Grain of the Week – Oats

February 20, 2014 at 8:51 AM | Posted in Grain of the Week | Leave a comment
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Oat plants

Oat plants

The common oat (Avena sativa) is a species of cereal grain grown for its seed, which is known by the same name (usually in the plural, unlike other grains). While oats are suitable for human consumption as oatmeal and rolled oats, one of the most common uses is as livestock feed. However, it is uncommon for ordinary people to consume them raw as animals do.

 

 

 
The wild ancestor of Avena sativa and the closely related minor crop, A. byzantina, is the hexaploid wild oat A. sterilis. Genetic evidence shows the ancestral forms of A. sterilis grew in the Fertile Crescent of the Near East. Domesticated oats appear relatively late, and far from the Near East, in Bronze Age Europe. Oats, like rye, are usually considered a secondary crop, i.e., derived from a weed of the primary cereal domesticates wheat and barley. As these cereals spread westwards into cooler, wetter areas, this may have favored the oat weed component, leading to its eventual domestication.

 

 

 
Oats are grown in temperate regions. They have a lower summer heat requirement and greater tolerance of rain than other cereals, such as wheat, rye or barley, so are particularly important in areas with cool, wet summers, such as Northwest Europe; they are even being grown in Iceland to help prolong the growing season.[3] Oats are an annual plant, and can be planted either in autumn (for late summer harvest) or in the spring (for early autumn harvest).
On the Indian subcontinent, oats (known locally in Hindi, Punjabi, Awadhi, Bhojpuri, and Nepali languages as “jaei” are grown on the foothills of Himalayas, such as in the Indian state of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. References to its cultivation can be found in the epic Mahabharat.

 

 

 

Porridge oats before cooking

Porridge oats before cooking

Oats have numerous uses in foods; most commonly, they are rolled or crushed into oatmeal, or ground into fine oat flour. Oatmeal is chiefly eaten as porridge, but may also be used in a variety of baked goods, such as oatcakes, oatmeal cookies, and oat bread. Oats are also an ingredient in many cold cereals, in particular muesli and granola. Oats may also be consumed raw, and cookies with raw oats are becoming popular.
Historical attitudes towards oats have varied. Oat bread was first manufactured in Britain, where the first oat bread factory was established in 1899. In Scotland, they were, and still are, held in high esteem, as a mainstay of the national diet.
In Scotland, a dish called cow pat was made by soaking the husks from oats for a week, so the fine, floury part of the meal remained as sediment to be strained off, boiled and eaten. Oats are also widely used there as a thickener in soups, as barley or rice might be used in other countries.
Oats are also commonly used as feed for horses when extra carbohydrates, and the subsequent boost in energy, are required. The oat hull may be crushed (“rolled” or “crimped”) for the horse to more easily digest the grain,[citation needed] or may be fed whole. They may be given alone or as part of a blended food pellet. Cattle are also fed oats, either whole, or ground into a coarse flour using a roller mill, burr mill, or hammer mill.
Winter oats may be grown as an off-season groundcover and ploughed under in the spring as a green fertilizer, or harvested in early summer. They also can be used for pasture; they can be grazed a while, then allowed to head out for grain production, or grazed continuously until other pastures are ready.
Oat straw is prized by cattle and horse producers as bedding, due to its soft, relatively dust-free, and absorbent nature. The straw can also be used for making corn dollies. Tied in a muslin bag, oat straw was used to soften bath water.
Oats are also occasionally used in several different drinks. In Britain, they are sometimes used for brewing beer. Oatmeal stout is one variety brewed using a percentage of oats for the wort. The more rarely used oat malt is produced by the Thomas Fawcett & Sons Maltings, and was used in the Maclay Oat Malt Stout before Maclays Brewery ceased independent brewing operations. A cold, sweet drink called avena made of ground oats and milk is a popular refreshment throughout Latin America. Oatmeal caudle, made of ale and oatmeal with spices, was a traditional British drink and a favourite of Oliver Cromwell.
Oat extract can also be used to soothe skin conditions. It is the principal ingredient for the Aveeno line of products.
Oat grass has been used traditionally for medicinal purposes, including to help balance the menstrual cycle, treat dysmenorrhoea, and for osteoporosis and urinary tract infections.

