Tips and Tools: Cooking and Baking Oils
I received a question asking the difference between various cooking oils and when to use each. I typically keep olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil and sesame seed oil on hand all of the time. I did a little research and found some very useful information!
I have learned long the way that choice of oils for cooking and baking is very important. The all have different tastes and they all have different ways in which they handle heat. Some have a low smoke point while others can handle very high heat. I believe it’s also very important to take into consideration the nutritional benefit that comes along with using any fats during cooking.
We know that oils typically contain mono- and poly-unsaturated fat which means that they have some health benefits. Mono- and poly-unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and they contain compounds that help in removing plaque and cholesterol from our arteries. Consumed in moderation, these fats can increase heart health! Flaxseed, olive, avocado and canola are examples of healthier fats. FYI – butter, margarine, mayonnaise, lard and shortening are examples of saturated fats are the ones that we want to limit in our diets.
Back to cooking oils…you want to take flavor into consideration too. Some oils, like olive and sesame for example, have very distinct flavors that might not mesh well with what you are cooking. Sesame seed oil can also become very bitter when cooked at high temperatures. Because of that reason, sesame seed oil makes a wonderful garnish but not wonderful cooking oil. This brings me to my next point, smoke point.
When cooking and baking with oil, the “smoke point” is probably the most important to consider. Oils have different heat capacities and when they reach their smoke point, they do just that, they being to smoke. They can ignite (which is not a good thing) and the nutrients in the oils break down when heated too high. As stated before, allowing an oil to reach a smoke point can create a bitter taste, burnt food and your smoke alarm will tell you about it.
Here’s how I use various cooking oils:
Sunflower – deep-frying (which is rare for me!)
Canola/Vegetable – multi-purpose oil for baking, marinades, stir-fry, sauté (with high heat), searing.
Olive – salad dressings, low-medium heat sautéing, marinades, dipping oil.
Sesame Seed – drizzle over stir fry and other Asian dishes as a garnish, at the end of cooking (~2-3 minutes remaining).
Make sure that you use oils within their expiration date…expired oils’ nutrients break down and can taste bitter when used past their prime.
Shop around for the best price. As always, getting your money’s worth is important and oil can be pricey. Shopping for the best price vs. quality is essential. Watching store ads, visiting specialty stores and shopping at wholesale clubs like Sam’s and Costco can help to find the best price!
Visit this link for some more great tips on cooking and baking with oils.