Comparing Oils

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These oils come from nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. Some oils can better handle heat depending on their smoke point.

A higher smoke point means it will be good for frying or sauteing. Lower smoke points mean you want to use them as additions to dips or dressings for salads. If your oil starts to smoke it should be discarded because it has lost some of its nutritional value and will start to taste bitter.

Heat and light can be damaging to oils so store in a cool and dark place. If it develops an odor or bitter taste, discard it. Grapeseed and walnut oil are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids and may turn rancid faster. For this reason they should be kept in the refrigerator to prolong their usability.

Plant oils are a rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). When PUFA- and MUFA-rich oils are used in place of saturated and trans fats such as butter and shortening it may help to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. It does this by improving related risk factors such as total and LDL blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation. Plant oils also provide vitamin E which help build and maintain cells in the body.

Avocado

  • Nutrition:
    • >70% MUFAs
  • Health Benefits:
    • May boost absorption of carotenoids (powerful antioxidants) and lower blood pressure.
  • Flavor:
    • Buttery and nutty
    • Delicate avocado taste
  • Cooking:
    • High smoke point (520°F) makes it ideal for sauteing and frying fish or chicken
    • Emerald green color makes it a pretty finishing oil for grilled vegetables
    • Perfect for dipping
    • Base for salad dressing
    • Holds an emulsion well
  • Pairings:
    • Citrus fruits
    • Tomatoes
    • Chardonnay
    • Champagne

Canola

  • Nutrition:
  • Flavor:
    • Light
  • Cooking:
    • Works well with sauteing and stir fry
    • Use to coat pans, pots and grills to prevent sticking
    • Replace solid fat such as butter or margarine when cooking or baking

Coconut

  • Nutrition:
    • Saturated fat
    • Virgin oil is high in lauric acid
      • Medium chain fatty acid that may have a neutral or beneficial effect on cholesterol levels
  • Flavor:
    • Sweet
  • Cooking:
    • Often substituted for shortening or butter in vegan recipes
    • Used with vegetables, curry dishes, and fish for a tropical flavor

Corn

  • Nutrition:
    • High in PUFAs
    • Contains saturated fat
  • Flavor:
    • Mild
  • Cooking:
    • All purpose
    • Ideal for baking, sauteing, and stir-frying
    • Use for flavorful Southwestern soups, stews, or quesadillas

Flaxseed

  • Nutrition:
    • Contains omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids
    • Often cited vegetarian alternative to fish oil
  • Cooking:
    • Has a low smoke point so not ideal for cooking
    • Drizzle over quinoa
    • Combine with herbs & vinegar to make a salad dressing

Grapeseed

  • Health Benefits:
    • May help with eczema and osteoporosis.
  •  Nutrition:
    • Rich in PUFAs
    • High in vitamin E and omega-6
  • Flavor:
    • Neutral, lets other ingredients shine
  • Cooking:
    • Has a moderately high smoke point (425°F) making it great for sauteing and frying
    • Use in dressing and dips for vegetables
    • Great for baking
    • Pasta sauces, soups and salad dressings

Macadamia Nut

  • Health benefits:
    • Anti-inflammatory properties may help with memory and asthma.
  • Nutrition:
    • Has more oleic acid than olive oil.
  • Flavor:
    • Subtle macadamia taste adds flavor to dishes
  • Cooking:
    • Smoke point and suggested use: 400-450°F (medium-high heat)
    • Good for stir-frying and using in vinaigrettes.
    • Pan-fried fish
    • Nice in Asian dishes.

Olive

  • Nutrition:
    • High in MUFAs and polyphenols
  • Flavor:
    • Extra-virgin olive oil has less acid, fruitier flavor, and stronger aroma than pure or virgin olive oil
    • Light olive oil is often lighter in hue or flavor but not calories
  • Cooking:
    • Use in dressings and dips
    • Good for sauces and marinades
    • Use a heavier oil with larger flavors or assertive vegetables
    • Use a lighter oil on lighter meats like veal or fish or in pasta dishes
    • Bake cakes
    • Saute or fry vegetables & meat

Peanut

  • Nutrition:
    • MUFAs
  • Flavor:
    • Deep flavor
  • Cooking:
    • High smoke point so it’s often used in deep frying
    • Great in stir fry
    • Used for ginger dressing

Pumpkin Seed

  • Health benefits:
    • Excellent source of heart-healthy essential fatty acids.
    • Studies suggest it eases symptoms of an enlarged prostate.
  •  Nutrition:
    • Contains linolenic acid although not as much as walnut oil
  • Flavor:
    • Rich & nutty, earthy
    • Deep color
  • Cooking:
    • Smoke point and suggested use: 250°F (low heat)
    • Best as a finishing oil for meats and vegetables.
    • Drizzle over squash soup
    • Tasty over grilled corn on the cob and excellent over asparagus.
    • Create a flavorful salad dressing
    • Pour over ice cream with roasted pumpkin seeds
  • Pairings:
    • Citrus
    • Maple syrup
    • Mustard
    • Corn
    • Winter squash
    • Certain vinegars

