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Do you use milk vs water for steel cut oats?

Quick Answer

Whether to use milk or water when making steel cut oats largely comes down to personal preference. Both milk and water can produce delicious steel cut oatmeal. Milk adds more protein, calcium, and vitamin D, while water allows the oats’ natural flavor to shine through. Those avoiding dairy or watching their calorie intake may prefer water. Ultimately, it’s best to experiment with different liquid bases to find your perfect bowl of steel cut oats.

Explaining Steel Cut Oats

Steel cut oats, also known as Irish oatmeal, are a less processed form of oats made by cutting the whole oat groat into smaller pieces. This produces chewier, heartier oats compared to instant or rolled oats. Steel cut oats take longer to cook, usually 20-30 minutes on the stovetop. Their cooking time makes them an ideal breakfast when you have time to let them simmer.

Steel Cut Oat Nutrition

One serving of steel cut oats contains:

Nutrient Amount
Calories 150
Protein 5g
Fiber 4g
Iron 10% DV

As you can see, steel cut oats deliver protein, fiber, and iron in a hearty 1/4 cup dry serving. The fiber keeps you full and satisfied, while the iron supports red blood cell production.

Steel Cut Oat Benefits

Research has uncovered several evidence-based health benefits linked to eating steel cut oats:

– Lower cholesterol levels
– Reduced blood pressure
– Improved blood sugar control
– Lower risk of heart disease
– Aid in weight maintenance

The soluble fiber in steel cut oats, known as beta-glucan fiber, is responsible for many of these benefits by binding to cholesterol in the digestive tract. This helps remove LDL or “bad” cholesterol from the body.

Using Milk in Steel Cut Oats

Many people prefer using milk when making their steel cut oats. Milk adds creaminess, protein, and valuable nutrients. Here’s an overview of using milk in steel cut oats:

Nutrition Benefits

Adding 1 cup of 2% milk to a serving of steel cut oats provides:

– 149 calories
– 8g protein
– 12g carbohydrates
– 8g fat
– 302mg calcium (30% DV)
– 100IU vitamin D (25% DV)

As you can see, milk significantly boosts the protein and calcium content of steel cut oats. The protein and fat also helps you stay fuller for longer after eating.

Lactose Content

The lactose content depends on the type of milk used:

Milk Type Lactose Content
Whole milk 4.8g lactose per cup
2% milk 4.7g lactose per cup
1% milk 4.7g lactose per cup
Skim milk 5.0g lactose per cup

As shown, lactose content remains similar across milk types. Those with lactose intolerance may want to opt for lactose-free milk or a milk alternative like unsweetened soy, almond, or oat milk.

Taste and Texture

Milk creates a richer, creamier bowl of oatmeal. Whole milk is ideal for adding lush texture. Lower fat milk still provides creaminess while keeping calories in check. Milk brings out the natural sweetness of steel cut oats.

Using Water in Steel Cut Oats

Using water as the base for steel cut oats allows their natural flavor to take center stage. Here’s an overview:

Nutrition Profile

Using 1 cup water in steel cut oats gives:

– 150 calories
– 5g protein
– 27g carbohydrates
– 2.5g fat
– 4g fiber

As you can see, water alone keeps the nutrition stats simple, focusing on the oats themselves.


The benefits to using water include:

– Allows oat flavor to shine
– Lower in calories and fat than milk
– Easy to digest
– Naturally dairy-free and vegan

Water is a blank canvas that puts the spotlight on the hearty steel cut oats.


Using water results in a thinner, less creamy texture. Some find it too thin. It also lacks the protein, calcium and vitamin D provided by milk. Those looking for a nutrient boost may want to combine water with milk alternatives like almond milk, or add toppings like nuts, fruit or yogurt.

Comparing Milk and Water for Oats

Here is a side-by-side comparison of how milk and water differ when making steel cut oats:

Milk Water
Calories 149 per cup No calories
Protein 8g per cup No protein
Carbs 12g per cup No carbs
Fat 8g per cup No fat
Calcium 30% DV No calcium
Texture Creamy Thin, watery
Flavor Sweet, rich Allows oats to shine
Other Nutrients Vitamin D None added

As shown, milk boosts protein, calcium and vitamin D while providing a richer texture and flavor. Water allows the oats to take center stage in terms of taste and nutrition.

Choosing Your Liquid

When deciding between milk and water for steel cut oats, keep the following in mind:

Nutrition Goals

If you want extra protein, calcium, vitamin D or creaminess, go with milk. Those focused solely on the oats’ nutrients themselves may prefer water.

Dietary Needs

People avoiding dairy or limiting calories/fat should opt for water. Water is naturally vegan and lower calorie.

Flavor and Texture

For sweet, creamy oats, milk is ideal. Water provides an unfussier canvas focusing solely on the oats.

Ingredients on Hand

If you have milk in the fridge, it conveniently gives your oats a nutrient boost. Water requires no ingredients and uses just the oats.


Oats made with water allow toppings like fruit, nuts or syrup to shine. Milk-based oats feature the milk flavor upfront.

Sample Recipes

Here are two sample recipes highlighting milk and water in steel cut oats:

Creamy Maple Milk Oats

Ingredients Amount
Steel cut oats 1/4 cup dry
Milk 1 cup
Water 1/2 cup
Maple syrup 2 Tbsp
Cinnamon 1/4 tsp
Pinch of salt


1. In a small pot, combine the oats, milk, water, salt and cinnamon.

2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Remove from heat and stir in maple syrup. Top with extra milk and maple syrup.

Simple Stovetop Oats with Water

Ingredients Amount
Steel cut oats 1/4 cup dry
Water 1 1/2 cups
Pinch of salt
Optional toppings: fruit, nuts, milk, syrup


1. In a small pot, combine the oats, water and salt.

2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook 20-25 minutes.

3. Remove from heat. Top as desired with fruit, nuts, milk or syrup.

Tips for Perfect Oats

Follow these tips for delicious steel cut oats every time:

– Use a heavy-bottomed pot to prevent sticking and scorching

– Stir frequently during cooking, especially at beginning

– Remove from heat when oats are still slightly chewy

– Cover and let sit 5 minutes to finish cooking

– Add a pinch of salt to balance flavor

– Customize with your favorite toppings like fruit, nuts or milk

– Store any leftovers in the fridge up to 4 days

– Add more water when reheating to reach desired consistency


Is it bad to use water instead of milk?

No, using water instead of milk is not bad. Water allows you to focus on the flavor of the oats themselves. You miss out on some of the protein, calcium and vitamin D in milk, but water is lower in calories.

Do you have to use milk for steel cut oats?

No, you don’t have to use milk. Many people prefer water or non-dairy milks. Milk provides added nutrition, but your oats will turn out fine using just water.

Which milk is best for oatmeal?

Whole milk and 2% milk provide the creamiest, richest texture and taste. Skim or low-fat milk work too. Non-dairy milks like almond, oat or soy also produce great results.

Should you soak steel cut oats overnight?

Soaking steel cut oats 6-8 hours or overnight can help soften them and reduce stovetop cooking time. Just combine oats and water in a pot and refrigerate. In the morning, heat oats untildesired consistency is reached.

Can I use half milk and half water?

Yes, using a mix of half milk and half water lets you get the benefits of both. The milk provides added nutrients and creaminess, while the water allows the oats’ flavor to come through. Adjust the ratio to your taste.


Whether you prefer the creaminess and added nutrition from milk or the simplicity of water, you really can’t go wrong when making steel cut oats. Let your personal taste preferences, nutrition goals, and ingredients on hand guide you. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different liquid bases and toppings to create your perfect bowl of hearty steel cut oats.