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Quick oats are oats that have been cut up into very small pieces so that they can cook much more quickly than traditional rolled oats. Color, dryness, condition and turnover are all factors you must consider when choosing the best quick oats that are sold in bulk. For oats that are prepackaged in a box, choosing the best has to rely more on the packaging and the best-by date, if any.
Good quick oats should be relatively pale but still tan-colored, and there should be a minimum of discolored, blackened pieces. Finding one or two of these in a large bag of oats isn’t unusual, but you should not have to remove more than a few discolored oats from a large quantity. The quick oats will be a bit lighter in color than rolled oats overall. They should be dry, and you should not see intact rolled oats mixed in. If what you buy has rolled oats mixed in, oat-containing recipes won’t cook as quickly as they are supposed to because rolled oats require more cooking time.
Do not buy quick oats that have bugs, mold or unidentified debris in them. If you plan to buy oats from a bulk bin, try to observe the store and bulk bins before you shop, so you can see if the oats tend to sit untouched for a long time. Bulk foods that don’t have a quick turnover could be old and not very palatable. If the store has to refill the bins often, that’s a sign the oats you buy will be less likely to be stale.
Price is not necessarily an indicator of oat quality. Oats as a whole tend to be among the less expensive grains, and while quick oats can be a few cents more expensive than rolled, they should not be vastly more expensive. Name-brand oats will likely be more expensive than generic oats, but that is a marketing matter and not a sign that one is necessarily better than the other.
Quick oats that are in a package are harder to judge because you can’t see the actual oats if the packaging doesn’t have plastic windows in it. In this case, look for packaging in good condition, and look at the ingredient label to see if the brand has added flavorings or other ingredients, which, if you’re looking for plain oats could be unwelcome. Also look for a best-by date or something similar. The nearer the date to the day you’re looking at the box, the older the oats will be.
Gluten contamination is a particular problem with oats, including quick oats, because they are often processed or stored in areas that have held gluten-containing flours and mixes. If you have celiac disease, ask the store staff how often the bulk bins are cleaned and if they keep the oat bin solely for oats. Find out what brand the store uses for its bulk oats, too, as some companies take pains to ensure the oats they produce are gluten-free.
If I'm using quick oats to make oatmeal cookies, I'll usually buy whatever is the most affordable brand at the grocery store. I'm not looking for special organic or gluten free oats if it's only going to be used in cookie dough.
When it comes to a hot breakfast cereal, however, I prefer to use old fashioned oats vs quick oats. If I'm pushed for time, I'll use organic quick oats or quick steel cut oats. I have never liked instant oatmeal, but sometimes I'll make it for the kids if they ask for it. I try to look at the labels for sugar content before I buy flavored oatmeal.
I tend to go with a favorite brand of quick oats and stick with it. I have found there isn't much difference among brand name varieties, but there can be a lot of difference between brand name and value brand instant oatmeal. I've bought individual packages of instant oats from a deep discount store, and they looked like powder. The finished product tasted and looked like wallpaper paste. I say go with the higher quality "quick oats" oatmeal and avoid instant oatmeal if at all possible.
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