Ode to oats, the latest, and healthy, food fad here

Health-conscious folk are loading up on overnight oats and eateries are using the cereal grain in drinks, desserts and baked goods

They look pale and unappetising and do not taste particularly good.

Yet, oats are becoming popular here. People are turning to the cereal grains for their health benefits, which include lowering cholesterol. Celiacs are also eating them as many oat brands are gluten-free.

Oats are commonly sold in supermarkets and organic grocers and many shops also sell them as a topping for frozen yogurt.

The trend of overnight oats - rolled oats soaked in milk or yogurt - is also catching on fast. A Facebook group called Overnight Oats Singapore has almost 1,900 members who share everything from pictures of their homemade overnight oats to recipes to tips on how to make oats palatable.

Also, at least two shops are selling oat-based drinks - All The Batter in Anchorpoint in Alexandra Road and Simply Oat in East Village in Upper Changi Road.

All The Batter's latest creation is Fruit Bran, which is hand-roasted rolled oats blended into a drink with honey and fruit.

Its co-founder Kelly Koh, 25, says: "Oat-based drinks are getting increasingly popular among young and middle-aged adults. The trick is in making the oat-based drink tasty yet light and refreshing."

She is also looking to introduce desserts featuring oats and customers can add oats to the restaurant's other dessert drinks as well.

For those who prefer eating oats in a bar form, check out Oat Bar at Irving Place near Upper Paya Lebar. It is run by Annabella Patisserie Trading, which mainly produces macarons, but plans to focus on oat bars in the later part of this year.

The bars can be ordered online and include Asian-influenced flavours such as curry and tom yum.

Founder Annabella Sonwelly Soen, 35, has plans to create new flavours such as chicken rice and chilli crab. She says: "Oat products are popular in the Western market, where stores carry a wide range of products with oats, such as granola bars and breakfast muesli. We understand that people here are getting health-conscious."

Nutritionists and dietitians whom The Sunday Times speak to say there are various health benefits to eating oats.

Ms Bibi Chia, principal dietitian of Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre, says: "Soaking oats overnight might have a slight improvement on digestibility and absorption of nutrients due to the slight reduction in phytate - a compound found in grains - which may interfere with nutrient absorption."

She adds that according to the Health Promotion Board, it is best to consume 20 to 30g of fibre a day, of which 2 to 10g should be soluble fibre. "Three grams of soluble fibre from oats may be very effective in helping to lower one's cholesterol level," she says. "This is equivalent to 1.5 bowls of cooked oats or overnight oats daily."

Whether they are soaked overnight or not, the nutritional value remains the same, says specialist dietitian Bridget Marr of Nutritional Solutions. "Soaking or cooking oats softens them, which may make them more palatable. Adding yogurt, milk, fruit, nuts or seeds to oats makes for a nutrient-dense breakfast," she says.

She also recommends cooking oats as porridge and making oat cakes, or using the grains in homemade granola or granola bars.

Parkway East Hospital's dietitian Rddhi Naidu suggests using oats as a binder for meatloaf and burger patties, or as a crunchy topping for casserole dishes. She adds that oats contain polyphenol compounds, which have antioxidant properties that are beneficial for heart health.

The kind of oats people eat makes a difference too.

Eat Right Nutrition Consultancy's nutritionist Lim Ying says instant oats can be "less beneficial" due to a higher glycemic index (GI), compared with regular oats made into porridge with reduced-fat milk. GI is a ranking of carbohydrate foods based on how quickly they raise blood sugar levels.

Ms Lim says: "Food with higher GI, such as instant oats, are more rapidly digested and absorbed, resulting in a quicker rise in blood sugar levels. As a result, you may feel hungrier in a shorter period of time. They may also contain sugar and flavouring, making them less healthy."

Consuming oats has helped mothers such as Ms Donna Ho, 40, a restaurant general manager, to boost their breast milk supply. She started eating oats after her second son was born.

She says: "I did some research and saw that lactation cookies contained oats. That's when I started eating oats and I feed them to my sons too. They are good for them."

Civil servant Gloria Kow, 29, says: "I started to like oats after eating them to boost breast milk supply as recommended by my confinement nanny. I'm too lazy to make overnight oats or oat cookies, so I just have instant oats with Milo."

Ms Melody Chong, 38, a freelancer in public relations and health coaching, says her overnight oat meals can take the place of breakfast or lunch. It is also a fun way for her to experiment with different combinations of fruit, nuts and non-dairy milk as she is lactose-intolerant.

She says: "Overnight oats are great for Singapore's hot weather or as a nice dessert. It's fun to play around and add anything you want."

Mr Ignatius Chan, 52, owner of Iggy's, a fine-dining restaurant at the Hilton Singapore, started eating steel-cut oats almost every morning four years ago. This was after his doctor told him he was prediabetic and had high cholesterol levels.

