Oat flour is a flour which is made from ground oats. This flour can be used in a wide variety of recipes, although it does carry a caution, as it does not behave like wheat flour, since it contains no gluten. As a result, if oat flour is used alone, baked goods will not rise or hold together; oat flour must be mixed with other flours in baking, whether you are attempting gluten free baking or just wanting to spice up conventional recipes. Most markets carry oat flour, and it can also be made at home if you have a good spice mill or food processor.
Oats are a cereal grain which has been cultivated for thousands of years. Archaeological evidence shows that people have been eating oats in a variety of recipes for quite a long time, but that oats were especially popular in gruels, made by cooking oats for an extended period of time to soften them. Over time, other uses for oats developed; one of the most well known is oatmeal, a modern form of prehistoric gruels which is widely eaten in many regions of the world. Oats are high in fiber and an assortment of useful dietary minerals, making them an excellent addition to the diet.
To make oat flour, oats are finely ground to create a powder, in the same way that other grains are processed into flour. Typically, whole oats are used, so the resulting flour retains the nutritional value of the oats. Oat flour can be added to an assortment of recipes, replacing part of the flour which the recipe calls for, and it adds a rich, nutty flavor and a dense texture to baked goods. Some people like using it in breads, and it can also be added to baked sweets and muffins for a more chewy texture.
Many people use oat flour in gluten-free baking. It is important to remember that oat flour is often processed in facilities which handle gluten-containing grains, like wheat. As a result, it can be contaminated with gluten, and people who are extremely sensitive to gluten may experience discomfort if they consume products made with the contaminated oat flour. It is a good idea to purchase oat flour which is labeled as gluten free if this is a concern.
Oats can go rancid, and as a result they are usually cooked before processing to make them more shelf stable. In the case of oat flour, it is a good idea to use flour which is as fresh as possible. You can store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, or you can freeze it to extend the shelf life; frozen oat flour is very easy to use, and it will be less likely to go bad if you only use a small amount of oat flour at a time.