Oat bran is the granular outer covering of the oat grain that has been removed when oat flour is milled, and has a wonderful toasty flavor. While many people think it is just a sort of health food additive, this flaky product is really a tasty addition to things like homemade crackers, muffins, and sweet breads. If you don’t spot it in the baking aisle, zip over to the health food or wellness section, and look for it there.
Oats were the most recent grain to be domesticated. Somewhere around 1000 B.C., in the fields of Europe, some farmers noticed a weed that seemed relatively hardy and decided to cultivate it. It wasn’t immediately embraced by everyone. While the people of the British Isles took to oats in quick order, the Romans believed it to be some sort of wheat that had become diseased and didn’t trust it for human consumption. “Oat-eating barbarians” was a popular insult of the day. Of course, the Romans also lost their empire, which may or may not have been a result of not eating oats, but we will never be sure.
Oat processing is a bit different from most grains. First, they are the only grain harvested when ripe and have to go through a special kilning process. There are some natural enzymes in oats that if left untreated make the oats go rancid in as little as four days. Not so good for bakers who want to keep them on hand for a spontaneous granola bar fix! Luckily for us, the process of steaming and then kilning the oats to remove moisture eliminates those enzymes and makes oat products much more stable. Once they are kilned, they can go through the processing to break them down into the various products we find on our grocery store shelves.
No matter what sort of treat you are dreaming of, oats are going to be a delicious and often surprising ingredient to include. So when it comes to oats, think beyond breakfast, and get baking!