The cooking oil section in the supermarket is well anointed with a growing selection of oils. Often, there’s slick labeling leaving us perplexed about what we should be putting in our basket. Recent research has made the fats arena even more confusing with a new Australian study altering the advice for extra virgin olive oil.
Cooking oils are liquid fat derived from plants, seeds or nuts. I’m often grilled about what types to use and how they differ. Oils have a similar energy content of about around 700 kilojoules per tablespoon. Grape seed or extra light olive oil might sound healthier but you still only need to use one to two tablespoons when cooking.
The different health benefits lie in the type and ratio of fat oils contain. Check labels to see what type of fat is included. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the good types that lower your cholesterol. Saturated fats are the bad ones that do the opposite. Olive oil also has the benefit of vitamins K and E and oleocanthal which reduces the likelihood of diseases such Alzheimer’s and cancer.
The next thing to consider is how you want to use your oil. Some oils can handle the heat and have what’s called a high smoke point. A smoke point is the point at which your oil starts to break down and lose its taste and nutritional value. This temperature also releases free radicals that can harm cells and DNA.
Olive, sunflower, canola and vegetable oils have a high smoke point and can be used for stir-frying and sautéing. A recent Australian study also showed that extra virgin olive oil has a high smoke point. These oils all contain healthy fats and less saturated fat. Peanut and grapeseed oil are also good for high temperature frying.
For lower temperatures use vegetable and olive oil. If baking, it’s best to use foil or baking paper where possible. Most oils are now being produced in a spray form so use a light spray for grilling, baking and roasting. Store oil in a cool, dark place so you’re not shortening its shelf life. Also, buy local as oils deteriorate when transported over long distances.
Salads, marinades, sauces and dips require flavour and different types of oils again. Use extra virgin olive, flaxseed, walnut or linseed oil. Some oils with higher smoke points can also be used. Good choices are avocado, grapeseed, macadamia or sesame oil for Asian cuisine.
Olive is one of the most versatile oils and is sold in different forms. Extra virgin has less acid and a fruitier, stronger flavour than pure or virgin olive oil. Olive oil labeled as light refers to its hue or flavour not its kilojoules. Extra virgin olive oil has become a lucrative product which has resulted in some companies diluting it with inferior oils. The best way to determine authenticity is to taste and smell the product.
Palm oil should be avoided as almost half of it contains saturated fat and this oil has a big impact on the environment. Look out for it in vegetable blends. Coconut oil is also a saturated fat that is extracted from the coconut flesh leaving behind vitamins and beneficial polyphenol antioxidant compounds that are found in other oils. Although, it has been promoted to reduce cholesterol there is limited data to support this.
Don’t let the shelves dripping with cooking oil fry your brain. Many of the oils have similar properties and flavour. If you have the budget to have avocado oil on your Italian salad and sesame oil on your noodles then enjoy it. For most of us, simply including a good extra virgin, light olive and vegetable oil in the basket should make your dishes sizzle.