 

 

 
Oats are generally considered “healthful”, or a health food, being touted commercially as nutritious. The discovery of their healthy cholesterol-lowering properties has led to wider appreciation of oats as human food.

 

 

 
Oat bran is the outer casing of the oat. Its consumption is believed to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and possibly to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Oats contain more soluble fiber than any other grain, resulting in slower digestion and an extended sensation of fullness. One type of soluble fibre, beta-glucans, has been proven to help lower cholesterol.

Oats are the only cereal containing a globulin or legume-like protein, avenalin, as the major (80%) storage protein. Globulins are characterised by solubility in dilute saline. The more typical cereal proteins, such as gluten and zein, are prolamines (prolamins). The minor protein of oat is a prolamine, avenin.
Oat protein is nearly equivalent in quality to soy protein, which World Health Organization research has shown to be equal to meat, milk, and egg protein. The protein content of the hull-less oat kernel (groat) ranges from 12 to 24%, the highest among cereals.

 

 

 
Oats are sown in the spring or early summer in colder areas, as soon as the soil can be worked. An early start is crucial to good yields, as oats go dormant in summer heat. In warmer areas, oats are sown in late summer or early fall. Oats are cold-tolerant and are unaffected by late frosts or snow.

 

 

 

Harvest techniques are a matter of available equipment, local tradition, and priorities. Farmers seeking the highest yield from their crops time their harvest so the kernels have reached 35% moisture, or when the greenest kernels are just turning cream-color. They then harvest by swathing, cutting the plants at about 10 cm (4 inches) above ground, and putting the swathed plants into windrows with the grain all oriented the same way. They leave the windrows to dry in the sun for several days before combining them using a pickup header. Finally, they bale the straw.
Oats can also be left standing until completely ripe and then combined with a grain head. This causes greater field losses as the grain falls from the heads, and to harvesting losses, as the grain is threshed out by the reel. Without a draper head, there is also more damage to the straw, since it is not properly oriented as it enters the combine’s throat. Overall yield loss is 10–15% compared to proper swathing.
Historical harvest methods involved cutting with a scythe or sickle, and threshing under the feet of cattle. Late 19th- and early 20th-century harvesting was performed using a binder. Oats were gathered into shocks, and then collected and run through a stationary threshing machine.

 

 

 
After combining, the oats are transported to the farmyard using a grain truck, semi, or road train, where they are augered or conveyed into a bin for storage. Sometimes, when there is not enough bin space, they are augered into portable grain rings, or piled on the ground. Oats can be safely stored at 12% moisture; at higher moisture levels, they must be aerated, or dried.

 

 

 

Oat grains in their husks

Oat grains in their husks

In the United States, No.1 oats weigh 42 pounds per US bushel (541 kg/m3); No.3 oats must weigh at least 38 lb/US bu (489 kg/m3). If over 36 lb/US bu (463 kg/m3), they are graded as No.4, and oats under 36 lb/US bu (463 kg/m3) are graded as “light weight”.
In Canada, No.1 oats weigh 42.64 lb/US bu (549 kg/m3); No.2 oats must weigh 40.18 lb/US bu (517 kg/m3); No.3 oats must weigh at least 38.54 lb/US bu (496 kg/m3) and if oats are lighter than 36.08 lb/US bu (464 kg/m3) they do not make No.4 oats and have no grade.
Note, however, that oats are bought and sold, and yields are figured, on the basis of a bushel equal to 32 pounds (14.5 kg or 412 kg/m3) in the United States and a bushel equal to 34 pounds (15.4 kg or 438 kg/m3) in Canada. Yields range from 60 to 80 US bushels per acre (5.2–7.0 m3/ha) on marginal land, to 100 to 150 US bushels per acre (8.7–13.1 m3/ha) on high-producing land. The average production is 100 bushels per acre, or 3.5 tonnes per hectare.
Straw yields are variable, ranging from one to three tonnes per hectare, mainly due to available nutrients, and the variety used (some are short-strawed, meant specifically for straight combining).

 

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