Difference between Oats and Oatmeal

Many people are confused about the difference between oats and oatmeal. Most people think that they are one and the same. Others think of oatmeal as the result of cooking oats. While this is one definition, it is important to look at this difference by viewing the typical social views of oatmeal. After all, what do you think of when you say you are going to go buy oatmeal?


steel cut oats
Steel-cut oats

Oats are the seeds of a grain, much the same as wheat. Oats are most commonly grown in North America. Canada is the largest producer and exporter of oats.

Oatmeal (rolled oats)
Oatmeal (rolled oats)

Oatmeal can refer to the product of cooking oats. However, for most people the definition is that it is the type of oats you buy to make the cooked cereal. Both definitions are accurate, and both are commonly used.

Comparison Chart

Oats Oatmeal
Unprocessed oats Oats processed for easier cooking
Whole or steel cut oats Oats sliced thinly and rolled
Typically fed to livestock Often pre-cooked for instant cereal

Oats vs Oatmeal

What is the difference between oats and oatmeal? Let’s compare them by the way the grain is processed and how it cooks.

  • Oats refers to whole oats, which are cylindrical and unprocessed. These are the oats that are fed to livestock.
  • Oatmeal typically refers to rolled oats. These are oats that are cut thinly so that they can be cooked within about five minutes. They are mushier.
  • Oats can also refer to steel cut oats. These are cut randomly so that they are in smaller pieces than the whole grain, but are otherwise unprocessed.
  • Oatmeal can also refer to the cereal that is created from the grain. This is usually in the form of 1 minute oats or instant oatmeal. This is rolled oats that have been pre-cooked and re-hardened for faster cooking times. It is mushier than other rolled oats.
  • Oats can also be cooked for human consumption, but they take longer to cook and are chewier. Whole oats must be soaked before cooking.