12 October 2013

Oils Aint Oils


Some questions have been asked lately about why I use olive oil or coconut oil in my cooking.

So I'll tell you: oils aint oils.

Not all oils have the same health benefits or work as well in cooking.  And most definitely not all oils, no matter how they are marketed to us, are good for us.

I use olive oil for roasting vegetables because I love the flavour it gives them. I use it in savoury muffins, breads, scones and dressings because I love the flavour it gives them. It is also a good oil - one that generally hasn't been corrupted by manufacturing or GMOs - and the health benefits are many. I use EVOO for dressings and drizzling over salads.
Olive oil is very low in Omega 6 fatty acids (good to avoid) and very high in flavonoids (good for us). Buy your olive oil in cans or dark glass bottles and store it in a cool, dark cupboard for the best shelf life. Even so, use it within six months of opening it. It comes on sale regularly, so keep an eye open. For the best olive oil try and find locally produced oil from locally grown olives - you'll taste the difference straight away.

I use sunflower oil for frying. Olive oil doesn't do well with high temperatures, it has a very low smoke point, so it's not a good oil to use for frying. Sunflower oil on the other hand is light, can handle the higher temperature required for frying and has a nice neutral flavour. I also use it in sweet cakes, muffins, puddings and some marinades because of it's neutral flavour.

I use sesame oil (sparingly, it is very strong) in stir-fries and fried rice. It has a delightful, nutty flavour and really brings out the flavour of Asian style dishes. A small bottle will last a long, long time so I buy the smallest bottle I can find, otherwise it goes rancid and gets wasted, and as sesame oil is rather expensive I'd rather not waste it.

Unrefined, virgin coconut oil. I love the flavour it gives baking - just the tiniest hint of coconut. I also love the health benefits. Coconut oil is very high in fat, so if you are watching your weight eat it sparingly, but it's also very low in Omega 6 fatty acids (the really bad ones you want to avoid like the plague). This is a great oil, solid at room temperature. And you can whip it up and use it as a moisturiser after your shower, it's wonderful on dry skin.

As well as going into my soap, rice bran oil is good for stir fries as it less temperature sensitive than other oils. It's also good in bread.

And lastly butter. We don't do margarine in our house so butter is used as a spread, in baking and for sautéing. A little butter goes a long way and gives a rich flavour to gravies and sauces, and helps to thicken them naturally.

All the oils I buy, except the olive oil, are in small bottles and I keep them on the top shelf of the pantry, where it's cool and dark. Heat and light damage oil, so try and buy your oils in smaller (600ml max) dark glass bottles and store them like I do, in a cool, dark place or the fridge. 

Some chefs recommend storing oil in the fridge - it may go cloudy and thicken if you do. Don't worry, it's fine, a few minutes at room temperature quickly brings it back to normal. Our pantry doesn't get that hot, it maintains a fairly constant temperature year round so I don't bother with the fridge.

To use oil I put it into a spray bottle and simply squirt the pan or baking dish, rather than pour oil into it. For example when I do rosemary and garlic vegetables or even just baked potatoes, I put them in a bowl, squirt them a few times, add the herbs, toss them through and then tip the lot into the baking dish. The vegetables brown up beautifully without swimming in a sea of oil. To make wedges I do the same thing, adding paprika instead of herbs and roasting the potatoes for 30 minutes in a 220 degree oven (turn them after 15 minutes).

Using a spray bottle saves a lot of oil and saves a lot of money. I also use a pastry brush, just for oil. It comes in handy for brushing the inside of muffin cups and cake tins instead of using baking paper or cooking spray (which stains pans and leaves a sticky residue on them if it's not thoroughly washed off). It's also handy for brushing meat and vegetables while they're cooking.

Oil is expensive, but that doesn't mean it has to put a strain on your grocery budget. Shop and use it wisely and you'll be able to enjoy the benefits without the huge cost.

Disclaimer:   There is a ton of differing information available about oils and their health benefits. These are the oils I use. Bear in mind I'm not a chef or a nutritionist, I've chosen to use these oils after researching about them. These are the oils that fit within our budget, and that suit our attitude to a healthful diet. Do your own research and make your own decisions.

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