Spring Cooking Tip: Know Your Oils

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Oils are useful substances that have gained considerable attention in the culinary world. They add flavour to foods, and can often be easier to work with than butter or lard, not to mention healthier. However, not all oils are best for every application. There are some facts that should be taken into consideration, not limited to method of production, smoke point, and the overall antioxidant profile of specific varieties. In this article, we’ll provide some basic facts, as well as explore the different profiles of the most popular oils, letting you know which ones are best for frying, baking, desserts, or salads.

Basic Facts About Oils:

• Transfats are found nowhere in nature. These substances have been tampered with to behave like saturated fats.

• Hydrogenation is a process that exposes oil to extreme heat and pressure, while introducing hydrogen in the presence of a metal.

• Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and less often thought of as healthy.

• Monounsaturated fats have the greatest impact on LDL cholesterol, but do not tamper with the beneficial variety, HDL.

• Polyunsaturated fats also lower LDL, but they have a similarly negative impact on HDL.

Oil Profiles:

Here we’ll briefly discuss each of the most popular oils, giving a few facts and interesting features about each variety.

Vegetable Oil

Generally a mix of plant-based oils, the nutritional benefits of this variety are questionable. Your best bet is to check the nutritional information to ascertain whether you’d like to use it. If it contains more than 20 percent saturated fat, nutritionists generally recommend that you avoid it. Deep-frying and any high temperature cooking are the best uses for this oil, as it typically has a high smoke point.

Canola Oil

This variant of rapeseed oil has a light colour and neutral flavour profile. While it is industrially processed, which renders its nutritional benefits questionable, it is high in monounsaturated fats, with a nice round of omega-3 fatty acids. The high smoke point of 205 degrees makes it a good oil for cooking, but its viscosity and negligible flavour render it undesirable for raw usage.

Olive Oil

Extra Virgin is the first pressing of the olives, and the most flavourful. Use it for salad dressings and other dishes where its flavour can be appreciated. Packed with antioxidants and healthy fats, you can use this oil for frying, sautéing or baking. However, while it has a smoke point of 215 degrees, it does lose some of its nutritional load when exposed to high heat. Other varieties are usually mixtures and labelled as “light” or “pure” and are less desirable.

Avocado Oil

With a smoke point of up to 250 degrees, this somewhat pricey oil is worth it. A buttery, smooth oil with all the benefits of the avocado, it’s perfect for both high heat applications and as a drizzle over pizza or salads.

Sesame Oil

Another highly flavoured oil, this elder of the oil world is best used as a replacement for butter or as a distinctive ingredient in Asian dishes, marinades, and sauces. This oil is also a rich source of vitamin K, which acts as a coagulant and an aid to increasing bone density.

Macadamia Oil

A speciality oil produced largely in NSW, this rich and buttery oil makes a fabulous addition to cakes, sautéed dishes, and fish. It has a smoke point of 230 degrees, and is rich in monounsaturated fats.

Peanut Oil

This golden, nutty oil has a smoke point and nutritional profile similar to Macadamia oil. It makes an excellent addition to Asian dishes, and is heart health. Refined, it is allergen-free. Cold-pressed is not.

Sunflower Oil

This oil has a smoke point of 225 degrees, which makes it ideal for deep frying or high-heat sautéing. As well as being relatively neutral in flavour, it’s rich in polyunsaturated fats, it makes an ideal choice for cooking.

Cotton Seed Oil

As a bi-product of the cotton industry, this cheap, readily available oil with a high smoke point is often used in deep-frying. However, its 27 percent fat profile isn’t made up of the good sorts, so we suggest you steer clear.

Coconut Oil

While it is usually solid at room temperature with 90 percent saturated fat, this high-fat oil has many benefits. It is a source of many trace minerals and antioxidants, Lauric acid among them. Beyond being a great substitute for butter, it creates sumptuous baked goods with a mild sweetness. Stay away from hydrogenated. Go for cold pressed and use advisedly.

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