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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #122

Updated on February 7, 2020
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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

What Is Your Kitchen Kryptonite?

That is the name of an article recently posted on the foodie website Serious Eats. Do you remember Superman, the man of steel? He was (almost) invincible; the only thing in the universe that could bring him to his knees was the element kryptonite.

The gist of the article is that all of us, even experienced/pro chefs will admit (if they possess at least a shred of honesty in their souls) that there is something, a tool, a cooking method, or an ingredient that frightens the goodness gracious out of them.

For me, it's the mandolin. No, not the 18th-century eight-stringed musical instrument. I'm referring to the razor-sharp kitchen slicer that creates perfect thin slices, usually of vegetables—think of paper-thin slices of potatoes for potato chips, or planks of zucchini for lasagne. It can also make quick work of your fingertips (don't ask how I know this).

I'm just curious. Is there something that you absolutely will not do in the kitchen? I look forward to your responses in the comments below.

Not Much Mail

Let's get started with today's mailbox. If you're an old friend, you already know how this works. But, if this is your first visit, let me introduce you to my kitchen.

Each week I receive questions about food ingredients, cooking or baking terms or methods, requests for recipes, and queries about nutrition. Just about anything food-related has been covered here.

I'm sharing this past week's questions and my responses; it happens every Monday. Want to join in the fun? You can leave your question in the comments below, and next week the answer will be right here. It's that easy.

Welsh rarebit (or Welsh rabbit)
Welsh rarebit (or Welsh rabbit) | Source

How Did Welsh Rarebit Get Its Name?

"I never really knew what Welsh rarebit was. I had no idea it was just cheesy toast! The name has connotations of a gourmet dish for the elite. Who knew? How did Welsh Rarebit get its name and what does it mean?"

Shauna (Brave Warrior), there are so many theories of how this dish got its unusual name. Who knows, one of them actually might be true. Here is a sampling of what I found:

  • "Welsh" in the 17th- and 18th-centuries was used as a patronizingly humorous epithet for an inferior grade, or for a substitute for the real thing. Welsh rabbit may have started life as a dish resorted to when meat was not available.
  • "The alternative spelling, Welsh rarebit, developed later. If a Welshman had some cheese, it would be a "rare bit." —Rare Bits: The Unusual Origins of Popular Recipes, Patricia Bunning Stevens [University of Ohio Press: Athens OH] 1998.
  • My friend Paul Leyton,...has delved into the musty past to come up with an explanation of why Welsh Rabbit is sometimes called Welsh Rarebit. In England...there was a time when hors d'oeuvre were known as "forebits," because they were served in advance, and the characteristic savories that come at a meal's end on British menus were called "rearbits"--hence the rarified pronunciation "rarebit."—The World of Cheese, Evan Jones [Alfred A. Knopf: New York] 1970 (p. 158).
  • I like the story that this dish, so much like fondue, got its name when Welsh wives, waiting anxiously, spied their husbands or sons returning from a hunt empty-handed and set cheese before the fire to melt, as a substitute for a dinner of game.

Cooking Temperatures For Various Types of Oil

Eric Dierker, I know that you asked a question about oils and smoke points, but I simply cannot find your exact quote. I apologize.

A smoke point is the temperature at which your cooking oil begins to send out some serious smoke signals. Oil shimmering in a ripping-hot pan can be the perfect way to create a tasty stir-fry or a stovetop-seared steak. But beyond a certain point, fat breaks down, releasing free radicals into the air and a chemical substance (acrolein) that gives foods a burnt taste, makes your eyes water and stinks up your kitchen.

I've put together a chart that shows the smoke point for most of the oils you might ever (want to) use, but I'd be derelict in my duty if I didn't take the time to issue some warnings. Just because you can cook with all of these, that doesn't mean that you should. And that is why I have also included numbers for the percentage of saturated, monosaturated, and polyunsaturated fat in each. If you don't know what that means don't worry, I'll explain that too.

