Ever since we started P90X, all the sudden we are looking at the ingredients, calories, fat content, and carbs in everything we use. Try it – it might freak you out. For instance, regular unsalted butter has LESS calories per Tablespoon that Extra Virgin Olive oil. I have been using Olive Oil instead of butter for years, thinking that I was being “healthy”, but it turns out I was just fooling myself. I could have been eating butter all these years…
So, when it comes to cooking oils, you have some options. Do you want an oil that is healthy, great tasting, or with a high-heat threshold? It honestly depends on your diet and on what you are cooking. We typically use Olive Oil for the majority of our pan cooking – it is relatively cheap, has a pretty high smoke temperature, and contains certain fats and calories that are necessary to a healthy diet. It does tend to have a distinct flavor, and if you are not used to it, it can be a bit of a turn off. We also use butter for pan cooking, but it burns pretty easily, so keep an eye on it. Just recently, we purchased an Olive Oil spray that contains ZERO calories. Awesome.
If you are looking for a Healthy oil, you need to understand how oils are extracted. Olive oil is extracted from olives, coconut oil is extracted from coconuts, and so on. But HOW they extract the oil is where the health aspect comes into play. Olives, avocados, and walnuts are soft, and therefore all they need to do to get their oil is press them, meaning they are cold-pressed by a machine, filtered, then bottled. The process rarely involves any chemicals or treatments. The middle option is hard oilseeds such as soy or canola, and they may involve more difficult extractions, usually involving steam (which affects the flavor) to soften the product and make for easier extraction. The third option is the one that mainly affects you and I. Mass market oils are typically extracted using toxic solvents and harsh treatments. The more chemicals, heat, and straining used, the more inferior the taste and the less healthy it is for us. You can tell by the type of oil – if the extract it came from is relatively soft (Avocado, Olive, Walnut, Coconut…), then the extraction process usually does not involve chemicals. You can also tell by the ingredients on the bottle- if the ingredients involve things you can pronounce, you are usually pretty good. If there are chemicals involved, you might want to find a healthier option and stick to the cold-pressed fruits and nuts – Olives, avocados, walnuts, and coconuts. Just use in moderation, as their fat and calorie content can be high, but they do have beneficial properties when enjoyed with moderation.
If you are looking for an oil with a High-Heat threshold, you have some options. A good rule of thumb is that you do NOT want the oil to smoke when cooking. Smoke means the oil has been damaged, which affects the flavor and could even have potentially cancer-causing properties. The oils with the highest smoke points are Peanut, Soybean, and Canola oils. If we need a really hot threshold, or if we are frying something, we typically use Peanut oil. Just make sure your guests do not have any allergies (that goes for Corn and Soy oils as well!). Here are some oils in rank of their heat/flash points – Peanut, Corn, Safflower, Avocado, High-oleic Sunflower oil, Grapeseed oil, and finally Extra Light Olive Oil. We usually use Peanut Oil, since Phillip lived in China, and the Chinese use Peanut oil in EVERYTHING. Honestly, it tastes really clean and fresh. And the best part is that it is CHEAP!
Now, a quick note on safety. If you get a flash or fire while cooking, NEVER try to put it out with water. The water only feeds and spreads the fire. Try removing the pan from the heat source and putting the cover over the pan. This reduces the oxygen that feeds the fire. Or throw Baking Soda on the flames, which does the same. Whatever you do, be careful when cooking with oil – believe me, the burn you get from peanut oil is never fun and usually leaves a mark.
Finally, regarding taste, it is up to you. We will give you a few suggestions and impressions that we have – feel free to share yours with us. Peanut Oil has a mild flavor that does not intrude too much with the flavor of your food, and tastes great with most dishes. Grapeseed has a really mild flavor, as does Sunflower oil. Olive oil has a nice, rich flavor that is perfect for Italian food, and compliments most beef and poultry well. Avocado oil is a bit richer than olive oil, and can flavor pastas, salad dressings, and chicken very nicely. Safflower oil can have a long, awkward aftertaste, and it can stink up your house. Let’s just say it is an acquired taste.
If you have any suggestions or comments, post them on the blog. Thanks for reading!