What goes in to choosing the perfect oats?

The ‘perfect’ oat is ultimately a matter of personal preference, but the oats we use at Husk & Honey have been painstakingly tried, tested and chosen for variety, provenance, flavour and texture. Whilst the many varieties of oats (porridge oats, jumbo oats, instant oats…) all derive from the same plant, the way they are processed results in different characteristics that have a big impact when it comes to making granola and, ultimately, the taste and crunch of the finished product.

Porridge oats, we soon discovered, are great for porridges, but weren’t suitable for the type of granola we wanted to create. These are oats that have been steamed, rolled, flattened and dried, resulting in small, soft flakes with a slightly powdery texture. These oats have high levels of absorbency which helps to form the smooth, creamy consistency of nursery porridge when cooked, but make them less suited to granola as they tend to soak up too much of the wet ingredients to be able to form strong, robust, clusters. Whilst we could get around this by increasing the amount of honey and oil used, we found this created a granola that was overpoweringly rich and sweet and didn’t match up to our intentions of developing a granola range that didn’t taste cloyingly sweet, enabled the other ingredient flavours to take the spotlight, and to be a truly nutritious cereal.

Generic jumbo oats encounter similar problems. These larger flakes are similarly flat and absorbent with an often increased surface area that takes on too much liquid and disrupts the flavour and nutritional profile. Besides, we wanted a granola that tasted of the oats themselves. After trying oats from all over the UK, we discovered that different batches had their own unique flavour, so we wanted to select the ones that delivered the best and biggest oaty flavour.

The oats we chose come from Montgarrie Mill – a traditional family run water mill in Alfordshire, Scotland, dating back over 140 years. Montgarrie Mill is one of the most impressive mills in the country, and one of the few remaining sites where the oats are dried in a giant stone furnace kiln as opposed to modern oil-fuelled grain driers. This not only preserves this traditional production method, but also helps the grains retain the distinctive flavour and aroma released during the drying process. Many of us are used to consuming oats that have undergone more processing to be shelf-stable and then have sat around for too long, resulting in a faint, generic cereal smell. However, when you open a sack of Alford oats, you’re immediately met with a rich, toasty, malty smell that you can almost taste just from inhaling it.

These oats look and feel quite different too. The flakes are plump and discernibly multi-dimensional with a slightly harder, glossier outer layer. They are less permeable, absorbing less honey and oil which means we don’t need to add as much of these ingredients overall. What’s more, because less honey and oil seeps through inside the oat itself, the oats retain their structural integrity whilst binding together, meaning you get all the satisfaction of crunching through a richly textured cluster and experiencing the hard outer edge to each oat give way to a soft middle layer. The difference between eating these oats and other varieties is like the difference between stepping on a dry twig and hearing it snap, versus a damp stick that merely crumples under foot.

Much thought has been given to what makes the perfect bowl of oats – whether to serve with milk or yoghurt, with or without the addition of nuts, seeds, fruit and more – but comparatively little attention has been paid to what makes the perfect oats themselves. Using the best possible oats is the first step to creating the best possible granola. At Husk & Honey, we believe it all begins with what’s inside the husk.

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Written by Emma Louise Pudge | @emmahitsthespot