Who would have thought, from one tiny grain, a whole industry of food innovation, wellness and flavours can grow?
But that's the story behind the humble oat, one of Finland's best loved and most widely grown crops - accounting for 13% of the EU's total oat production each year.
While oats thrive in temperate climates all across the world, they particularly enjoy cooler temperatures and some rain - meaning the growing season in Finland is not as short as you might think, and even a 'bad' Finnish summer can be a good summer for oats! The low use of pesticides and fertilizers, clean soil and pure water combine to produce high quality crop yields.
Traditionally, Finns have used oats to bake breads and make porridge - and during the coldest winter months, generations of Finns have started their days with a bowl of warm porridge mixed with berries.
And it's that long association with oats that make Finnish researchers such experts on the cereal's health benefits. So how can oats improve your health?
A specific compound found in oats called beta-glucan has been shown to lower or reduce blood cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease, and in 2012 the European Union approved oats as a food that not only reduces cholesterol, but also reduces the blood glucose spike that can happen after eating a meal.
And there's more. While eating oat foods may help to reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, oat fibre can also contribute to gut health; they're low in calories which helps with weight management; and oat grain is rich in antioxidants as well. That makes the healthy properties of oats, and the natural quality of the harvested product, attractive for wellness-conscious consumers.
So how do Finnish food companies broaden their range of healthy oat foods beyond traditional porridge and bread? The answer of course is through innovation.
Oat foods have become such an important part of Finland's food economy that they've sparked a whole new growth of consumer products in recent years.
From oat-based yoghurts, creams and ice-creams to gluten-free bread and snacks; baby food and smoothies, Finnish manufacturers are constantly coming up with new ways to innovate with oats.
Some of the country's biggest and best known brands like Fazer use Finnish oats extensively in their bread products, and in their gluten-free ranges. Fazer also opened its own mill in recent years, to produce more high quality oats. Others companies like Bioferme produce their award-winning Yosa range of oat-based yoghurts. While OATrim helps with weight reduction and stomach health. And Gold&Green's “pulled oats” product - made from beans and oats but with a texture more like pulled pork - has been so phenomenally successful in Finland that supply barely keeps up with demand.
Individual oat flakes may be tiny. But together, they become an important product fueling breakfasts and healthy living and new Finnish innovation.
To find out more about the Finnish oats and its healthiness and other benefits, visit the website of the Finnish Oats Cluster by clicking here.