Helloat there! Wow I couldn’t have started this in any better way, huh? Moving on…
Oats. They’ve made big news in the online world of nutrition and for a long time people have eaten them as a healthy part of their daily routine. I am one such person. I LOVE oats!!! As a kid, most people will have memories of growing up eating them as porridge or oatmeal, and that applies to me too. I remember the times before school when I would wake up to that steaming bowl of oats on a winter’s morn. That was nice.
Today we will discover how to ferment oats (it’s not as bad as it sounds), to make a much tastier and healthier traditional meal!
These delicious grains contain a host of wonderful health benefits and are a great source of fibre, energy, and protein. Studies have shown their brilliant potential for nutritional health benefits.
Nutritionally they are very rich in minerals, most notably magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus, but also iron, copper, and zinc. This is amazing for proper growth, healthy organs, immune function, detoxification, blood sugar control, lowering LDL cholesterol, lowering inflammation, and much much more! Not only that but they are good sources of fibres such as beta-glucans, antioxidants and vitamins B1, B5, and B9.
Most of the time, people stick to “instant oats”, you know the ones that come in packets (or boxes) that you mix with a little milk and microwave for 2 minutes? Well I used to too… Until I started to dive into the deep sea of study on nutrition.
For most people, these instant oats are a healthier alternative food for breakfast. And compared to something like pancakes or biscuits they certainly are. However, eating oats in this way in large quantities has its drawbacks, and today you will discuss why that is and a very easy workaround.
The Original Oats – A Humble History
It is thought that the earliest cultivated oats came from what is present-day Switzerland during the period of the Bronze Age. That’s at least over 3,000 years ago! Since that time they have travelled the seven seas, become dietary staples and gained cultural significance across the world.
Thankfully, despite high amounts of unsaturated fats, oats naturally have a lengthy shelf life due to the presence of antioxidants. These include antioxidants such as Avenanthramides and Phenolic Acids. These protect the fats from oxidation (and thus distortion).
In the days before instant oats, it was common wisdom (and in fact written on the early oat boxes) to soak oats at least overnight before consuming them. And in fact this has seen a resurgence recently. This increases digestibility, nutrition, and creates a slightly more wholesome and tasty meal.
Some of you might already know why this is, but in the next part I’ll be explaining why fermenting your oats is a much more nutritious way of preparing them with many added benefits.
The Fun of Fermenting
As I said, many people soak their oats overnight with the intention of increasing digestibility and nutrition. And whilst this is well-intended, oftentimes the effects are not as major as one would like for a food that is eaten often.
In short, the reason that soaking oats can have these effects is due to the reduction of the so-called “anti-nutrient” phytic acid. This is a chemical compound stored in plant seeds with two main purposes. One is to provide the seedling of a plant with energy and phosphorus. And the other is to protect the seed’s stored fats, proteins, and nutrients. It does so by binding to minerals such as iron, calcium, zinc, and magnesium, thereby strengthening and toughening the seed so that it will not be broken down if ingested by most animals. The process prevents absorbtion of these minerals during digestion.
The thought process behind soaking oats is that the enzyme phytase will be “activated” and break down the phytic acid. I went into more detail on this subject in my last post about why to soak nuts if you are interested.
Oats, however, have a very low level of this enzyme naturally present within them. So the people soaking oats by themselves, without the addition of a high-phytase food source like apple cider vinegar, rye flour, or whey will achieve little nutritional result. And even those that do, will often store their oats in the fridge for the duration of the process, which will strongly prevent enzyme activity.
A much more effective way of boosting the nutrition of oats is to take things a step further by fermenting. This will produce an amazing yeasty, slightly sour flavour and a creamy texture.
How To Get Started
Fermenting oats is something that I do practically every day. I will eat my oats often between 10am and 12pm, or whenever have my body tells me that I’m hungry, and set some more on the shelf for the next 2 or 3 days to ferment. Because of this, I’m always using two bowls (non-plastic) and two small tea dishes to cover them. That’s only because I like to eat them every day. Some people prefer to use jam or preserve jars covered with a tea towel or cheesecloth, and really it’s down to your preference.
The fermentation process will not only allow for high levels of phytase activity, but it will also encourage the activity of many beneficial bacteria naturally present on the oats. These bacteria will feast on the starches and sugars in the oats. They are vital for a healthy immune system, and for the microbiome (this is the collection of trillions of bacteria and enzymes – our gut flora – present in our digestive system that break down food and produce healthy biological compounds, modulate mood and aid in brain health, and have many more important roles). There is an entire developing field of science and study dedicated to the microbiome and I highly suggest you read about it. It’s very fascinating!
