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Oatmeal might’ve been the dreaded breakfast of our youth, but now most of us know it as a healthy alternative to greasy breakfast foods or as a food Instagrammers love to post. But is oatmeal vegan? If you don’t know what exactly oatmeal is (and, let’s face it, a lot of people don’t) then it can be hard to figure out.
Thankfully, you’ve found the exact right place to find out the answer to this question.
What is oatmeal?
Oatmeal is exactly what it sounds like: a type of meal made up of oats. This oat grain meal is an ingredient of a porridge dish, but porridge can also be made with other grains like spelt, millet, quinoa, etc. Today, however, we are focusing here on porridge made of oats.
The seeds of the oat plant (yes, there’s an oat plant! Who knew!) are taken and soaked in some sort of liquid, which could be water, milk, almond milk, etc.
Usually, it’s served hot by cooking the oats in pot or saucepan with your liquid of choice. This creates a gooey, chewy, steaming hot bowl of porridge. You can also make overnight oats (soak oats in liquid overnight), put oatmeal in granola, cookies, etc.
Different kinds of oatmeal
All oatmeal oats start off as a whole oat, called a groat (yes, it’s really called a groat and if you truly want a wholegrain experience, these are the ones for you). To get to the flaky oats we use for oatmeal, the groats have to be processed. You can see the whole process in this video:
The first step takes the outer layer of the groat, called the hull, off. This leaves behind the inside of the oat seed, which is what we would think of when we think “oats.”
While this seems simple enough, the oats aren’t quite ready to become oatmeal yet. After the hull is stripped off, the oats will either be rolled or steel-cut, which results in a few different kinds of oats you can use to make oatmeal:
Of all the oat types, this is the one with the best name. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean that these oats are wearing old school fedoras, walking around with fancy walking sticks, or wearing powdered wigs.
What is does mean is that once the hull is stripped off the oat grains, they’re steamed, pressed flat with rollers, and flaked into the shape we know and love.
However, they aren’t completely flattened, which gives these types of oats a great bite and texture when making oatmeal.
Quick-cook rolled oats
Quick-cook rolled oats are, as you could probably guess, also rolled. However, these oats are rolled much thinner and flatter than old-fashioned oats, which shortens the time it takes to cook them.
Continuing with the “rolled” theme, we come to instant oats. These types of oats are both cooked and dried first before being rolled very, very thin. Thinner than the thin of quick-cook oats, which means they’re even quicker to cook than quick-cook oats (say that 5 times fast).
But, instant oats are arguably the least healthy of all the oats. More on this later.
Steel cut oats
Unlike rolled oats, steel cut oats are, well, cut. Steel cutters slice the unprocessed oat into small chunks that are similar to grains of rice.
Because of this, steel cut oats have a much chewier texture and are less processed, but they also take significantly longer to cook because they aren’t flattened. They also don’t absorb liquid as well, which can also add to the cooking time.
Nutritional benefits of oatmeal
Whole grains are an important part of any diet, which makes oats an excellent choice. Eating whole grains like oats has been shown to help lower cholesterol. And what’s even better is that oats seem to be the best at lowering cholesterol compared to other types of wholes grains.
Oats are also an excellent source of iron, B vitamins, phosphorus, zinc, and other essential vitamins and minerals.
Besides these micronutrients, oatmeal is a great way to get healthy fats, carbs, protein, and fiber all in one. Compared to other whole grains, oats have an extremely high protein content with a whopping 13 grams per half cup of oats.
Oats are a great source of complex carbs, and they have a low glycemic index. This means that the sugars in oats will be released into your body over a long period of time. This helps keep your blood sugar levels steady instead of having them spiking and crashing throughout the day. No one likes that midday sugar crash.
I’d like to note here that not all types of oats will provide the same benefits. Instant oats provide the least amount of nutritional value; most consider the less processed old-fashioned oats and steel cut oats to be of higher nutritional value, so it’s best to skip the convenience and go for straight up oats whenever you can.
So… is oatmeal vegan?
We’ve arrived at the reason you’re reading this article: is oatmeal vegan or not? Well… it depends. At the base level, oats themselves are vegan. They’re simply a product of the oat plant.
But that’s where the certainty ends. I already mentioned that most people cook oatmeal by soaking oats in some type of liquid. While you can choose vegan options like non-dairy milk and water, some restaurants or people will make it with dairy milk, which would obviously make it non-vegan.
Instant oats: Beware of non-vegan ingredients
There’s also the issue of instant oats. Different types of instant oat packets or products will often include additives to add flavor or sweetness to otherwise plain oats.
Some non-vegan additions to instant oats include milk products like whey or cream. You can also find other animal products like honey, animal derived vitamins (added vitamin D3 is often derived from sheep wool – look out for lanolin in your products), and shellac (made from bugs. Yes, really.).
Besides all of these animal products in many types of instant oats, there’s also usually a slew of other unhealthy additions. Added sugar, preservatives, food coloring, and artificial ingredients can make instant oats a pretty unhealthy choice compared to unprocessed and healthy plain oats.
Of course, not all instant oats will have these non-vegan and/or unhealthy additives. That’s why it’s always safest to check the ingredient list or ask whoever’s making the oatmeal about the ingredients to double check before you eat oatmeal.
You can have your porridge and eat it too!
So there you have it! Oatmeal can be, and often is, vegan. As with most things, however, it’s always best to check the ingredients yourself before eating it.
Need some oat-based ideas? Check out my favorite overnight oat recipes. You can also leave me a comment if you have any more questions, or want some oatmeal-making advice from the community!