Healthy Living on January 20, 2011 by

Steel Cut, Rolled, Instant, Scottish?

When we think of oatmeal, we typically picture good old-fashioned rolled oats (or maybe quick oats). When you visit the store, especially our store, you find many varieties that may make you wonder what the difference is between them. What makes steel cut different from rolled? What makes instant different than quick? What makes Scottish different than Irish? Here’s a handy little explanation that will *hopefully* clear up any confusion.

Oat Groats:

I just love that groat rhymes with oat! The groat is the de-hulled oat grain. Some grains are called berries, but oats are known as groats. Quite simply, the most intact form of the grain available in the market. Use this version of oats as you would other whole grains. Oat groats are a bit softer than wheat berries and make a wonderful addition to pilafs and soups. We have some wonderful recipes using oat groats, such as this Creamy Mushroom and Grains Soup– a favorite at my house!

The oat groat is the whole oat kernel with the hull removed. Photo borrowed from

Rolled Oats:

The most common form of oats, rolled oats are made from oat groats that have been steamed to allow them to pass through the roller mills without cracking and breaking. Rolled oats are available in many different varieties, each of which refers to the thickness of the flake and cooking time required. The smallest and thinnest oat product is Instant, followed by Quick Cooking, Regular (Old Fashioned) and Extra Thick.

Instant oats have also been pre-cooked to make them truly instant. Just add hot water and you’ll have oatmeal. Most brands add sweeteners to their instant oats, but ours are simple, plain oats.

Most recipes calling for rolled oats are referring to quick cooking or regular, but using extra thick will add an extra chewiness that some find quite appealing.

The most common oat product, rolled oats are flat flakes.

Steel Cut Oats:

Steel Cut= Pinhead= Irish Oats. Steel cut oats are made from whole oat groats that have been chopped into two or three pieces, making for a much chewier cereal. They are almost exclusively used for breakfast, as they do not soften very well in baking applications. These are the oats used in the Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championship and you will find that they are cooked prior to being used in any recipes. You can find many wonderful recipes on the Golden Spurtle website, as well as our own, using steel cut oats.

What makes steel cut oats particularly attractive for breakfast, and the reason we tout them as the perfect fuel for your day, is how the body breaks them down. Because of their size and shape, the body breaks them down more slowly than rolled oats, preventing spikes in blood sugar and keeping you full longer.

Steel Cut Oats are much larger pieces than Scottish Oats

Scottish Oats:

The true oatmeal, Scottish oats are ground on our stone mills from whole oat groats. They are not rolled, they are not cut, they are ground. The texture of Scottish oatmeal is fairly fine, though more coarsely ground than flour. In the United Kingdom, this is what they imagine when you say oatmeal. In the United States, this is what we imagine when we use the term porridge. It’s creamy, thick and almost instant when combined with boiling water. This is what people would have made hundreds of years ago, before modern roller mills were invented.

Scottish oats are wonderful for baking, as they are truly a more coarsely ground flour- like cornmeal. Oatmeal, cornmeal, flaxseed meal– get it? Meal is the next grind up from flour and below farina. We have some great recipes on our site using Scottish oatmeal, including one of our favorites- Scottish Oatcakes.

Scottish Oatmeal is very finely ground. Photo borrowed from

I hope this has helped answer the question of what makes each variety different. If you’ve still got a question or two, please leave it in the comments and I’ll find you an answer.


Beth says:

I had been buying the Organic Steel Cut oats because I had heard they were “better for you”, but having recently found out that I’m pre-diabetic I switched to the Organic Scottish Oats because they have a lower carb count. (23 as opposed to 29 for steel cut) However, in the comments above I saw that Steel Cut processes differently in your body and is less likely to spike your blood sugar. Does anyone here know which one would really be better for me ? I usually think of it as “all about the carbs” when dealing with diabetes, but this makes me reconsider whether I made the right move to switch…

Either way, I love the Bob’s Red Mill products ! I’ll be happy with either one 🙂

Hi Beth,

We are not doctors here. The steel cut oats would take your body longer to digest, but it’s not such a big difference that I’d count on it. You’d have to test both out on your own blood sugar to know which might be a better choice for you or speak with you doctor to see if they have any more insight.

Jayne Chandler says:

Steel Cut oats, which I prefer for a hearty oat breakfast, are the same texture I expected when I ordered soy grits. I used to make an amazing Indian Pudding, back in my hippy days (from the Diet For a Small Planet” cookbook). I had to make an extra large batch, every time, because my family and my friends couldn’t get enough. Soy grits were easy to find at any coop or health food store, then. Not anymore. I was so happy to see that BRM had soy grits that I ordered 6 packages. BRM Soy Grits are NOT soy grits, it’s soy meal, which cooks up into a pasty texture and ruined my Indian Pudding. So disappointed! I keep the 5 unopened bags in the freezer, in case I think of a use. In bread, even a few tablespoons give off a “green” flavor which overpowers and disappoints If I’m ever starving, at least I will have a source of protein..


