Oat flour is made from milled oats, an ancient grain with a long history in Asia and Europe.
Oats are native to Western Asia like another ancient grain: barley. While wild oats were most likely consumed like other grain, they most likely were not as popular as other grains like wheat and barley. So while wheat and barley were being cultivated around 12000 BCE, oats weren’t being farmed to the same extent. Many farmers saw the grain as a weed and a nuisance.
Around 2000 BCE, farmers found that oats grew much better than wheat in the colder and wetter climates of Poland and Scandinavia. During the Bronze Age, farmers began farming oats at high altitudes because the grain grew better there.
Early in its history, people used oats to make oat flour for bread and to make beer. Because oat flour on its own can’t be leavened with yeast, the earliest oat bread was flat and unleavened like matzoh bread. Oats were also boiled to make porridge.
The Ancient Romans grew oats but were not fans of it; they saw it as being better suited for being animal feed; however, they were not above consuming it when nothing else was available. Pliny wrote about the Germanic tribes’ consumption of oats.
In the Middle Ages, oats were popular in Britain. The grain became a staple in Scotland and Ireland but became less popular in Poland and Russia, where rye was common.
Oats wound up in North America in the 1600s because some parts of the country were suitable for its cultivation. A German immigrant named Ferdinand Schumacher revolutionized oat-milling and packaging in the late 1800s. Oats had been cultivated primarily for horses, so oat-farming had fallen out of fashion with the advent of the automobile. Schumacher’s innovations helped it to become the most widely sold cereal in the US.
Oats are still cultivated in the American Midwest today as well as in Scotland and Poland.
Oat flour flavor profile
Oat flour has a strong nutty flavor and can provide a dense and sometimes chewy texture to baked goods.
Health benefits of oat flour
Oat flour is typically made from the whole oat grain, so it has the same nutritional profile as oats. The beneficial compounds in oat flour include:
- Beta-glucans: A soluble fiber found in oats and other cereal grains, beta-glucans offer a wide range of essential health benefits.
- B vitamins: Oats can provide you with significant amounts of B vitamins, especially thiamin.
- Minerals: Oats are a rich source of many essential minerals, including iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Oats are commonly included in the diet to treat or prevent health problems like:
- Heart disease: Studies have found that the beta-glucans in oat flour can lower the risk of heart disease.
- Diabetes: There is considerable evidence that a diet including oats can balance blood sugar levels and help to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Weak immune system: Beta-glucans help to shorten the time it takes for immune cells to find the location of an infection.
- Gluten intolerance: Oat flour contains no gluten, making it an excellent alternative flour for people who cannot consume gluten.
You can replace about a quarter of the wheat flour in most wheat bread recipes with oat flour. Oat flour can be combined with wheat flour or other gluten-free flours for pancake, muffin, and cookie recipes.