These bacteria are what we refer to as “probiotics”. Probiotics are living microorganisms which provide us with many health benefits when ingested! They feed on so-called “prebiotics” for fuel, and as luck would have it, oats are loaded with these! Prebiotics are mostly insoluble fibre.
This is where we find out about the two different recipe methods most commonly used to ferment oats. Each takes about 5 minutes of work in total.
Method 1 – The Wild Method
This is the method that I use the most as I personally prefer the results that yield, and also find this easier and cheaper.
Ingredients needed (per cup of oats):
- Dechlorinated Water (1½ – 2 cups) – you can simply boil water using a kettle to remove the chlorine. Make sure you let it cool to a lukewarm temperature before you use it, otherwise you will kill the bacteria and denature the phytase.
- Steel Cut or Whole Oats (1 cup)
- Apple Cider Vinegar or Other Phytase Source (2 tablespoons)
- Grind your oats (at least coarsely). This can be done using a coffee grinder, but just as effectively with a pestle and mortar. If you have neither a good option might be to use the end of a rolling pin and a wooden or plastic bowl to prevent chipping. The step helps to release the starches from inside the oats.
- Pour your oats into the container that you will be using.
- Pour the water in with the oats, making sure to submerge them fully. Only do this after making sure that your water is cooled (or warmed if you use a filter) to a lukewarm or room temperature.
- Add the 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (or substitute).
- Cover the container with a cloth or loosely with a small dish. You want to make sure that air can get in and out.
- Finally, leave to stand (preferably somewhere warm) for 1-3 days. This will depend on your climate – a warmer environment is more ideal for fermentation. Stir once or twice a day. You’ll know it’s ready when it takes on a yeasty and sour scent and produces bubbles.
The reason I call this ‘The Wild Method’ elaborates on step 5 above. By allowing a natural flow of air, wild yeasts present in the air will occupy the oats and aid in fermentation. Another important reason for allowing a flow of air is that as the bacteria digests the starches and sugars in the oats they will produce carbon dioxide. This is the gas which will cause bubbles on the surface of the water and it will need a way to escape the container so pressure doesn’t build up.
Method 2 – Lacto-Fermentation
- Dechlorinated Water (1½ – 2 cups) – you can
simply boil water using a kettle to remove the chlorine. Make sure you
let it cool to a lukewarm temperature before you use it, otherwise you
will kill the bacteria and denature the phytase.
- Steel Cut or Whole Oats (1 cup)
- Probiotic (Live) Yoghurt, Kefir, or Buttermilk (2 tablespoons)
- Follow instructions for method 1, and replace phytase source with probiotic. Simple 🙂
- (A variation of this could be to replace water with raw unpasteurised milk or kefir)
This method makes use of the live bacteria (namely of the genus lactobacillus) present in the yoghurt, kefir, or buttermilk. These bacteria are renown for their benefits to gut health and are used extensively in many fermented food products. This is where we get the term “lacto-fermentation”. They are also often present naturally on the surfaces of vegetables and fruits.
A couple of important safety notes to take are as follows:
- Firstly, if the scent or taste is not pleasantly yeasty and slightly sour – and especially if it is unpleasant and not as described – discard the batch and try again. This could be a bad sign of unwelcome bacteria that we do not want to be eating!
- Secondly, if you see any mould or suspected mould (this could be any colour) DO NOT simply scrape it off and eat the oats as mould has roots. Discard the batch and try again. You may get some starches or yeasts from the oats rise to the surface of the water, producing an extremely thin filmy layer. This is perfectly safe. It should not look “fluffy” or resemble mould in any way!
As long as you always keep your oats submerged, there shouldn’t really be any problems.
When you are ready to try your newfound amig-oats (yes I did), you can simply drain them, add your favourite healthy ingredients, and enjoy! Also, you can add a little milk or water and microwave for 2 to 3 minutes. Easy! Oftentimes I have my oats half uncooked and then heat the rest. (Heating Microwaving will kill the bacteria but studies have shown that even dead probiotic bacteria benefit our immune system).
If you want to do this often, whenever you eat the oats, set some more for fermentation and mix in 1 or 2 tablespoons of the previous batch to kick-start the process! Here are some recommended recipes that are versatile and fun!
Have you ever soaked or fermented your oatmeal before? Let me know of your experiences, or if you tried this, how did you find it? 🙂
I hope to have given you some insight into the world of probiotics, and that these recipes work well for your new ventures!
Until the next one, stay healthy