YOUR HEALTH – 3 QUESTIONS TO ANSWER BEFORE YOU START COOKING
(This is an excerpt from Le Kitchen Cookbook coming soon)
This section of the book is important but I didn’t realize it until I wrote it. I learned a lot that is important to know when I began researching cooking oils—so much so that I had to share.
Everyone touts the benefits of cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and how it is the best oil available. They also warn not to use it to cook food at high temperatures. Okay, but what oils are good at high heat and why? I learned that using the wrong oil or the right oil the wrong way can be harmful to our health.
When using cooking oils, there are the three questions you need to be able to answer:
- Is the oil you are using unrefined or refined? If it is refined, how is it processed?
- What is the smoke point of the oil you are cooking with?
- Does the oil you are using have flavor?
How oils are processed and why it matters:
Unrefined oils, also known as cold-pressed, raw, or virgin, are oils that are extracted and bottled without processing. Extra virgin olive oil is considered to be the highest quality oil available. Since it isn’t processed, it retains its flavor and all its health benefits.
Refined oils are processed using chemicals and high heat. The result is an oil that has a longer shelf life and a milder flavor. That may be good for mass market sales but that way of processing results in oils that are not healthy for our bodies.
Naturally refined or expeller pressed are oils that are processed without using heat or chemicals. Instead the oil is extracted by using pressure to squeeze the oil from the seeds.
Why you need to know your oil’s smoke point:
The smoke point is the temperature at which oil starts to burn and smoke. This is important because burn or smoke point is when the oil gets a bitter taste, the fumes become harmful, and the oil starts to break down, becoming harmful to our bodies.
Unrefined oils have a low smoke point so they are best used for low to medium heat and as a finishing oil in sauces and salad dressings.
Refined oils have a higher smoke point so, in theory, they are good oils for high heat, except that the heat and chemicals used for processing alters the oil so it isn’t healthy to use.
Naturally refined oil is what you want. It has the higher smoke point required but hasn’t been tainted during the process, making it safe for us to use.
When you purchase oil for high-temperature cooking, make certain it says expeller pressed or naturally refined.
Smoking Points of high heat oils:
Avocado oil 520°
Safflower oil 450°
Peanut oil 450°
Sunflower oil 440°
Grapeseed oil 400°
Consider the flavor of the oil you are using and how it will interact with your food. You don’t want to overpower your ingredients, but rather use the flavor of the oil to either complement, contrast, or add no flavor at all.Neutral oils
Mild extra virgin olive oils
Oils with strong flavors
Extra virgin olive oil
Toasted sesame oil
Since strongly flavored oils can be expensive, it’s a good option to use them as finishing oils, letting them stand out that way. A good tip: If you want to use them to make a vinaigrette, you can use a mild extra virgin olive oil as your main oil and drizzle the salad with the finishing oil to get the taste you’re after.
Some ideas for using finishing oils:
- A drizzle of walnut oil used to finish a tomato soup highlights both flavors in an unexpectedly subtle way.
- Sprinkling a strong flavored cold pressed olive oil on croutons and serve them on top of a classic vegetarian vegetable soup is a great way to brighten the flavor.
- Try adding toasted sesame oil to scrambled eggs or drizzle it on top of a tomato salad to surprise your taste buds.
- If you are using a refined oil, only use oils that are labeled “naturally refined” or “expeller pressed.” These are the oils that have not been altered by heat or chemicals and won’t be harmful to your health.
- Know the smoke point of the oil you are using and don’t use it beyond that point. The Heart Association advises that if you let your oil smoke, you should get rid of it and start again.
- Use oils that have low smoke points as finishing oils that are not heated.
- If your oil smells bad, it has oxidized and become rancid; you need to discard it.
- In general, oils should be kept in cool, dark places.
- Buy small quantities of the oils that you do not use often. It’s better to run out than to have to replace them because they’ve gone bad.
A final thought: There is a lot of information available about using oils. I’ve sorted through volumes of it to come up with this guideline. If you have other research that you think will help, please leave a comment below and let us know. Merci
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