Two Letters Re: Rolled Oats Versus Steel Cut Oats for Storage

Mr. Rawles;
Regarding the steel cut versus rolled oats discussion, I too love the taste of steel cut oats. The easy, low energy way to prepare them is on the McCann’s steel Cut Irish Oatmeal (box, not the can). It is:
Boil 4 cups of water.
Add 1 cup oatmeal.
Stir, cover and leave overnight.
The next morning cook over low 9-12 minutes.
This is very easy. Using a microwave to re-heat the oatmeal in the morning is even faster.
Just my $0.02 worth. Love your site, – Steve in California


Hello Mr. Rawles,
I was surprised and disappointed that, with no information or discussion, steel cut oats was so quickly dismissed as a food source compared to rolled oats. I’m sure if this had been which type of Mauser to purchase, there would have been some lengthy discussion, opinions and research revealing more in depth info upon which to base a decision.

My main reason for using steel-cut oats is the flavor/taste factor. And it’s not about having a sophisticated palate; this was the stuff that my poor Scots ancestors ate, I’m sure. Pound-for-pound, steel cut oats is better nutritionally than rolled oats and here is why:

1) Blood sugar level: Steel cut oats will have a lower glycemic content than rolled-oats or quick-oats. This means your body will be able to process it with more ease.

2) Prep time: On a gas range it only takes about three minute of watching as the water/oats boils and then 15 or 20 minutes with the lid covered and on simmer, ignoring it. Reduce prep time by letting it soak overnight, or use a crock pot first thing when you get up in the morning, or use a pressure cooker. The argument that it “takes too much energy to prepare” simply does not hold water: Everyone knows how long it takes to prepare dried beans, even after soaking overnight!!

3) Nutritional value:

1/4 cup dry (un-prepared) Steel Cut Oats
-140 calories
-2.5 g. fat
-27 g. carbohydrates
-4 g. fiber
-0 g. sugar
-6 g. protein

As compared to Quaker Old Fashioned Oats:

1/4 cup dry (un-prepared)
-75 calories
-1.5g. fat
-13.5 g. carbohydrates
-2 g. fiber
-1/2 g. sugar
-2.5 g. protein

So you can see that it will take nearly twice as much rolled oats to get a similar nutritive benefit of 1/2 the amount of dry steel-cut oats. Thus it will take more storage space for the same amount of caloric value. Additionally, to consider this solely from a price point of view does not pan out either.

As for storage time, the shelf life of a steel cut oats is much longer than any processed version, as rolled oats is more prone to meal-worms or becoming rancid. If a person really wanted to get serious, just buy the whole-grain oats and use your grain mill to prep it. The ultimate test is to prepare the same amounts of rolled and steel-cut for breakfast, two days in a row. You’ll find yourself anxiously awaiting that mid-morning coffee break, after having eaten the rolled oats! – Mark in Chicago

JWR Replies: I think that most of what you have stated is correct, although the glycemic numbers go out the window once you apply a big glob of honey (as I do) or a heaping teaspoon of brown sugar (as most folks do). Where I take exception, however, is with your comments on storage life and rancidity. Meal worms are an issue only with grocery store packaging. When stored in plastic buckets with either oxygen absorbing packets or when using the dry ice method, both products are equally resistant to attack by insects or insect larva. Rancidity is primarily caused by fat content. Steel cut oats are higher in fat than rolled oats. The higher fat content of steel cut oats makes them more prone to going rancid than rolled oats. But, admittedly, at the same time the nutritional value of rolled oats drops a little faster in storage than steel cut oats. The end result is that the practical storage life for either product is about the same for both in cool climates. But in hot climates, where rancidity is more of an threat, rolled oats are preferable.

Where does all of this reasoning about processing alternatives leave us? It leaves us missing two essential points. Let’s back up a bit:

1.) The real key to self sufficiency is having both storage foods and the ability to grow your own grains and vegetables. If you are worried about nutritional value, then nothing beats freshly grown! We should consider storing non-hybrid seed of equal or perhaps greater importance than food storage. Growing a garden and raising livestock are the main things that will provide our sustenance in a very long term grid-down scenario.


2.) If you have plenty of fuel for cooking on hand (to allow for longer cooking time of minimally processed oats) then it is probably best to store whole oats. (But again, with whole oats rancidity might be a problem in hot climates.) Any processing that breaks the outer hull reduces the potential storage life and starts to reduce the nutritive value of grains, including oats. Storing whole wheat of course necessitates having a home mill, so you can cut your own oats in small batches as needed. So in addition to a nice stone burr mill for grinding wheat flour (which you probably already own), you will also need a traditional kitchen coarse grinder (such as a Quaker City Grinder). Several types of grain mills and grinders are available from and Ready Made Resources. Traditional coarse grinders can often be found at garage sales for under $10. I once bought one for just $2. With prices like that, you should probably buy several. Leave one of them set up for grinding meat, and another with the proper plates installed for cutting oats.