Culinary Smarts: 4 Strategies for Choosing Your Favorite Cooking Oil

Have you ever taken a little child out on an ice cream date? If you have, you would recognize the perils that too many choices present. While you have established favorites, the child is still exploring the wonderful world of ice cream flavors. Each flavor entices the young child and thus, it is not surprising that boy or girl may take a long time to decide what to order.

cooking oilYou might face a similar conundrum while picking a favorite when it comes to cooking oil. If you are health conscious, you must have come across an avalanche of information, and sometimes misinformation, regarding health benefits of various cooking oils. As a result, you struggle to pick your favorite, just like the small child.

It doesn’t need to be this way.

In a matter of minutes, you will learn what you need to know to in order to choose which oil is the best for you. However, before we get into details of four extraordinarily nutritious cooking oils, here are some characteristics of healthful cooking oils that you should know.
Know the Characteristics of Healthful Cooking Oils

The variety of cooking oils available at a supermarket’s aisle is overwhelming. Furthermore, the variety contains variety. For instance, olive oil comes with different labels, such as extra-virgin, cold pressed, pure and refined. Given the staggering number of choices, you can use the following guidelines to spot healthful cooking oils:

Long Shelf Life: Since you only use moderate amounts of cooking oil daily, you will not be purchasing cooking oil frequently. This is why you must pay attention to the expiry date and always buy oils that are well within the products date of expiration.
Mild Flavor: Cooking oil is not a food in itself, but a medium in which you prepare many dishes. Therefore, the flavor of the oil must not overpower the taste of other ingredients.
cooking oils availableTrans-Fat Free: Trans fats are extremely harmful byproduct of the refining process oils go through. That is why unrefined, or virgin, versions of any vegetable oil are healthier than the corresponding refined version.
High Unsaturated Fat Content: Unsaturated fats promote increased levels of HDL, or good cholesterol, in your blood. HDL cholesterol scrapes fatty deposits that clog arteries and thereby reduce your risk of developing heart related complications.
Low Saturated Fat Content: With the exception of coconut oil, you must avoid oils that are high in saturated fatty acids. The article explains the reasons why coconut oil is an exception at a later point.
High Smoke Point: Oils having a high smoke point, temperature at which the oil starts to oxidize and produce trans fats, can maintain its nutritional integrity even at high heat. This makes it ideal for deep-frying foods.
Certifications: Choose brands that certify their products. Certifications, such as certified GMO-free and certified organic, provide more authenticity to the product.

Before you christen a particular type of oil as your favorite, you should pay attention to your cooking style. Certain types of oils are well suited for one type of cuisine, but unsuitable for other cuisines. For example, if you prefer Asian or Mediterranean style cuisine, then peanut oil is a better choice than canola oil.

However, encourage yourself to experiment a little. All the oils listed here provide exemplary health benefits, and you can try them all out. Once you decide the one that suits your preferences the best, you can center your cooking on your chosen cooking oil.

Here are the four strategies for choosing your favorite cooking oil.
1. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: An Outstanding Oil-Star

Olive OilOlives are fruits of the olive tree, which is a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean region. Oil producers press olives to extract the oil from them. People use olive oil for a wide variety of purposes, such as cooking, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, fuel and soaps.

Olive oil is a monounsaturated oil, which means it is liquid at room temperature, but solidifies when refrigerated.

Different names of olive oil such as virgin, extra-virgin, refined or cold pressed indicate the degree of processing the oil has gone through. If the extraction process does not involve the use of chemicals or heat, we call the oil extra-virgin olive oil.
Health Benefits of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Extra virgin olive oil has the highest concentration of phenolic antioxidants. Antioxidants negate free radicals and thus reduce cell damage free radicals cause. Olive oils, other than the virgin kind, do not contain theses bonus antioxidants in large proportions. Additional benefits of using olive oil in your diet are as follows:

Anti-inflammatory Properties: Olive oil contains high concentrations of phytonutrients that have well known anti-inflammatory properties.
Protects Cell Lining: One of the key polyphenols in olive oil, namely hydroxytyrosol, helps protect the lining of your blood vessel from harmful effects of overly reactive oxygen molecules.
Improves Heart’s Health: Regular use of olive oil not only improves your blood lipid profile, but also works at the cellular level to reduce your blood pressure. Thus, your heart becomes healthier.
Anti-Cancer Benefits: Reduced risk of cancers, such as breast, respiratory tract and upper digestive tract.

