Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

The world produces more oats than rye today, but 95% of the crop is fed to animals. Oats are the grains of Avena sativa, a grass that probably originated in southwest Asia and gradually came under cultivation as a companion of wheat and barley. In Greek and Roman times it was considered a weed or a diseased form of wheat. By 1600 it had become an important crop in northern Europe, in whose wet climate it does best; oats require more moisture than any other cereal but rice. Other countries, however, continued to disdain it. Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary (London, 1755) gives this definition for oats: “A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.”