His helper would par-cook the oats and he would then cook a small bowl of the grains with chicken or fish stock. Occasionally, he would eat them with Japanese pickles, pickled cabbage or fermented tofu.

The oat fan says: "I highly recommend oats to all as they have reduced my cholesterol and I am no longer pre-diabetic.

"I have not tried it yet, but I am keen to explore the traditional sweet version with fruit, nuts, milk, fromage blanc or yogurt."


BERRIES OVERNIGHT OATS


Avoid soggy fruit by adding them to the oats before serving.

When she was working in San Francisco , Ms Melody Chong, 38, developed a love for oats, as the trend of eating overnight oats was big in the United States then.

"I was looking for easy-to-make breakfast options and found that oats do not have to be boring and bland. Overnight oats are appetising and colourful and I can be creative, says Ms Chong, who is a freelancer in public relations and health coaching.

Indeed, her creative overnight oats might be mistaken for decadent parfait desserts. She uses different fruit, nuts, milk and spices in her layering and soaking of the rolled oats.

She says: "Instant oats crumble easily when soaked, while steel-cut oats are too hard. Oats can be slightly toasted, processed or cooked before soaking, based on texture preference."

The oat base can also be flavoured with cacao, nut butter or pureed fruit.

To avoid soggy fruit, do not soak them overnight. Instead, add fresh fruit just before serving.

INGREDIENTS

For the oats

  • 11/2 cups unsweetened plain almond milk
  • 11/2 Tbs chia seeds
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped (or 1/4 tsp vanilla essence)
  • 3 to 4 tsp maple syrup (or coconut palm sugar, agave, or Stevia to taste)
  • A pinch or two of Himalayan pink salt (or normal table salt)
  • 11/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup fresh raspberries and strawberries, roughly diced
  • 1/4 cup fresh blackberries and blueberries

Toppings (optional)

  • 2 teaspoon flaxseed meal
  • 2 teaspoon buckwheat groats
  • 2 teaspoon almond slices
  • 2 strawberries
  • 2 gooseberries
  • Mint leaves
  • 2 vanilla bean pods

METHOD

  1. To a 0.75-litre mason jar, add 1/2 cup of almond milk, 1/2 tablespoon of chia seeds, half of the vanilla bean seeds, two teaspoons of maple syrup and a pinch of Himalayan pink salt.
  2. Stir together with a spoon.
  3. Stir in 1/2 cup of oats and press down with the back of the spoon to ensure all the oats have been moistened and are immersed in the almond milk.
  4. In a separate jar or container, add the rest of the almond milk, chia seeds, vanilla bean, maple syrup and Himalayan pink salt. Stir in the rest of oats and press down with the back of the spoon to ensure all the oats have been moistened and are immersed in the almond milk.
  5. Cover both jars securely with a lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or for at least six hours.
  6. The next day, add raspberries and strawberries to the oats in the mason jar.
  7. Spoon in half the oats from the other jar, followed by a layer of blackberries and blueberries. Add the final layer of oats on top.
  8. Garnish with your choice of toppings. Best consumed within one day and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Serves two


SAVOURY OATS

INGREDIENTS

For the stock

  • 500ml water
  • 4 pieces prime pork rib
  • 1 chicken carcass
  • 3 garlic cloves, whole and peeled
  • 2 small red onions, peeled and sliced
  • 15g white anchovies, finely chopped (can be left whole for adults)

Others

  • 30g minced pork
  • A dash of corn flour (optional)
  • A dash of sesame oil (optional)
  • 60g quick-cooking oats
  • 100g pumpkin, cubed
  • 5 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 100g silken tofu, cubed
  • 1 egg

METHOD

  1. Bring water to a boil in a pot and place all the ingredients for the stock inside. Bring to a boil again and leave to cook for two hours on medium-low heat.
  2. Mix the minced pork with corn flour and sesame oil.
  3. After two hours, turn the heat to low. Sieve out the pork bones and chicken carcass. Add the oats, pumpkin and minced pork to cook for about 10 minutes or until the oats are soft.
  4. Add tomatoes and tofu. Add egg and stir to break it up.
  5. Serve hot.

Serves two children or one adult


Oats 101

STEEL-CUT OATS

What: Oat groats which have been cut into two or three pieces with metal blades. Oat groats are the remaining edible parts of the oats after the hull is removed.

ROLLED OATS

What: Rolled oats are created when oat groats are steamed and rolled into flakes. Best used for making overnight oats.

QUICK-COOKING OATS

What: Rolled oats processed into thin pieces that cook faster than whole rolled oats, but not as quickly as instant oats.

INSTANT OATS

What: Processed rolled oats that are pre-cooked and dried, usually with flavourings or sweeteners added. They can be rehydrated with boiling water.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 10, 2016, with the headline 'Oat to good health'. Print Edition | Subscribe