Cooking With Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Cooking With Extra Virgin Olive OilMonounsaturated fatty acids constitute 78 percent of the fat content of olive oil. Thus, olive oil is moderately resistant to oxidation when heated. Therefore, you can use olive oil to sauté vegetables or drizzle on steamed vegetables. You can also use olive oil as a base for your salad dressings.

If your pan catches fire while cooking, take the pan away from the flame and extinguish the flame by covering the pan with a lid. You should not try to put the fire out using water.
Buying and Storing Extra Virgin Olive Oil

You can choose from many available brands of extra virgin olive oil, which cost between 10 and 30 dollars per 16-ounce bottle. Do not buy large quantities of olive oil at once. You can start with a 16-ounce bottle and monitor your rate of consumption. Thereafter, you can buy in bulk such that your stock lasts four to five months. This way, you mitigate the risk of the oil turning rancid. Always ensure that you cap the bottle tightly and store the bottle in a cool and dry place.

If you are concerned about using olive oil pressed from genetically modified olive trees, then you can look for certified non-GMO or certified organic brands. If you are new to using olive oil in your cooking, experiment with a few brands and settle for the one you favor.
2. Cold Pressed and Organic Canola Oil: A Genetically Designed Wonder

scientistsManufacturers extract canola oil from rapeseeds that scientists genetically modified to contain less of undesirable elements, such as glucosinolated and erucic acid. In fact, the scientists who modified the seed are Canadian; thus the name canola, which stands for Canadian Oil.

Canola oil contains zero cholesterol. Thus, regular use of canola oil reduces atherosclerosis, a condition in which the walls of your arteries harden. In addition to this, canola oil contains the lowest proportion of saturated fats, which increase the amount of LDL, or bad cholesterol, in your blood. What’s more, the oil contains omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the nutritionally ideal ratio of 2:1.

However, despite the above nutritional benefits, you must avoid this potential pitfall.

Many manufacturers use industrial methods that involve high heat, deodorizing and toxic solvents, such as hexane, to produce canola oil. As a result, the oil contains incredibly harmful trans fats. Therefore, you should buy cold pressed and organic canola oil because it does not contain numerous oxidized fats or trans fats.
Health Benefits of Canola Oil
Canola Oil

Photo by Veganbaking.net / CC BY-SA

According to the Canola Council of Canada, canola oil is the healthiest commodity oil available today. This council makes this claim because 93 percent of the fats in this oil are the healthy monounsaturated and the polyunsaturated varieties. However, the health benefits of canola oil don’t end there; here are a few more reasons why you must switch to canola oil.

Good Source of Vitamin E: Canola oil is a repository of antioxidant rich vitamin E. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that protects your cells from destructive free radicals.
Ideal Omega-3 to Omega-6 Ratio: Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and Omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory. Although, inflammation is an essential for your body’s survival, excessive inflammation is a driver for serious medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and many types of cancer. Therefore, it is essential to maintain a healthy ratio of the two fatty acids in your diet. One of the best ways to do this is to use canola oil because the canola oil contains the right ratio of the two fatty acids.
High Amounts of Phytosterols: Phytosterols inhibit cholesterol absorption in the gut and thereby reduce blood cholesterol levels by 10 to 15 percent. Canola oil contains the highest level of phytosterols among vegetable oils. Thus, a diet that includes canola oil lowers cholesterol and decreases your risk of developing heart disease.

