Oil-o-rama! How to Choose The Correct Cooking Oil
“Hey, Amber, I read your article about butter…uhhhh- I only cook with olive oil. See how much healthier I am than you??” Ok, I didn’t actually get that response verbatim, but I did get a LOT of feedback about how healthy olive oil is for you, and how it’s being used to exclusion of everything else. No, no, NO! Um…I mean, gentle people, let me explain to you how there are approximately a thousand great choices in oil and how oil is definitely not a “one size fits all” product.
First- the nutritional blurb
There are four types of fats: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans fatty acids. Of these four there is a place in your diet for all of them but trans fatty acids. If you take nothing else from my blogs, please remember this- when you think of trans fats, I want you to picture taking a bite out of a big block of gelatinous death that will kill your organs. There, now, put the trans fats down and follow me down the path of better (and delicious!) oil choices.
For a long time, monounsaturated fat was what nutritionists trotted out as the “end all be all” of oils. Don’t get me wrong. It is still a fantastic choice in fats. It actually lowers your bad cholesterol and has a neutral impact on your good cholesterol. Sounds good to me! But, as I stated earlier, this is not the only source of oil that your body is going to love you for eating. However, here are a few monounsaturated oils that you may not be using and where you will really appreciate the flavor:
This one is becoming much more prevalent on the market today. I think that turkey fryers really got this oil more attention. It is a decent oil for frying because peanut oil doesn’t absorb flavor. So, if you are frying more than one item, they are all going to come out tasting like what they are supposed to taste like. However, peanut oil does have a relatively low smoke point (350 degrees), so watch your heat carefully. This is also a great oil for light sautéing of Thai dishes. The nutty flavor goes hand in hand with these dishes.
Mmmmmmmm. Wow, does this oil have a great flavor or what? It’s nutty and buttery and fabulous. I like to use this oil in baking. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the outcome if you switch out the vegetable oil that I know is lurking in your pantry with this oil the next time you bake. Also, this oil has a really high smoke point (495 degrees)- so grill, sauté, or do whatever you do that requires high heat to your heart’s content.
This is yet another really flavorful oil. Go easy on this guy because he does have a few more calories (only about 4 more per tablespoon compared to the other oils on the list, but still). The flavor in this oil is great for salad dressings, and for marinades on fish and chicken. This oil also has an added benefit of being chock full of heart healthy Omega 3 fatty acids. So, basically it’s a win/win situation. Your heart is happy and so is your mouth!
I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t often use polyunsaturated oils. I haven’t had many that have flavor profiles that make me reevaluate my life choices (sesame oil is the one exception to that rule). Wait, wait, wait. There is a major benefit of these oils. They will definitely help lower your total cholesterol. The only issue is that both your bad and good cholesterol levels may drop. So, keep an eye on your good cholesterol and give the following oil a try.
The reason that I include safflower oil is because of its general non-flavor. I am the queen of intense and interesting flavor profiles, but you know what? That’s not everyone’s thing. I’m okay with that. So, for you people that just want an oil that gets the job done with no changes to the flavor of what you are eating- this one is for you. Safflower oil has a nice high smoke point of 450 degrees, so it can handle high heat. Also, this oil is super hard to solidify, so refrigeration is not a concern.
For forever, this fat was frowned on in a BIG way. In fact, when I was getting my degree in nutrition, I learned how two bites of saturated fat would probably kill you instantaneously and only insane people would ever allow it to pass their lips. But, like everything else in nutrition, if you wait long enough, you learn that maybe the world is not quite so black and white and that there can be some pleasant shades of gray. (I’m holding out for the day that we learn that lettuce is a carcinogen…)
I couldn’t have an article about oil without including a blurb on the biggest oil craze to sweep the nation since the invention of margarine, now could I? Ok, actually I was until my mother asked me to put it in…Here you go, mom! Coconut oil is indeed a saturated fat. However, it does have fewer calories than all the other oils on this list. It also has absolutely zero trans fatty acids- yay! This oil is a medium chain fat that can be quickly broken down by your body. It gives everything a little bit of a tropical feel because it does taste like coconut. I actually like my fried eggs made with this oil. YUM! Want to see it really shine? Try it in hash browns or popcorn. Oh wow…your mouth will never be the same!