanding types of oatmeal
Oats can be processed in several different ways. Here's your guide to understanding oat groats, instant oatmeal and everything in between.