We’re so sorry to hear you’re not happy with our soy grits. If you contact our customer service, they can likely refund or replace your products with something more appealing. They can be reached at 800-349-2173 or

Cheryl says:

To Beth,
I took classes to learn about diabetes. Beside just the carb count, fiber can be deducted for the actual carb count. I suggest checking out the carb count on either oat product you are considering. You could also cut down on the portion to keep the carb count in line.

Mickey says:

I was diagnosed with Type 2 a year ago, and have done considerable reading up on this subject. I’d say having a substantially lower glycemic index makes the steel cut oats a better idea than the Scottish oats, if you’re worried about blood sugar. Look at it this way: An entire sack of sugar wouldn’t be bad if it took a whole year to digest. It’s the SPEED with which a food impacts your pancreas that matters, more than the actual carb count. I was surprised to find that most authorities consider pasta to be a low-glycemic food.

However, I wouldn’t expect either option to be a bad choice. All things in moderation. There is literally nothing you can’t eat, with diabetes. You just have to eat very little of certain things.

Mike Murphy says:

Am puzzled as to how anyone manages to actually slice oat kernels into two or three pieces. I know it’s not done kernel by kernel. I’m imagining that your cutting machinery cuts the kernels en masse, and then has grating or drop-through openings that allows sliced kernels to drop through. Not essential to know. Just curious to see. Or maybe it’s secret technology.

Hi Mike,

Yes, it’s something like that- the steel buhr mills chop the oats en masse and we use screens to ensure that anything too big goes back through the process.

Sonya says:

This is so interesting (and well-written and illustrated); thank you for the explanation!

Pat says:

I was looking at a bread recipe that called for Scottish oats. I will try it with slightly ground up/chopped rolled oats (because that is what I have) but was unable to find any substitution information for the different types of oats. Does anyone know of such data?

My sense from the various descriptions of the oats is that the rolled oats may hydrate at around the same rate as the Scottish oats whereas the steel cut may retain more of their shape and crunch, which wouldn’t be a bad thing, but this being the first time I tried this recipe I am unsure how it will work out. I’ll update with my results.

Hi Pat,

If you want to replace Scottish, I would recommend what you are guessing at- taking regular rolled oats and pulsing them in a food processor until they appear slightly coarser than flour. I would not recommend using steel cut oats, as they will stay chewy and toothsome in a bread.

Michele Smollett says:

I have been cooking steel cut oats in my electric pressure cooker. The oats and water are put in a separate pan set on a trivit over the water in the pressure cooker. They always come out perfect with 15 min cook time! I recently ordered the Scottish oats and really like it a lot. But when I put it in the pressure cooker, the oats all stick to the bottom of the pan in a big round glob with the water floating on top. Do you know of a good way to cook the Scottish oats in the instant pot pressure cooker? Because of the finer grain, would Scottish oats be better cooked a shorter time like quick oats? Thanks!

Scottish Oats take so little time to cook, I would recommend just cooking them on the stove top. The pressure cooker won’t really save you any time.

Jack Kerlin says:

Pin head oatmeal is what we use in Goetta. Gotta is a German food that was devoleped in Cincinnati, ohio. It combines ground pork, ground beef and pin head oatmeal. It is cooked and poured into load pans to cool. It is then cut into blocks similar to Scrapple.

Kelly McIver says:

Your piece was excellent. I easily understood the various types of oats. Helping me to Accurately share that knowledge with my family, friends, and clients.

Thank you. We’re so glad you found it useful!

Julie says:

Where does oat bran fall in all these variations?

Our Oat Bran Cereal is a milled product of stabilized oat groats with contains more of the outer oat bran layer than would be present in rolled oat flakes or steel cut oats.

I’m wondering, if you could advise on what Oat variety would be best for homemade granola – in order of chewiness. I love the steelcut for hot oatmeal (and overnight cold!), but for making my own granola? And, if I ground the steelcut very fine in my vitamix, could I still use some proportion in bread? Or, would it always give a bit too much crunch (maybe I need to do an experiment!). Thanks, have enjoyed your products for MANY years! FYI, My chickens love the steel cut oats too!!

Rolled oats would be great in granola. We offer a variety of thicknesses on our website. You could grind your own oat flour for bread, but we also sell oat flour so you can save your blade in your food processor. Also, we love that you feed them to your chickens! They deserve the best too! 🙂

kristin e belz says:

this article (and the comments thread) was so helpful! i’ve always been confused by the varieties of oats, and love knowing the details. for breakfast, we love steel cut in our household the most, though all are good; we use steel cut (pinhead!!) with lentils thrown in, and then a bit of salt and pepper, other spices like a japanese shichimi togarashi — instead of sugar.. then maybe banana for sweet or spinach or whatever else to add in. very satisfying and so easy to make ahead and reheat whenever.

YUM! That all sounds amazing! Thank you for sharing your variations. We will have to give those a try as well.

Jeremiah says:

Are there any oat products which are no longer whole grain?

Oat bran is not a whole grain since it is only the bran, not the endosperm.

View Comments

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest Posts

Keep up to date on the latest from
Bob's Red Mill
Subscribe Now