Why You Should Always Toast The Oats For Your Oatmeal

Oatmeal is just another word for a big bowl of comfort, and it couldn't be easier to make. Mix some water or milk with oats and you've got yourself a hearty meal for any time of the day. But such simplicity should not be underestimated, as oatmeal is used as a performance enhancer by athletes, per Outside Online, and is open to many creative interpretations around the world, via Taste Atlas. For instance, you may find pine nut porridge in South Korea or harissa in Armenia.

Oatmeal is commonly topped with an array of sweeteners and ingredients that provide textural contrasts. Some of these include honey, nuts, fruit, and coconut oil, but oatmeal is also welcoming to savory ingredients, like pesto or sun-dried tomatoes, per Eat This, Not That!.

Now when it comes to adding flavor and depth to oatmeal, such creativity usually stops at the toppings. But if we rewind the cooking process a bit, we'll find that there's an overlooked step when prepping the oats. Here's what that is.

Grab a skillet and some fat

According to Oats Everday, toasting the oats elevates their flavors and textures due to browning, aka the Maillard reaction. Science of Cooking explains that this happens when heat, amino acids, and sugars all react with each other, creating new "flavor compounds," like caramel, roasted, meaty, and sweet notes, per T. Hasegawa.

Chef Nate Weir of Modern Market Eatery recommends using butter or coconut oil as your fat source, which he believes "adds a warm nutty flavor" to the finished product. And luckily, toasting oats is fairly simple. All you have to do is stir the oats in a skillet with some melted fat. After a few minutes, the oats should take on a golden-brown color and your kitchen should smell of warm, nutty notes. You can also toast the oats sans fat if you wish.

After the oats are toasted, proceed through your favorite oatmeal breakfast recipe as normal. That big bowl of comfort will still look and taste like old-fashioned oatmeal, but with much more depth and toasted nuance.