cooking oils

Growing up, my mom only cooked with vegetable oil or Crisco shortening.  When I was on my own and began cooking for my family, I quickly realized that I didn’t want to use something like Crisco to cook so I rarely used it (and don’t use it at all anymore).  Vegetable oil was a different story though.  Most recipes that require oil, call for vegetable oil.  But a look at the shelf in the grocery store shows a wide variety of different oils.  So I set out to learn about the other options.  And here is what I found out:

Olive oil

A look at the grocery store shelves will show you that there are many different types of olive oil.  You will see virgin, extra virgin, extra light, and refined.  Along with the many varieties, you will also find many different price variations, ranging from inexpensive to quite expensive.  The differences are the result of the age of the oil, ripeness of the olives, climate and soil the olives were grown in, and the extraction method used.  There are many different taste variations as well.  Olive oil has many uses including stir-frying, sautéing, and as an ingredient in recipes (a good substitution for vegetable oil).  Olive oil is one of the healthiest oils because it is high in mono unsaturated fats, which has been shown to be heart healthy as it lowers LDL cholesterol and increases HDL cholesterol.  Some studies have also indicated that olive oil can reduce the ricks of certain cancers, heart disease, blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Vegetable oil

Vegetable oil is one of the most commonly used oils blend of several different oils, including corn, soybean, palm and sunflower.  Don’t let the word vegetable fool you, it does not mean that it is made from vegetables.  It is used in many recipes such as baked goods and can be used for frying. It is one of the cheapest oils available.  I don’t use it anymore because it is a blend of cheaper oils.  The solid forms such as butter and shortening have been chemically modified.  I would recommend staying away from vegetable oils and opting for a different type of oil.

Canola oil

Canola oil is commonly used in frying, but only for temperatures up to about 450 degrees F.  Canola is made from the rapeseed plant.  It has been recognized by the FDA as being safe but there are variations in the quality and methods of production.  Canola oil contains omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to lower cholesterol.

Corn oil

Corn oil is used for frying and baking and is popular in margarine.  It is relatively low on saturated and mono unsaturated fats.  Like canola oil, it can only be used when frying with medium temperatures.  Some research has shown that the high ratio of omega-6 fatty acid compared to omega-3 fatty acids.  This could lead to negative health benefits with over-consumption.

Sunflower oil

Sunflower oil is used in many snacks such as potato chips because it is low in saturated fat and keeps food fresher for longer.  Sunflower oil is also high in Vitamin E.

Grape seed oil

Grape seed oil is more appropriate for higher temperatures.  It has a very clean flavor that will not interfere with the flavors of the food.  Additionally, it has been shown to have several positive health effects including anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-histimine properties.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is believed to have many health benefits including being easily digested.  This oil is highly saturated and has a much longer shelf life than the other oils.  After learning about all of the other uses for coconut oil, I’m a huge fan now and use it regularly.  Check out some of these non-cooking uses for coconut oil here.

Other oils

There are many other oils available including sesame, poppy seed, and peanut.  Because these oils are expensive and spoil rather quickly, I don’t keep them on hand.

What should you look for in an oil?

As always, read the ingredient list.  You only want natural ingredients and one that is not chemically extracted or genetically modified.  You should look for an oil that is high in Omega-3 fatty acids.  And in order for you to actually enjoy the food prepared with oil, you would want to make sure it has a pleasant, taste-enhancing flavor (or little or no flavor).    You also want to get fresh oils; quality oils will go rancid within about a year.  It’s always a good idea to read labels and understand how the oils are processed and what they are good for.  We need fats to be healthy….it is the over-consumption of unhealthy fats that leads to trouble.  Remember that if you find an oil that is cheap, there is probably a very good reason for it!

I personally use extra virgin olive and coconut oil, almost exclusively.  Some recipes (especially Asian recipes), call for sesame or peanut oil, but I find that olive oil is very versatile and tastes great!  If you haven’t tried some of the other types of oil, try experimenting with a different kind.

What oils do you regularly cook with and why?  Any specific recommendations?

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