OATS, grains of the genus Avena of the family Gramineae (grass family) thrive in the moist, temperate regions of the world, though they may be cultivated in a variety of climates. The most widely cultivated is the Avena sativa, a cereal grass used for food and fodder. The plant has a flowering and fruiting structure known as in-florescence and is made up of many branches bearing florets that produce the caryopsis or one-seeded fruit. Like most cultivated plants, oats were domesticated from wild varieties at an unknown time. Domestication may have occurred around 2500 b.c., which is recent compared to other common grains.
The wild oat can be traced to western Europe, where it grew as a weed. In northern Europe, as horses were increasingly used as draft animals, oats were grown as feed. Wild oats spread from Europe to other parts of the world and were brought to North America by explorers and settlers who also introduced other grains, such as wheat, rye, barley, and flax, all crops commonly produced by American farms in the twenty-first century. Bartholomew Gosnold planted oats on the Elizabeth Islands in Buzzards Bay about 1600. The Jamestown colonists planted them in 1611. They were grown early in Newfoundland and New Netherland, along with wheat, for beer and for horses, and they spread throughout the English colonies. In the eighteenth century farmers in the Middle Colonies began to use horses instead of oxen and sowed more oats for feed. It was common that as horses became more numerous, oat production increased. George Washington tended several hundred acres of oats at his Mount Vernon farm. Oatmeal became popular during the Civil War, and by the end of the war the demand for oats had increased.
Oats have a high nutritive value but are primarily produced for livestock feed. Their agricultural uses are various. Oats are valuable in crop rotation, and oat straw is used for animal feed and bedding. Those oats produced for human consumption are chiefly rolled oats, flattened kernels with the hulls removed, used as a breakfast food and a baking ingredient. Oat flour, although used in the production of some food, does not contain the glutinous type of protein necessary for making bread. Oat grains are high in carbohydrates and contain about 13 percent protein and 7.5 percent fat. They are a source of calcium, iron, and vitamin B1. Bran content varies as some or all of the bran is frequently removed and used as a separate food product. Furfural, a chemical used in various types of solvents, is derived from oat hulls.
The Quaker Oats Company, the largest U.S. producer of cereal oats, officially formed in 1901, when the Quaker Mill Company of Ohio incorporated with a large cereal mill in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the German Mills American Oatmeal Company of Ohio. In the early twenty-first century the United States was one of the leading oatproducing countries.
Beeman, Randal S., and James A. Pritchard. A Green and Permanent Land: Ecology and Agriculture in the Twentieth Century. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2001.
Heiser, Charles B., Jr. Seed to Civilization: The Story of Man's Food. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1973.
Hoffbeck, Steven R. The Haymakers: A Chronicle of Five Farm Families. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2000.
Oatmeal is ground oats; oatflour is ground oats with the bran removed; groats are husked oats; Embden groats are crushed groats; Scotch oats are groats cut into granules of various sizes; Sussex ground oats are very finely ground oats; rolled oats are crushed by rollers and partially precooked.