Choosing Gourmet Cooking Oils
With all the cooking oils available, it is hard to know
what to use and when to use it. There
are so many considerations – is it saturated, polyunsaturated, or
monounsaturated? Is it hydrogenated or does it contain trans fatty acids? And
what’s all the noise about smoke point and flash point? It almost seems like
too much bother.
Before you throw in the kitchen
towel, let me offer you a few pointers on choosing the right cooking oil. For
those who would like more detailed information, click on the links at the bottom
of the page. And most importantly, if you have dietary health concerns, always
consult with your doctor before making a change to your diet.
Fats and oils are essential in
cooking. They add tenderness to our baked goods, richness to sauces, not to
mention flavor to many of the foods we cook. Without going into a long
dissertation on oils and health, keep a few simple things in mind when selecting
Hydrogenated oils, such
as shortening, have
been chemically changed into a solid and should be avoided.
Saturated fats come from
animals and tropical oils (palm and coconut) and become solid at normal room
temperature. These should also be avoided.
Unsaturated fats mainly
come from plants and are in a liquid state when at room temperature.
Monounsaturated fats have
been proven to help lower the bad cholesterol (LDL). Olive oil, canola oil,
and peanut oil are common cooking oils high in monounsaturated fat.
Polyunsaturated fats are
considered relatively healthy. Grapeseed oil, safflower oil, and sunflower
oil are all high in polyunsaturated fat.
How Oils Are Extracted From Their
There are two main methods for
extracting oils from their source. Probably the most widely used
method is the solvent-extraction method. The ground ingredient (plants, seeds,
nuts, etc.) is soaked in a chemical solvent. Once the oil is extracted, the
solvent is boiled out. In the second method, which is chemical free, the
ingredient is heated to about 160°F, and then pressed to produce what is
commonly referred to as cold pressed oil.
In both methods, once the oil has
been extracted, it is referred to as unrefined or crude oil. In its crude
state, the oil is cloudy, with both an intense flavor and aroma. Unrefined
cooking oils are generally sold for commercial or manufacturing use. The oil we
buy off the shelf at the market has been refined. The color is lighter and the
oil is clear, with a delicate aroma and flavor.
Three Oils No Pantry Should Be
Always consider using the
healthiest oil that is appropriate for your recipe. For example, Extra Virgin
Olive Oil (EVOO) has become the oil of choice for most cooking methods with 2 major
exceptions - deep-frying and most sweet baked goods. EVOO adds a rich, fruity
flavor to meats, pastas, vegetables, marinades, and salad dressings. In
addition to its delicious full bodied flavor, extra virgin olive oil is
relatively low in saturated fat, and is high in monounsaturated fat. Although
extra virgin olive oil has a relatively high smoke point (about 400 - 410°F) it
is best reserved for low to medium heat cooking as the flavor breaks down with
Another healthy choice is Grapeseed
Oil. It has a mild, almost bland flavor and unlike extra virgin olive oil,
grape seed oil won’t over power delicate flavors. Grape Seed Oil also has a
relatively high smoke point (400 - 425°F), making it perfect for pan searing
delicate sea foods such as fresh scallops, shrimp, and oysters. Grapeseed
is low in saturated fat and high in polyunsaturated fat. Grape Seed Oil is perfect for
salad dressings, high heat pan-frying or sautéing, and as an everyday oil.
For baking and deep frying, Canola
Oil is a good choice. It is low in saturated fat, about medium in
polyunsaturated fat, and high in monounsaturated fat. It is almost tasteless
and has a relatively high smoke point (400 - 435°F).
What is Smoke Point?
An oil’s smoke point is the
temperature at which it will begin to smoke. The more refined an oil is, the
higher its smoke point. When looking at a general smoke point guide, keep in
mind that it is just a GUIDE. Always keep an eye on oil while heating because
the smoke point for any given oil can vary by 10 to even 30 degrees depending
upon how refined the oil is. Remove a pan of smoking oil from the heat source
to keep the oil from reaching its flash point.
Links to Products:
Gourmet Olive Oils |
Flavored Gourmet Oils
The information contained in
this article is intended as general cooking information only. It is not
intended to supersede or replace instructions from your health care
Using Gourmet Olive Oils and Grape Seed Oils