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Facts on Oats
The Oat (Avena
sativa) is a species of cereal grain, and the seeds of
this plant. They are used for food for people and as
fodder for animals, especially poultry and horses. Oat
straw is used as animal bedding and sometimes as animal
Oats are often served as a porridge made
from rolled or crushed oats, oatmeal, and are also baked
into cookies together with wheat flour. As oat flour or
oatmeal, they are also used in a variety of other baked
goods and cold cereals, and as an ingredient in muesli
and granola. Oats may also be consumed raw, and cookies
with raw oats are quickly becoming popular.
straw is also used in corn dolly making, and it is the
favorite filling for home made lace pillows.
extract can be used to soothe skin conditions, e.g. in
baths, skin products, etc.
A now obsolete Middle
English name for the plant was haver (which is still
used in Dutch language however), surviving in the name
of the livestock feeding bag
Oats are native
to Eurasia (the landmass composed of Asia and Europe)
and appear to have been domesticated relatively late.
They are now grown throughout the temperate zones. They
have a lower summer heat requirement and greater
tolerance of rain than other cereals like wheat, rye or
barley, so are particularly important in areas with
cool, wet summers such as northwest Europe, even being
grown successfully in Iceland. Oats are an annual plant,
and can be planted either in the fall (for late summer
harvest) or in the spring (for early autumn
Historical attitudes towards oats vary.
In England they were considered an inferior grain, while
in Scotland they were, and still are, held in high
esteem. A traditional saying in England is that "oats
are only fit to be fed to horses and Scotsmen", to which
the Scottish riposte is "and England has the finest
horses, and Scotland the finest men". Samuel Johnson
notoriously defined oats in his Dictionary as "a grain,
which in England is generally given to horses, but in
Scotland supports the people".
The discovery of
the healthy cholesterol-lowering properties has led to
wider appreciation of oats as human food. Oats grown in
Scotland command a premium price throughout the United
Kingdom as a result of these
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 are also a safe grain for people with
celiac disease (gluten intolerance). However, oats
frequently get mixed up with small amounts of wheat
during harvest and processing, so the EU officially
lists them as a crop containing gluten. Oats from
Ireland and Scotland, where less wheat is grown, are
less likely to be contaminated in this way.
reports found that oats can help lower cholesterol, an
"oat bran craze" swept the U.S. in the late 1980s,
peaking in 1989, when potato chips with added oat bran
were marketed. The food fad was short-lived and faded by
the early 1990s. The popularity of oatmeal and other oat
products again increased after the January 1998 decision
by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when it issued
its final rule allowing a health claim to be made on the
labels of foods containing "soluble fiber" from whole
oats (oat bran, oat flour and rolled oats), noting that
3 grams of soluble fiber daily from these foods, in
conjunction with a diet low in "saturated fat" and
"cholesterol", and "low fat" may reduce the risk of
heart disease. In order to qualify for the health claim,
the whole oat-containing food must provide at least 0.75
grams of soluble fiber per serving. The soluble fiber in
whole oats comprise a class of polysaccharides known as
Beta-D-glucans, usually referred
to as beta-glucans, comprise a class of non-digestible
polysaccharides widely found in nature in such sources
as oats, barley, yeast, bacteria, algae and mushrooms.
In oats, barley and other cereal grains, they are
located primarily in the endosperm cell wall.
beta-glucan is a soluble fiber. It is a viscous
polysaccharide made up of units of the sugar D-glucose.
Oat beta-glucan is comprised of mixed-linkage
polysaccharides. This means that the bonds between the
D-glucose or D-glucopyranosyl units are either beta-1, 3
linkages or beta-1, 4 linkages. This type of beta-glucan
is also referred to as a mixed-linkage (1?3),
(1?4)-beta-D-glucan. The (1?3)-linkages break up the
uniform structure of the beta-D-glucan molecule and make
it soluble and flexible. In comparison, the
nondigestible polysaccharide cellulose is also a
beta-glucan but is non-soluble. The reason that it is
non-soluble is that cellulose consists only of
(1?4)-beta-D-linkages. The percentages of beta-glucan in
the various whole oat products are: oat bran, greater
than 5.5% and up to 23.0%; rolled oats, about 4%; whole
oat flour about 4%.
Oats after corn (maize) has
the highest lipid content of any cereal, e.g., >10
percent for oats and as high as 17 percent for some
maize cultivars compared to about 2-3 percent for wheat
and most other cereals. The polar lipid content of oats
(about 8-17% glycolipid and 10-20% phospholipid or a
total of about 33% ) is greater than that of other
cereals since much of the lipid fraction is contained
within the endosperm.
the only cereal containing a globulin or legume-like
protein, avenalins, as the major (80%) storage protein.
Globulins are characterized by water solubility and
because of this property oats may be turned into milk
but not into bread. The more typical cereal proteins,
such as gluten are "prolamines." The minor protein of
oat is a prolamine: avenin.
Oat protein is nearly
equivalent in quality to soy protein which has been
shown by the World Health Organization to be the equal
of meat, milk and egg proteins. The protein content of
the hull-less oat kernel -groat- ranges from 12-24%, the
highest among cereals.
are sown in the spring, as soon as the soil can be
worked. An early start is crucial to good yields as oats
will go dormant during the summer heat. Oats are
cold-tolerant and will be unaffected by late frosts or
snow. Typically about 100 kg/hectare (about 2 bushels
per acre) are sown, either broadcast or drilled in 150
mm (6 inch) rows. Lower rates are used when underseeding
with a legume. Somewhat higher rates can be used on the
best soils. Excessive sowing rates will lead to problems
with lodging and may reduce yields.
and some products made from them. Winter oats may be
grown as an off-season groundcover and plowed under in
the spring as a green fertilizer.
substantial amounts of nitrogen from the soil. If the
straw is removed from the soil rather than being
ploughed back, there will also be removal of large
quantities of potash. Usually 50-100 kg/hectare (50-100
pounds per acre) of nitrogen in the form of urea or
ammonium sulfate is sufficient. A sufficient amount of
nitrogen is particularly important for plant height and
hence straw quality and yield. When the prior-year crop
was a legume, or where ample manure is applied, nitrogen
rates can be reduced somewhat.
growth habit of oats will tend to choke out most weeds.
A few tall broadleaf weeds, such as ragweed, goosegrass
and buttonweed (velvetleaf), can occasionally be a
problem as they complicate harvest. These can be
controlled with a modest application of a broadleaf
herbicide such as 2,4-D while the weeds are still
Modern harvest technique is a matter of
available equipment, local tradition, and priorities.
Best yields are attained by swathing, cutting the plants
at about 10 cm (4 inches) above ground and putting them
into windrows with the grain all oriented the same way,
just before the grain is completely ripe. The windrows
are left to dry in the sun for several days before being
combined using a dummy head. Then the straw is
Oats can also be left standing until
completely ripe and then combined with a grain head.
This will lead to 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 will also be somewhat more damage to the
straw since it will not be properly oriented as it
enters the throat of the combine. Overall yield loss is
10-15% compared to proper swathing.
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
Earlier harvest involved cutting with a
scythe or sickle, and threshing under the feet of
A good yield is typically about 3000
kg/hectare (100 bushels/acre) of grain and two tons of