This journey was sponsored by The Quaker Oats Company, but all opinions are my own.
It is no secret that I love oatmeal. And a visit to the Quaker HQ in Chicago was my very first blog trip back in 2008! If you followed along on social media, last week I had the chance to travel to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to tour the Quaker Oats milling facility, see the “seed to spoon” process first hand, and meet the passionate people behind the oats. As a company with a rich 140 year history, I couldn’t wait to see how Quaker has been operating and innovating over the years!
I flew into Cedar Rapids last Wednesday. I worked in my room for a bit and went to the hotel gym for an hour of easy movement before getting dressed up for dinner. I had high hopes of sightseeing outside – perhaps a run along the river – but it was WAY colder than I was prepared for! Brrr!
I met up with the other bloggers, many of whom were also RDs, to walk to dinner at the cozy Cobble Hill Eatery.
Cobble Hill was creative and did a good job incorporating Quaker oats into our three courses.
Our first course was a kale salad packed with oat crackers made from Quaker Gluten Free Quick 1-Minute Oats, golden raisins, charred apple, and a pecan dressing. Those crackers were fantastic!
Next we had a Sweet Potato and Steel Cut Oat Risotto (Quaker, of course!) with charred leeks, an herb salad, and chicken stuffed with local sausage that was really good! I loved the crunchy sweet potato chips on top.
And finally, for dessert we enjoyed Oat Panisse with blackberries, candied ginger, and yogurt “yolks,” which were like little bubbles of yogurt. So cool! The oat cakes tasted like donuts. (100% whole grain donuts!)
In the morning I heard a “knock” for breakfast and had Quaker Overnight Oats delivered to my door! What a lovely surprise breakfast. I’m already a Quaker Overnight Oats fan so this was a great way to start the day!
We caravanned over to the plant to begin our tour. The Cedar Rapids mill is the largest oat mill in the world and is one of seven that Quaker runs. It truly is the epicenter of oats! It’s been operating since the late 1800s and even survived a huge flood in 2008.
Upon entering the mill, all kinds of delicious smells wafted about. From maple syrup and brown sugar, to the aroma of toasting oats. We talked oats to start, reviewing the milling process and nutritional properties. The oats begin their life growing in fields, mostly in Canada. Quaker has a Direct Growers Program which is comprised of about 400 farmers who are proud to grow oats for Quaker. The Direct Growers program provides about 50% of the oats for Quaker (and that’s a LOT of oats!) We were joined by Al, one of Quaker’s Direct Growers from Saskatchewan, who farms with his brother and their families. He said this year’s harvest was ideal with a few rains early and dry weather up to the harvest.
We geared up in all kinds of safety clothing to get ready for our tour through the plant!
Once Quaker receives the oats from its growers, they undergo a lot of different tests to ensure they meet “The Quaker Standard” of quality. Samples are tested for moisture and beta-glucan content (among other measurements) and are inspected for impurities like frost damage or sprouting. Quaker is committed to such high-quality standards because the soluble fiber from oatmeal, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Beta-glucans are one form of that soluble fiber that helps lower blood cholesterol.
Once they are given the quality thumbs up, the oats go through the milling process. First they are cleaned, removing any elements of nature. Then the outer hulls are removed and aspirated through an air tube to separate them from the inner groats. Quaker believes in using the whole oat, so the hulls are recycled for other industries, such as renewable energy and animal feed.
The groats then go through Quaker’s kilning process, which deactivates enzymes and removes moisture that might cause spoiling or sprouting. We were the first group of non-Quaker people to ever see this kiln in action! Quaker’s proprietary kilning process is truly unique within the industry and gives Quaker Oats a distinct toasted flavor.
The kiln was so big it spanned several floors and you could see down many levels under your steel-covered toes!
The groats are then cut and turned into a variety of Quaker products: Steel Cut Oats (cut only), Quick 3-Minute Steel Cut Oats (cut and steamed), Old Fashioned Oats (cut and rolled), Quick 1-Minute Oats (cut, rolled, and steamed).
Ta-da! These are some freshly rolled old fashioned oats.
Once the oats are ready, the packaging begins. The tubes are assembled and then filled, all with fancy machines.
Finally, they are shipped away to consumers around the world!
As a room of foodies and RDs, we talked a lot about nutrition too. There is no difference between a whole groat or instant oatmeal except the physical state it is in. Remember the changes of matter from elementary school science? Water is still water whether it’s ice or steam, and oats are still oats whether they are whole groats or cut and rolled. The only difference is the surface area and shape, which affects cooking time most of all. The nutrition content is the same. Oats are 100% whole grain and a good source of fiber and important vitamins and minerals.
I hope there is a warming bowl of oatmeal in your day today!
This journey and post was sponsored by Quaker.