The oat (Avena Sativa), sometimes called the common oat, is a species of cereal grain grown for its seed – which is known by the same name but normally in the plural. While oats are suitable for human consumption as oatmeal and rolled oats, one of its most common uses is as livestock feed. Oats are a nutrient-dense food with numerous health benefits including lower blood cholesterol when consumed regularly.
The first example of an oat-based beverage was in the early 1990s, when Scientist Rickard Oste developed oat milk. Oste was researching lactose intolerance and sustainable food systems at Lund University in Sweden when he invented the drink. Soon thereafter, using his patented enzyme technology that copies nature’s own process to turn fiber rich oats into nutritional liquid food for humans, Oste founded Oatly, the first commercial manufacturer of oat milk.
The production of oat milk is similar to that of most other plant milks. Cereal grains like oats are indigestible when unprocessed due to their hard, outer hull, so processing is necessary to create a product with nutrients which are bioavailable. The procedure starts by grinding, or milling, oats to break apart their outer hull.
Soaking and subsequently extracting nutrients from the oats have the most direct implications on the final milk product. Increasing the yield in this step may be assisted by chemical catalysts, enzymes, or an increase in temperature, all in order to remove nutrient molecules from the solid byproduct and incorporate them into the liquid. Chemical catalysts increase the pH of the mixture, enzymatic catalysts induce partial hydrolysis of proteins and polysaccharides, and higher temperatures increase reaction rates. Separating the liquid from the solid byproduct is a simple step achieved through filtration, decanting, or centrifugation.
Once the liquid product is isolated, adding other ingredients, such as fortifying vitamins and minerals, or sweeteners, flavorings, salts, oils, and similar, formulates the final product. Oat milk is naturally lower in calcium, iron, and vitamin A than dairy milk, so the addition of these nutrients is necessary in order for the product to be a viable dairy milk substitute. Homogenization and heat-treatments such as pasteurization or ultra-high temperature (UHT) treatments are used to extend the product’s shelf life.
Oat milk, with its naturally creamy texture and a characteristically oatmeal-like flavor, is highly applicable for diets of individuals who suffer from lactose intolerance (LI), cow’s milk allergy (CMA), celiac disease (CD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), radioiodine cancer treatment, eczema, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and other conditions which cause poor reactions to dairy. But the use of oat milk in one’s diet can also be a lifestyle choice, independent of medical dietary restrictions, because of its high fiber content, strong nutritional profile and more environmentally sustainable footprint.