Cooking with Canola Oil

bakingCanola oil is versatile. Here are some ways you can use canola oil in your kitchen:

Baking: Use canola oil to bake anything from cookies to bread over a normal to moderate oven temperature.
Stir-frying: As long as you don’t heat canola oil to the point where it begins to smoke, you can use canola oil to stir-fry anything.
Deep-frying: At standard deep-frying temperature, canola oil did not show any signs of trans fat accumulation. Thus, you can store and re-use canola oil three to four times before discarding it.

Buying and Storing Canola Oil

You can find cold pressed and organic canola oil in well-known supermarkets. A 12-ounce bottle will cost your around 10 to 20 dollars. The flavor is likely to vary from one brand to another; therefore, if you are new to using canola oil, do not buy large quantities. Once you develop a preference to a particular brand, you can buy in bulk. Canola oil usually has a shelf life of more than a year. So, you don’t have to worry about it turning rancid. However, always store the oil in a cool and dry place and keep the bottle tightly shut.
3. Coconut Oil: From Forsaken to Famous

Coconut OilA few decades ago, nutritionists and scientists prematurely branded coconut oil as unhealthy because of the high percentage of saturated fatty acids in coconut oil. However, when scientists began to see that populations consuming a lot of coconut oil were among the healthiest on the planet, they investigated the matter deeply. Upon investigation, the scientists discovered that coconut oil has a unique composition of fatty acids that offer bountiful health benefits.

As is the case with other oils, extra virgin coconut oil is the healthiest form of coconut oil. Producers make extra virgin coconut oil by pressing coconut kernels. Unlike refined coconut oil, extra virgin coconut oil is not chemically treated or subjected to high temperatures. Therefore, extra virgin coconut oil retains most of its nutritional properties.
Health Benefits of Coconut Oil

92 percent of the fats in coconut oil made of saturated fatty acids. Although many consider saturated fatty acids unhealthy, the saturated fatty acids in coconut oil are just the opposite. This is because fatty acids in coconut oil are made of medium chain triglycerides (MCT) and not long chain triglycerides (LCT) or very long chain triglycerides (VLCT). The advantages you will receive from MCTs are as follows:

Healthy Energy Source: Your body directly absorbs medium chain triglycerides and rapidly converts it to energy. Thus, coconut oil is a wholesome source of energy.
Increased Energy Expenditure: Studies found that daily consumption of 15 to 30 grams of MCTs increased energy expenditure by five percent – that’s an extra 120 calories burned. Therefore, coconut oil is a potent weight loss supplement.
virusesAntibacterial and Antifungal Properties: Half of the fatty acid in coconut oil is lauric acid. The body assimilates lauric acid and breaks it down to monolaurin. Both monolaurin and lauric acid are powerful pathogen killers. Consequently, you can use coconut oil to combat viruses, bacteria and fungi.
Reduces Hunger: People who consume MCTs regularly take in significantly lower amounts of calories per meal than people who consume VLCTs or LCTs. Thus, you can feel fuller on less food. This advantage helps you maintain a healthy weight.
Improve Blood Lipid Profile: Coconut oil helps increase the amount of HDL, or good cholesterol, in your blood and converts LDL, or bad cholesterol, to a benign subtype. As a result, your risk of developing heart conditions reduces.

Cooking with Coconut Oil

dipping saucesHigh content of saturated fatty acids in coconut oil makes the oil highly resistant to oxidizing when heated. Coconut oil liquefies at 76°F; at temperatures above 76°F, coconut oil is solid. You can use coconut oil in many ways, and a few of them are as follows:

Glaze hot cooked grains, cereals and vegetables.
Make dipping sauces.
Sautéing vegetables and meat.
Stir-frying vegetables and meat.
Baking bread and other foods.
Greasing pans, skillets or woks.
Roasting foods.
Make marinades and dressings.

Buying and Storing Coconut Oil

supermarketsExtra virgin cold pressed coconut oils are available in many notable supermarkets. A 16-ounce bottle of the oil costs between 10 to 20 dollars. Coconut oil has a long shelf life and does not turn rancid even after a couple of years. You needn’t refrigerate coconut oil, instead, store it in a cool and dry place and ensure the lid is tightly closed.

