"Groat" is an old Scottish word that referred specifically to oats, but now the term can be applied to any whole kernel of grain that has been minimally processed to remove its outer husk or hull, sometimes called chaff. You may see them simply called "whole." You can find some sort of groats in nearly every cuisine in the world.
What Are Groats?
Groats are a whole grain that retains the endosperm, the germ, and the bran, thus preserving all of the nutrition. They have a hearty, chewy texture and must be soaked or simmered to soften them. Oats, wheat, and barley can be processed into groats.
Alternately, the word groats can be used to refer to buckwheat in its whole kernel form. A relative of rhubarb, buckwheat is technically a seed, but it's cooked and used as if it were a grain, with the benefit of being gluten-free. Roasted buckwheat groats are called kasha, a porridge staple in Eastern Europe.
How to Cook Groats
Groats are usually prepared first by soaking and then slowly simmering them until they soften. Refer to the recipe you are using to get the cooking directions when you prepare groats. If you are substituting grains or using cut or crushed groats, the cooking time may be different.
Buckwheat or barley groats give texture to blood sausage or black pudding. In England, groaty pudding, a traditional slow-baked dish served on Guy Fawkes Night, includes soaked groats, beef, leeks, and onion and can take up to 16 hours to cook. Simmered in milk, grouts are often served as a breakfast porridge mixed with fruit or jam; a sweetener such as maple syrup, brown sugar, or honey; or nuts.
Some people buy groats to mill their own flour and retain all of the nutrition of the whole grain. Such flour would have a shorter shelf life due to the germ, but home cooks might mill the flour immediately before using it.
What Do They Taste Like?
The taste depends a bit on the grain variety, though most groats have a slightly nutty flavor that gets more intense when you toast them. Groats incorporate well into slow-simmered porridges and soups, where they absorb the flavor of the cooking liquid and added seasonings.
Oats may seem synonymous with breakfast, but you can prepare a savory porridge or serve them like a pilaf or in place of rice as the base for a stir-fry. Most varieties of grain groats can be interchanged, although the cooking times may need adjustment.
Where to Buy Groats
Any grain can be called a groat, as long as it retains all but the chaff. Most grocery stores carry oat, wheat, barley, and possibly buckwheat groats. You may need to look for less common grains, such as amaranth, millet, teff, spelt, and sorghum, at health food stores or online.
Keep grains fresh by storing them in an airtight container in the pantry or a cabinet protected from heat and moisture. Cooked grains last in the refrigerator for three to four days. You can freeze cooked whole grains in plastic or glass airtight containers for up to six months.
Steel-cut oats are sliced oat groats, which cook faster but still retain all of the nutrition of whole groats. They're sometimes marketed as Irish oats. Wheat berries and bulgur are both names for wheat groats; bulgur is parboiled and used in tabbouleh and other dishes. Barley groats may be sold as hulled barley and whole-grain millet as millet berries.