Oat groats are whole, minimally processed oats. Because they have not been extensively processed, they retain a high nutritional value, and they can be used in a variety of ways. However, they also take a long time to prepare and cook, requiring hours of soaking and cooking before they are usable.
Oats have been cultivated for thousands of years and used in a variety of ways. Archaeological evidence at various sites of early human activity shows that people have been making a form of gruel from oats and other grains for a very long time. Oat groats would have been familiar to early humans, and they are a sound addition to the modern diet as well, being high in fiber and various minerals.
When oat groats are produced, the oats are first hulled, removing the inedible outer husk. What remains is a whole grain, containing the fiber-rich bran, nutritious germ, and the bulk of the grain, the endosperm. The groats are typically heat treated to make them more shelf stable, and then they can be processed into a range of products including rolled oats and oat flour, or they can be packaged for sale as is. In some cases, they are lightly crushed, making them cook more quickly.
Oat groats can be soaked and cooked into a porridge or gruel, and they can also be cooked before being added to breads and other baked goods, where they will create a nutty flavor and add to the nutritional content of the finished product. You can also use these oats in soups and stews, much as the early humans did. The relatively bland flavor of oats can be enhanced with a number of additions, making both sweet and savory foods.
You may also see oat groats labeled as “cleaned oats,” referencing the fact that they are simply oats which have been treated to remove their outer layers and then left alone. Store the groats in a cool, dry place out of sunlight, ideally in an airtight container. You can also freeze them if you like to extend the life of the grain in storage. When you know that you will want to use your oat groats, soak them in several changes of water before cooking to make them cook more quickly.