Rice Bran 

  • Health Benefits:
    • Studies suggest it lowers cholesterol and has potential as an anticancer agent.
  • Flavor:
    • Mild flavor lets other flavors stand out.
  • Cooking
    • Smoke point and suggested use of 490°F (high heat)
    • Great for high-heat sauteing and pan-frying.
    • Excellent for wok-cooking shrimp and vegetables.

Sesame

  • Health benefits:
    • Helps keep cholesterol and blood pressure in check and lower blood-sugar levels.
  •  Nutrition:
    • Rich in MUFAs and PUFAs
  • Flavor:
    • Sweet & nutty
    • If toasted, more intense flavor & aroma
  • Cooking:
    • Smoke point and suggested use: 350°F (medium heat)
    • Typically used in Asian cuisines
    • Drizzle over Asian cabbage slaw with a sprinkle of black sesame seeds
    • In stir fry, use a combination of peanut & a dash of dark sesame oil for bolder flavor
    • Great for medium-heat sautéing, for baking and in marinades.
    • Delicious in a soy vinaigrette.
  • Pairings:
    • Ginger
    • Mustard
    • Rice wine vinegar

Sunflower

  • Nutrition:
    • High in PUFAs, specifically linoleic acid
    • There are high-oleic acid versions that make it significantly higher in MUFAs
  • Flavor:
    • Refined oil has a neutral flavor and color
  • Cooking:
    • Unrefined oil breaks down at high temperatures so use it for dressing or as a finishing oil
    • Refined oil has a higher smoke point making it ideal for baking, frying, or sauteing
    • Usually combined with more expensive specialty oils such as walnut and grapeseed oils in salad dressings

Vegetable

  • Nutrition:
    • Primarily PUFAs
    • Considerable MUFAs and saturated fat
  • Flavor:
    • Neutral
  • Cooking:
    • All purpose
    • Good heat tolerance so best used in baking and sauteing

Virgin coconut oil

  • Health Benefits:
    • May increase good-cholesterol levels.
    • Has antiviral and antibacterial benefits
    • May help fight Alzheimer’s.
  • Nutrition:
    • Lauric acid
  • Flavor:
    • Distinct coconut flavor:
    • Creamy and buttery
  • Cooking:
    • Smoke point and suggested use: 325°F (medium heat)
    • Great for baking
    • Nice when melted and used for light sautéing.
    • Add a spoonful to oatmeal
    • Great in banana bread and muffins.

Walnut

  • Health benefits:
    • Rich in melatonin, a sleep-regulating hormone, levels of which diminish with age.
    • Aids in decreasing risk of heart disease
  •  Nutrition:
    • High concentration of α-linolenic acid which partially converts to omega-3s
  • Flavor:
    • Nutty
    • Savory
  • Cooking:
    • Smoke point and suggested use: 320°F (medium heat)
    • Doesn’t stand up to high heat
    • Best used as a dressing especially combined with bits of walnuts
    • Good as a flavor enhancer
    • Brush a thin coat on grilled fish and steaks just before serving
    • Good for drizzling over cooked vegetables
    • Finish summer soups like gazpacho.
    • Try in dessert recipes that will be enhanced by the nutty flavor
  • Pairings:
    • Chicken
    • Turkey
    • Red grapes
    • Fish
    • Steak

 

Reading the labels

Cold-pressed or expeller-pressed

  • The oil is extracted by a machine that presses and grinds the seeds or olives at a low temperature or uses a centrifuge
  • Helps retain more flavor
  • No chemicals used

Refined

  • After extraction, the oil is processed to remove impurities, including pesticides, and is bleached
  • Increases shelf life
  • Improves the taste and color

Unrefined

  • No further processing is done after extraction
  • Can’t be used for high-heat cooking such as fry
  • May spoil more quickly than refined varieties
  • Always choose organic when buying unrefined as pesticides are not removed

Extra-virgin

  • Lowest smoke point and best for dressings

Virgin

  • Can be heated and used for cooking

Pure

  • Highest smoke point
  • Used for frying and roasting

Light

  • Refers to flavor of the oil, not the calorie or fat content

References:

  • Stewart, Martha. (2014, June 27). “Time for an Oil Change.” Retrieved from http://www.courier-journal.com/story/life/home-garden/2014/06/27/martha-stewart-time-oil-change/11448941/
  • Kuzemchak, Sally. “The healthiest new oils.” Shape. December 2015. 116
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