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Oats, believed to be one of the first crops to have been domesticated by humans, grow throughout the temperate latitudes and continue to be a valuable grain worldwide. The seeds of the plant are harvested, hulled and processed into various forms, collectively called oatmeal. Oatmeal has many uses, such as fillers in cosmetics, as livestock feed, and as a staple for human consumption. Very versatile, oats can be cooked in many different ways, but they are most widely prepared as a simple oatmeal porridge.
The process of milling oat seeds into meal is usually as follows. Their husks are removed, and the kernels are heated to stabilize their fat content. Whole oats are uncommonly sold; most of it is chopped by steel blades into small, coarse pieces called steel-cut oatmeal. These can be ground finely into oat flour. They can also be passed through and pressed between two rollers into flattened pieces called rolled oats.
Oatmeal porridge can be made with any of these end products, differing only in cooking time and taste texture. Cooking method is the same, and very simple. The oats are boiled in roughly 2 – 2.5 parts liquid, usually water but also milk, buttermilk, or cream. With the recommended addition of a pinch of salt and a pat of butter, they are cooked until all the liquid has been absorbed and the starches have turned to a pasty, porridge consistency. Either during cooking or flavored afterward, a sweetener such as maple syrup, honey or sugar is popularly added.
Rolled oatmeal porridge need only be simmered for 15 minutes, mostly unattended, to cook in an uncovered pot. It is better however to keep it constantly stirred, especially if cooking in dairy. Also available at many markets is instant oatmeal porridge, which is precooked, dehydrated, flavor-added and ready to eat following a brief soak in hot water. While oatmeal purchased in bulk is generally fresher and cheaper, it is perishable and should be stored frozen or refrigerated. Around the world, it may be referred by other names such as cornmeal and peasemeal.
Oatmeal is highly nutritious. It is an especially rich source of water-soluble fiber, which slows digestion, stabilizes blood sugar level and lowers blood cholesterol. A cup (240 ml) of oatmeal porridge contains about 0.15 ounces (4 g) of dietary fiber. In 1997, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved of the labeling claim that food containing oats reduces the risk of heart disease. Complex carbohydrates provide a high caloric value, which explains oatmeal's popularity for breakfast.