The Difference Between Steel Cut, Old Fashioned, Quick Cook and Instant Oats

On a chilly winter morning, a warm bowl of oatmeal is a delicious (and comforting!) way to start the day. But deciding which kind of oatmeal to make — traditional, steel-cut, quick cook, or instant — can be tricky. Is one healthier than the other? More satisfying? Tastier?

You Can't Go Wrong

Before we break down the difference between your four options, let's start with what they have in common. First of all, they're all good for you. As a daily part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, whole grain oatmeal, in any of these forms, may help reduce the risk of heart disease. All oats begin as groats, or kernels of grain that are later processed into different varieties. The variations in processing determine the type of oat that results.

Related: Surprising Uses For Oats

The Breakdown

So what's the difference between the four most popular types of oats? Here's a crib sheet...

Old Fashioned: Also called rolled oats, old fashioned oats are flat and flakey. They absorb more water and cook faster than steel-cut oats — usually in about 5 minutes — and are the oat of choice for granola bars, cookies, and muffins.

Steel Cut: These oats, which take about 20-30 minutes to prepare, are chopped into tiny pieces and have a tough texture before they are cooked. Also called Irish oatmeal, steel-cut oatmeal is chewier than rolled or instant.

Quick Cook: If you want stove-cooked oats but are in a hurry, these oats, which cook in one minute, are a great option. They can also be microwaved.

Instant Great for mornings when you need a quick bite, individually packed instant oats are a thinner, more finely chopped version of rolled oats. They microwave in minutes, and have a soft texture.

Choosing your oat is largely about the texture you prefer and the cooking time you're willing to dedicate. The good news? All are healthy options. Win, win.

What's The Difference Between Steel Cut and Old Fashioned Oats?

A quick breakdown of what you need to know about the two breakfast favorites.

Expert Insight

A Quaker nutrition expert weighs in on the different oats, and reveals her favorite savory oatmeal recipe.

Make Exceptions

It is unrealistic to expect your child to never eat sweets or other unhealthy snacks. It would be better to allow her to sample these foods on occasion than to ban them entirely. Doing this may help curb her curiosity about these foods without undermining the values of good nutrition you have instilled in her.

Lori Alexander, MSc. MBA,
Manager, Nutrition Sciences PepsiCo Global R&D

Q: Are there major differences in the health benefits of steel-cut, rolled and instant oats? If so, what are they?

A: Great question, and one that we get a lot. There aren't any major differences in the nutrition benefits of the three types of oats. All forms of oats are 100% whole grain, a good source of fiber and have the same nutritional information – same calories, fiber and protein per serving.

Q: Besides shape, texture and cooking time, are there any other important differences between these three popular types of oats?

A: You hit on the major differences –shape, texture and cooking time. There are also culinary and personal preferences! For some people, that preparation time is a huge deciding factor. For other people, texture is important, and they find the delicious bite of steel-cut oats more desirable. If you're using oats in a non-oatmeal recipe, it is important to use what's called for so that the recipe comes out right. You wouldn't want to put steel-cut oats in an energy bite, for instance! Otherwise, all three are great options.

Q: It sometimes seems as if, when it comes to food, convenience comes at the price of health. Are instant oats still a healthy breakfast option?

A: Absolutely! As I said, the benefits really don't differ between the three types of oats. Also, we know that there are health benefits to eating breakfast, especially when it comes to diet quality and weight management. Additionally, Quaker provides so many flavor choices, as well as better-for-you options to meet people's preferences, like plain and reduced sugar, so there's no need to skip out or think that instant oats aren't healthy. Instant oats are definitely a great way for consumers to enjoy a healthy breakfast.

Q: Do you have any preparation tips for rolled or steel-cut oatmeal? Any tricks for the best results?

A: Give the oats the time they need to cook. If mornings are tight, consider making overnight oats with rolled oats, or put steel-cut oats in the slow-cooker while you're asleep. Otherwise, don't rush the process. Also, consider using different liquids to cook your oats in. Other than water, my two favorites are milk or even broth, if you're doing a savory oat.

Q: Do you have a favorite oat recipe?

A: One of the benefits of being on the Nutrition team is that I get to try new flavors and think about different flavor options. It's hard to choose a favorite. Oats are so versatile, and there are so many different things you can do with them. However, there are two different recipes I'm loving. During the week, I really enjoy overnight oats, which I make with Greek yogurt, chia seeds and whatever fruit I have in the house. On the weekends, I like brunch-style savory oats. I'll add some shredded cheese, chopped spinach and a poached egg, topped with cracked pepper or hot sauce.

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