Type of Oil
Smoke point in pF
Saturated Fatty Acids (not the good stuff)
Mono Fatty Acids
Polyunsat. Fatty Acids
Extra virgin olive oil
Vegetable shortening
Palm kernel oil
Rice bran
Refined safflower

Saturated, Monosaturated, and Polyunsaturated Fats

What do these words mean? It's chemistry (definitely not my best subject), but I think I can explain. There are three major groups of fats; like the Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western there are the good (monosaturated and polyunsaturated), the bad (saturated), and the ugly (trans fats).

Monosaturated and Polyunsaturated

Oils that contain unsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature but start to turn solid when chilled. Olive oil is a good example of this. What is the difference between monounsaturated and polyunsaturated? A chemist would tell you that the difference between these two fats lies in their structures.

Monounsaturated fats contain one double bond in their structures. On the other hand, polyunsaturated fats contain two or more double bonds in their structure.

What does this mean? Well, simply put there are two methods of extracting oil. First is what we call the cold-press method—the monounsaturated oils. ‘Mono’ oils such as:

  • extra virgin olive oil,
  • peanut oil, and
  • sesame oil.

These oils are made without the use of chemicals. Squeeze, press, extract. Done.

Science and innovation have helped us to discover a second set of healthy oils—the polyunsaturated oils.

These oils are manufactured using heat and solvents to extract the oil from the seed or food product. Examples are

  • walnuts,
  • sunflower,
  • sesame,
  • soybean,
  • sunflower,
  • corn,
  • canola, cottonseed, and
  • safflower oils

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats occur naturally in many foods—those made from animal products. A diet heavy in saturated fats will raise your total cholesterol level. And (more bad news), foods high in saturated fats and also typically high in calories.

Examples are:

  • fatty beef,
  • lamb,
  • pork (which of course includes bacon),
  • poultry with skin,
  • beef fat (tallow),
  • lard and cream,
  • butter,
  • cheese and
  • other dairy products made from whole or reduced-fat (2 percent) milk.

In addition, many baked goods and fried foods can contain high levels of saturated fats. Some plant-based oils, such as palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil, also contain primarily saturated fats.

The American Heart Association recommends aiming for a dietary pattern that achieves 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat. That means, for example, if you need about 2,000 calories a day, no more than 120 of them should come from saturated fats. That’s about 13 grams of saturated fats a day. One tablespoon of animal fat (bacon grease, duck fat, lard) is 116 calories and 13 grams of fat.

Trans Fats

I won't go into great detail on these because I am not including them in the list of potential cooking oils.

Trans fats are a man-made substance—an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oils to make them solid at room temperature. The benefit is that these oils spoil at a much slower rate—slower spoilage means a longer shelf-life for goods made with trans fats. And trans fats used for deep frying don’t have to be changed as often. You are probably wondering why this is a bad thing?

Trans fats are considered by nutritionists to be the worst of all fats—the Frankenstein of dietary substances. Trans fats (also called trans-fatty acids or partially hydrogenated oil) are truly a cholesterol double-whammy. They raise the bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower the good (HDL) cholesterol.

Trans fats have no place in your diet.

We're Organized

Did you know that there is a Table of Contents for this series? I have created an article that provides a detailed listing of each question I've received. It's broken down by category, and within each category, the questions are listed alphabetically. Each question is actually a hotlink back to the original post.

Here's a link to that Table of Contents.

I have also cataloged all of my personal recipes that I have shared with you in this weekly Q&A series and in all of my other articles as well. The link to that Index is here. There are hotlinks to each recipe and this will be updated as new recipes are shared.

Let's do this again next week. If you have questions about foods, cooking techniques, or nutrition you can ask them here. If you are in search of an old recipe or need ideas on how to improve an existing one I can help you. If you want to learn more, let's do it together. Present your questions, your ideas, your comments below. Or, you can write to me personally at this email address:

And, I promise that there will always be at least one photo of a kitty in every Monday post.

© 2020 Linda Lum


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