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Health Benefits of Naked Oats

By and on August 12, 2013
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Looks like rice. Cooks like rice. Tastes like rice. But a new hulless and hairless oat variety known as “naked oats” packs a much more powerful nutritional punch, says Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) emeritus plant breeder Vern “Dr. Oat” Burrows, who continues to work with a team of AAFC scientists.

The crowning achievement of more than 15 years of intensive research by the world-renowned oat breeder and his team at Canada’s federal agriculture department, this so-called “rice of the Prairies” clocks in at twice the protein (16-18%), 10 times the fibre and five times the iron of white rice.

Bearing the variety name “AC Gehl”, this versatile, made-in-Canada crop gets its “naked” nickname because it has virtually no hairs on the kernel and a seed hull that falls away during harvesting. AC Gehl is the world’s first truly hulless and hairless oat variety in the world. This is not only a plus at the production and processing stage, but for consumers it opens the door to a whole range of new nutritional choices.

"Oat has valuable nutritional and health benefits, but does not get the recognition for its tremendous potential," says Burrows.

With high levels of beta glucan, antioxidants and lysine, naked oats are a veritable nutritional powerhouse that can help lower cholesterol, ward off heart disease and build muscle. It is also suitable for gluten-free diets for celiac patients.

Burrows and his colleagues have worked closely with the Canadian Celiac Association to develop and perfect a method to keep oats pure at every step, from planting to retail. There’s already a gluten-free line of pure oats on the market called Lara, from Cream Hill Estates in Quebec, whose founders set out to help their daughter with Celiac disease.

The naked oat is also seen as a key nutritional weapon in the fight against hunger at home and abroad. Soup giant Campbell Canada is using the grain in Nourish, a complete ready-serve meal which the company launched recently with a donation to food banks across the country.

Naked oats have already found their way onto store shelves under the brand name “Cavena Nuda, Rice of the Prairies”, marketed by Wedge Farms of Manitoba.

At the consumer end, chefs are taking an interest in this new variety to enhance their menus with a fresh, new ingredient that is both natural and locally-grown. Naked oats were featured at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and served to world leaders at the G-20 Summit in Toronto last summer.

And there are a host of other exciting potential markets. The product is currently being tested as a replacement for imported oat/rice mixtures, as well as snack foods, pilafs, soups, puddings, stuffings and even beer.

Naked oats is the latest in a long line of innovations and discoveries to come out of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada over the 125-year history of agricultural research in Canada, leading to more varied, nutritious, sustainable and higher quality food for Canadians. 

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