Oils for cooking and for health


Guru's of Penmai
Feb 5, 2011
Olive, sunflower, vegetable, sesame, avocado - we give you the lowdown on which is best for cooking, for dressings, for baking, and for your health...

Let’s begin by exploding two myths about cooking oil and your diet. First, a tiny amount of saturated fat is recommended by the FDA as necessary for your health.

You don’t need to search it out, however, because it’s found in most people’s diets already. Avoiding saturated fat (like butter or fats from meats that are also filled with bad cholesterol) is still highly recommended, although a direct link between saturated fat and heart disease has not as yet been established.

The second myth is that any oil in your diet should be avoided

Oil is absolutely necessary for health in everyone’s diet. The problem is when there is too much of it. For losing weight, some dieticians insist that you need two teaspoons per day regardless.

Now as to what kinds - most people know that butter and other animal fats, including dairy, are the least healthy and olive oil and canola are the most. However, these aren’t the only good oils, and oil in general is one of the things that make food flavourful.

Using oil for cooking

Olive oil, though it may sometimes be used to sauté, smokes at a much lower temperature than many oils. For Chinese food, for example, peanut oil is much better because it is both flavourful and can bear the very high heat that the wok requires for quick cooking and stir fries. Olive oil is usually preferred for cold dishes like salads and dressings, not just in standard Italian cooking.

While in sautéing the quality of the olive oil is less important (its flavour breaks down with heat), when pairing with cold foods (such as in salad dressings or for dipping bread), use the best quality, extra virgin, cold pressed oil you can afford.

Canola is a good, standard oil for things like baking, partially because it is more bland than the tasty olive and because it will work in most dishes that require oil. If you are serious about eliminating as much oil as possible, however, you can substitute things like apple sauce for oil in many recipes like quick breads. Consult a recipe.

But olive, canola, and peanut oils are not the only healthy, flavourful ones available

Although they can be quite expensive, nut oils are delicious and can be extremely healthy. For example, walnut oils have a distinct edge and contain omega 3 fatty acids, necessary for heart and brain health. Sesame oil, both light and dark, is what makes Chinese food taste “Chinese”.

Almond oil, while a little more subtle than the other two, is delightfully fragrant as well as healthy. Grape seed oil is another one to try. The important thing to remember when using nut oils, however, is that they should be used in tiny amounts because of their powerful flavour. A tiny amount in this case would mean a few drops. Experiment slowly the first time you try one of these so that you don’t overpower your foods.

Avocado oil is extremely healthy and works well in salad dressings. Its pungent flavor tends to override others though, so it’s best to refrain from using it for cooking.

Many other kinds of specialty oils can be found in your grocery store, but if the one you want isn’t there, make a trip to a gourmet or specialty food shop.


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