The flavor of the oil varies from brand to brand. You can try out mini-bottles to check which brand agrees with your palette and cooking needs. Once you decide the right brand, you can buy in bulk to stock up your pantry and save money.
4. Peanut Oil: One of the World’s Traditional Healthy Oils

Peanut oil is a pleasant tasting vegetable oil derived from peanuts. The oil has a healthy lipid profile because it contains a high proportion of healthy unsaturated fats relative to unhealthy saturated fats.

From a culinary perspective, one quality that sets peanut oil apart from other vegetable oils is that peanut oil doesn’t take the flavor of other foods cooked in it. Therefore, even if you are cooking several items in the same batch, each item retains its own flavor.

peanutsUnlike previous oils discussed above – where the virgin and cold pressed variety was far superior to the refined version – there is a tradeoff that you may need to consider in case you are allergic to peanut oils.

The tradeoff is that on one hand, highly refined peanut oil is free from substances that trigger a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, but on the other, this type of oil loses a significant amount of antioxidants during the refining process.

However, if you are not allergic to peanut oil, then unrefined peanut oil is the clear winner because it contains powerful antioxidants in abundance.
Health Benefits of Peanut Oil

Peanut oil is one of the healthiest vegetable oils. A controlled human study conducted at Penn State University demonstrates this fact. In this test, the each test subjects followed one of four diets. At the end of the test, the group that followed a moderate fat diet, in which half the fat came from peanut oil, showed increased level of HDL, or good cholesterol, in their blood. Other benefits of using peanut oil in your cooking are as follows:

Naturally Healthy: Peanut oil is naturally free from cholesterol and trans fats. This makes it ideal for all your culinary purposes.
Good Source of Phytosterols: Since peanut oil is a vegetable oil, it is rich in phytosterols. Phytosterols can improve your cardiac health by inhibiting the absorption of cholesterol in the stomach. This also results in a better lipid profile.
Anti-Cancerous Properties: A polyphenol antioxidant called resveratrol, found amply in peanut oil, protects you from not only cancer but also heart disease, degenerative nerve disease, Alzheimer’s disease and microbial infection.
Blood PressureReduce Blood Pressure: Resveratrol lowers the activity of angiotensin, the hormone responsible for contracting your arteries, and thus decreases your blood pressure.
Rich in Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant responsible for maintaining the structural integrity of your cell’s walls. Without adequate protection from vitamin E, free radicals can easily rampage across your cell structure and lead to unhealthy aging.

Cooking with Peanut Oil

Peanut has a delicious nutty aroma and taste that elevates flavor profile of any type of dish, particularly Asian and Mediterranean cuisine based dishes. You can use peanut oil for a variety of things. Some of the things you can try with peanut oil are as follows:

Topping on pizza.
Crispy fry noodle in a wok.
Stir-fry ingredients to add to a soup.
Deep-fry spring rolls.
Make peanut butter.
Prepare mayonnaise.

Buying and Storing Peanut Oil

bottleUnrefined peanut oil costs between 10 to 25 pounds for a 16-ounce bottle. You can buy peanut oil from most major stores. However, before buying peanut oil, make sure you are not allergic to peanut oil. This way, you can confidently chose between the unrefined and refined variety.

Peanut oil has a long shelf life. You can use a batch for as long as a year. However, it is always a good idea to monitor your usage first and then buy in bulk. Store peanut oil in a cool and dry place where sunlight does not fall on it directly.
Conclusion

An unwarranted amount of negative propaganda has maligned the role of dietary fats. However, according to USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for American, 20 to 35 percentage of your calories must come from fats, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as the oils discussed in this article.

Consider substituting the oil you currently use with one of the healthier alternatives listed here. Give each oil a try for one to two months before switching because it take approximately that much amount of time for the benefits to reflect on your blood work.

After a period of hit and trial, you will find the ideal cooking oil for you. To speed up the process, you can ask your friends to try the oils listed here and you can taste food cooked in each variety of oil. This way, you can get to the point of deciding your favorite much faster. Thereafter, you can enjoy a lifetime of good health and culinary delight.

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