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Cooking Oils

Thursday, 26 November 2009 | Tags:

Whether you're cooking with a just a spoonful of vegetable oil, or using a large amount for deep frying, ensure you make the healthiest choices with these tips.

The Basics

  • For high-temperature cooking, stick to vegetable oils like canola, safflower, peanut or sunflower oils. Other oils can become unhealthy when heated to high temperatures.

  • Check the nutrition chart and ingredients list on the bottle label for types and levels of fats.

  • As part of a balanced and varied diet, use a variety of oils, including oils from different sources and oils that contain different kinds of fatty acids. Do not use one oil to the exclusion of others-any food in excess is not recommended.

    • Avoid vegetable oils that describe the type of fat with terms like hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, and saturated.

    • Good fats are listed as unsaturated, polyunsaturated, or monounsaturated.

    • Canola oil is the lowest in saturated fats and is at the top of the list of heart-healthy options.

  • For high-heat frying, use a refined oil with a high smoke point (which means it can be heated to high temperatures before it begins to break down). Unrefined, specialty oils like extra virgin olive oil generally taste better in salads and marinades, and can be used for low-temperature sautéing.

  • Blended oils may not list every ingredient. Generic “cooking oils” are generally soybean-based.

  • When reusing your frying oil, remember that the smoke point may be lower now than when it is fresh.

Olive Oil

  • Look for olive oil that comes in a tinted jar or dark container. As with beer, the dark glass protects it from light and keeps it from going rancid.

  • Look for a best before date. Quality olive oil will last between 12 and 18 months.

  • Color is not an indicator of quality. Excellent oils can range from light gold to dark green.

  • Read more about olive oil and a taste test we conducted

Peanut Oil

  • For better health, choose oils/fats that are low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat.

  • Peanut oil is about 50% monounsaturated, 30% polyunsaturated, and 20% saturated fat.

  • Peanut oil has a longer shelf life than other oils and is good for frying because of its high smoke point.

  • Oils with a high smoke point can be used multiple times for deep frying before you need to replace the oil with a fresh batch.

  • Once the oil reaches its natural smoke point, it begins to decompose and create an unpleasant smelling compound that tells you it’s time to change the oil.

  • Store oil in an airtight container at a dark place away from light.

Walnut Oil

  • Walnut oil is produced by grinding the flesh of the nut into a paste. The paste is then put through a roasting process, which determines the quality of the final product. If it is not roasted after grinding, a lesser quality oil results, so when shopping for walnut oil, be sure to check the label for confirmation that the nuts have been roasted.

  • The best quality walnut oil has a rich, topaz (translucent gold) colour.

  • Walnut oil is not recommended for use in high temperature cooking because high heat tends to infuse it with a bitter quality that reduces, or even obliterates, the fine nutty flavor.

  • If unopened, a bottle of walnut oil will last up to three years.

  • If stored in the refrigerator, an opened container will last as long a year, but will typically begin to lose its quality after about 6 months.

Sesame Oil

  • When buying sesame oil for cooking, look for “pure toasted” sesame oil that is dark amber in colour.

  • Some are mixed with less expensive oils such as canola, which dilutes the toasted sesame flavour.

  • Japanese brands of sesame oil are consistently delicious.

  • Keep all forms of sesame oil in the refrigerator as it tends to become rancid easily.

    • Don’t worry if the oil becomes cloudy from the cold – upon reaching room temperature, it will become clear again.

  • For the most flavour, add sesame oil at the end of the cooking time – if heated too long, it loses much of its nutty flavour.

Canola Oil

  • Canola is a light, mild-flavored, all-purpose oil ideal for sautéing or baking at medium to medium-high temperatures. It should not be heated above 120F, or its chemical make-up begins to transform (i.e. become less healthy).

  • Canola oil can be used in place of butter or shortening in baking recipes. It can also be blended with softened butter and used as a spread that has a nice buttery taste. 

  • This oil is perfect for any light cooking or for making sauces and desserts that don’t have strong flavors such as tender cakes and homemade mayonnaise.

  • To find the highest quality canola oil, look for expeller-pressed, organic varieties.

  • Store in the refrigerator for up to nine months.

  • Canola is a specifically-bred variety of rapeseed and is part of the mustard (or Brassica) family whose other members include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and mustard greens.

  • Canola oil is the healthiest of all common cooking oils and contains both monosaturated fatty acids and alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid). It is particularly beneficial for heart health due to its fatty acid profile (similar to olive oil), low saturated fat content and relatively high omega-3 content.

    • Because of its high Omega-3 content, heating canola oil above 120F may change some of the fatty acids into trans fats.

  • Replace solid fats (e.g. butter, shortening) with canola oil substituting 3/4 of canola oil for every cup of solid fat.

  • Be sure to buy organic canola oil since the seeds are often sprayed with pesticides.

  • An alternative to canola oil is grape seed oil. Because of its high smoke point it acts the same as canola oil.

Grapeseed Oil

  • Grapeseed oil comes from the seeds of many varieties of grapes and is made by pressing the seeds as they are removed from the grapes.

  • It is mostly produced in major wine-making countries such as Italy, France, Argentina, and Spain, where grapes are abundantly grown.

  • Although the seeds are easy to acquire as a by-product of making wine, each seed only produces a small amount of oil, making the oil itself less abundant in large quantities.

  • Europeans have known about grape seed oil for centuries, and they are very aware of its many benefits in cooking, cosmetics and skin care, and medicine.

  • Grapeseed oil has a very high smoking point, about 420 F, and can be used safely at high temperatures without breaking down.

  • The high smoke point of this oil makes it perfect for sautéing, braising, stir-fries and fondues. Foods can be cooked quickly at high temperatures without burning, and the oil is not overly absorbed into the food.

  • Grapeseed oil is also loaded with antioxidants. It offers the same benefits in foods as grape juice and red wine.

  • Studies have shown that grapeseed oil contains healthy fat, and not only reduces the LDL (bad cholesterol) levels in the blood, but raises the HDL (good cholesterol) levels. It’s also high in Vitamin E, which makes it healthy to eat and stable to cook with.

  • Grapeseed oil also has a neutral flavour, which enhances the natural flavour of food so it can be used in salad dressings, marinades, homemade mayonnaise and spreads, and baked goods.

  • After purchasing grapeseed oil make sure that it has a clean mild smell. If it smells pungent, chances are you have purchased oil that has gone bad and been exposed to the air. Dispose of it or return it to the store and obtain a new bottle.

  • Like most oils, flavours change through oxidization so make sure you purchase a smaller bottle versus a larger bottle if you aren’t going to use it often.

Oolichan Oil

  • Oolichan oil comes from a smelt-like fish found along the west coast of North America, from California to Alaska.

  • This rich oil is used to flavour bland vegetables or meats, enhance the taste of fruits and berries (as well as preserve them), and bind dried fish or berry cakes.

  • It’s also a powerful salve for burns, insect bites, abrasions, and chronic skin conditions.

  • The oil can also be used as a waterproofing agent, traditionally used with moss to help seal cracks in canoes, to soften leather and protect it from water damage, and to seal leaky roofs.

  • Oolichan oil is high in monounsaturated fat, a fat that lowers total cholesterol and is closest in composition to olive oil.

  • It also has a relatively high docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) content, which repairs and builds material for the brain nerve synapses and reduces the tendency of blood cells to clog the arterial system.

  • Oolichan oil and other marine sources of DHA are now used to treat depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, addictions, auto-immune diseases, childhood learning disorders, and chronic pain.

  • If you can’t find Oolichan oil, a good substitute can be salmon oil or extra virgin olive oil.

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