The History Of Oats

Little history of oat is known prior to the time of Christ. Oats did not become important to man as early as wheat or barley. Oats probably per­sisted as a weed‑like plant in other cereals for centuries prior to being cultivated by itself. Some authorities believe that our present cultivated oats developed as a mutation from wild oats. They think this may have taken place in Asia Minor or south­eastern Europe not long before the birth of Christ.

Probably the oldest known oat grains were found in Egypt among remains of the 12th Dynasty, which was about 2,000 B.C. These probably were weeds and not actually cultivated by the Egyptians. The oldest known cultivated oats were found in caves in Switzerland that are believed to belong to the Bronze Age.

The history of oats is somewhat clouded because there are so many different species and subspecies, which makes identification of old remains very difficult. The chief modern center of greatest variety of forms is in Asia Minor where most all subspecies are in contact with each other. Many feel that the area with the greatest diversity of types is most likely where a particular plant originated.

Oats were first brought to North America with other grains in 1602 and planted on the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts. As early as 1786, George Washington sowed 580 acres to oats. By the 1860s and 1870s, the westward shift of oat acreage in the United States had moved into the middle and upper Mississippi Valley, which is its major area of production today.

Oats are high in unsaturated fats, yet curiously enough have little storage requirements because the grain has a rare natural antioxidant that actually delays rancidity.

Before the discovery of chemical preservatives, commercial bakers often added a pinch of ground oats to breads and cakes to stave off early staleness. So it is not surprising that a package of oats should have a life expectancy of up to a year on a pantry shelf in an air-tight container and longer still if the temperature is moderately cool.

As well, to enable the oats to retain all of their elements without spoiling quickly, the kernels or groats are heat-treated to reduce the enzyme lipases, which cause the breakdown of fats. This heating enables oats and oatmeal to be stored for longer periods and also gives the oats a delicious lightly toasted flavor.

In preparation for flaking, the outer shell is removed from the oat kernel and then steamed and rolled flat. The steaming process also enhances the digestibility of oats and does not destroy the enzymes or any vitamins.

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