Cooking oils and fats are a common essential item in every kitchen cupboard. They do a lot more than just lubricate the frying pan as well. They infuse flavours, and help to prevent you from burning your tasty dish.
At the end of the day, cooking oils are fat. You can't sugar coat it either: a tablespoon of any cooking oil will contain roughly 120kcals. What does make a difference though, is the molecular make-up of these oils. Fats can be categorised as saturated fat, monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. The ratio of these three types will affect taste, boiling temperature and viscosity.
With so many oils being advertised as the 'latest trend' and 'healthiest option', it's hard to work out which ones are good for us. So we've taken a look at the way we cook and tried to decipher the importance, the health benefits and the taste of various cooking oils.
What to look out for in a cooking oil...
PRESS: How the oil has been pressed will effect how it cooks. Cold pressed, and expeller pressed oils are treated at low temperatures. This ensures the flavour and nutrients are retained in the finished product.
SMOKE POINT: Oils will begin to break down at certain temperatures. When this happens, all the good stuff is boiled off, and the flavour begins to go a little "off". This is why some oils are great for salad dressing, and others are ideal for high-heat cooking.
BY-PRODUCTS: When an oil is heated, it can create a number of by-products. If the oil has a high level of polyunsaturated fat, the resulting compounds can be harmful to the body in forms of: Increased blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart disease risk.
For this reason, monounsaturated fats are more ideal for cooking and consuming. They are less sensitive to heat so they don't product the same level of compounds as other cooking oils. Examples of these are: olive , avocado, canola, sunflower, sesame and soybean oils.
OMEGAS: Omega-3 is considered to be the healthier one of the fatty acids. Commonly found in fish, nuts, seeds and avocado. This super omega is great for boosting your immune system, and they are most commonly found in these cooking oils: walnut, canola, and flaxseed.
Over 70% of olive oil is made up from monounsaturated fat. It's packed full of antioxidant compounds which help to boost the immune system, and helps with anti-inflammatory in the muscles. The antioxidant, polyphenol, is known for improving cognitive brain function and memory too.
However, Olive oil has a relatively low smoke point. This doesn't make it ideal for high-heat cooking, and searing on the hob. Extra Virgin olive oil that's unrefined is great for dressing and low-heat cooking. Unrefined Virgin olive oil, and Pure olive oils are great for pan-frying, roasting, and baking.
Flaxseed is a super food to introduce into your diet, and a really easy one as well. They taste great raw, sprinkled on top of your salad, and they are great for cooking with too.
With over fifteen per cent of monounsaturated fats, flaxseed oil isn't as healthy as its olive counterpart. However, it's packed with omega-3, vitamin B1 and manganese which you get in a concentrated dose, rather than if you consumed actual flaxseeds raw. They have unique properties which can help reduce blood pressure and improve your overall cardiac health
The downside of flaxseed oil is that it can turn quite quickly. Best to use it as a dressing, or for low-temperature cooking.
Canola oil is made from the canola plant which is a cross-breed of the rapeseed plant, and it's over sixty per cent monounsaturated fat.
It's rich in Omega-3 and is fairly resistant to breaking down from heat. With a smoke point of over 200C, canola oil is a great all round cooking essential. Be careful when purchasing though. Most canola oils have traces of harmful chemicals such as hexane, so ensure you buy an organic variety only.
Avocado oil is seriously tasty, and has a make-up of over seventy per cent monounsaturated fats. With a high smoke point of over 200C, it's great for cooking with.
Avocado's are great for our immune system and strengthening out skin and nails. This is largely owing to the high counts of Vitamin E found in them.
Palm oil is made from the fruit of the African palm tree, not the seeds. Over 1/3 is made up of monounsaturated fat, it has an incredibly high smoke point, and a long shelf-life too.
Like most fruits, palm oil contains a lot of Vitamin E and antioxidants. It's great for cooking at high-temperatures with, however with approximately fifty per cent of saturated fat, it's still a point of contention among nutritionists.
Another hot point of contention is the claimed benefits of using coconut oil. In recent years, it's become all the rage for the health conscious eaters, however some nutritionists aren't so sure it's all as it was cracked up to be.
Okay, it smells amazing. Tastes lovely and it can be cooked with to high heats. The chemical make-up of coconut oil differs somewhat from the previously mentioned ones. It's composed of a saturated fat known as medium-chain fatty acids. Rather than being stored in the body as fat, it's rapidly burnt off by the liver. Ace.
However, it has a saturated fat content of over ninety per cent which is pretty high. So although it may seem healthier than butter, and contain body benefits, it's still a product to consume in moderation.
When out purchasing coconut oil, make sure you get the varieties that are not hydrogenated, or treated with hexane.
That's just a few healthy cooking oil options, but these are by no means all of them. Most seeds, nuts and infused oils produce mouth watering flavours to perfectly accompany your lunch time salad.
Like with most things food related, moderation is key. It's fine to occasionally cook with butter, sunflower oil or coconut oil, but it's worth knowing that there are healthier alternatives out there.
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