Where do oats come from? There is more to this multipurpose cereal grain than meets the eye. We'll take a look at its humble origins and sustainability.
Oats, or Avena sativa, are globally popular cereal grains with uses far beyond food. The global oat market rose to $7.8 billion in 2020 and is projected to continue apace. This is partially due to an increase in conscious consumerism and a shift towards sourcing food sustainably. But where do oats come from? Let’s take a closer look at this superstar crop
Where Do Oats Come From?
Oats, as we know them, are the edible seeds or kernels of oat grass. Despite oat grass having a similar look to wheat, barley and rye, oats are not wheat — they’re a distant relative of the grass family. Because they are not related to wheat, pure oats are gluten-free.
Oat seeds are typically planted in the summer or early autumn as they need cold weather to grow. They germinate over winter and grow in the spring once the weather is warmer. Once the plant is mature, the seeds can be harvested. They are typically harvested from mid-summer onwards.
Each seed is covered with a tough outer shell or husk. Once the husk is removed, you’re left with the oat groat, which includes the cereal germ, the bran and the endosperm. The groat is further processed to create the products we know as old-fashioned or quick oats.
Sustainable Benefits of Oats
Now that we know where oats come from, are they sustainable? Take a look and decide for yourself:
- Oats can be purchased in bulk, which enables consumers to precycle and avoid plastic packaging waste.
- You can shop for them locally, as oats are grown throughout the country. That reduces emissions from distribution and delivery while supporting the local economy.
- The value for money is good, and particularly cheap compared to animal-based products.
- Oats have a long shelf life, so you can stock your pantry and use them over and over again.
- As a crop, oats don’t require a ton of water. They often get the necessary water from the soil naturally, reducing the need for irrigation.
- They are very versatile and can be substituted for many animal-based products.
To ensure your oats are as sustainable as possible, look for a reputable local farm or eco-friendly food producer to buy them. Look for the Green America seal, as this ensures their farming practices adhere to strict rules and regulations.
Uses in Crop Rotation
One of the biggest benefits of oats with regard to sustainability is that farmers can use them to practice sustainable crop rotation. When oats are grown in three- to four-year rotations, it prevents soil erosion and reduces the amount of carbon produced by growing crops. Oats provide quick weed-suppressing biomass, which can help improve the productivity of legumes when planted in mixtures.
There are a couple of different ways oats can be used:
- Nitrogen catch crops: If the soil has a surplus of nitrogen, oat plants are able to grow quickly and take the excess nitrogen up into the plant. This is particularly useful after growing nitrogen-heavy crops such as legumes like peas and beans.
- Smother crops: Oats can be grown as a smother or cover crop (used as a natural herbicide) because they are thick and grow very rapidly. Their root systems outcompete weeds, and it provides allelopathic residue that hinders the germination of many weeds for several weeks.
The Versatility of Oats
Oats are a powerhouse ingredient that can be used in many products – not all of which are food related. Of course, you can use oats to make delicious breakfasts like pumpkin pie overnight oats, vegan baked oats, homemade granola, oat milk, overnight oats, and protein oats (proats).
Oats are also ideal for tasty snacks like banana bread with oats, oatmeal cookies, no-bake granola balls, coconut oatmeal cookies, or granola bars. For savory options, oats are often used as a binding agent in many vegan dishes like black bean burgers.
But did you know that oats are also used in many cosmetic products as an anti-inflammatory and to nourish your skin? That’s why things like oatmeal face masks and oatmeal baths are common uses for the humble cereal grain. A 2020 study also revealed that colloidal oatmeal might be a good home remedy for sunburns.
Tip: You can also use oats to make dog treats!
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