Cooking oil is a ubiquitous pantry item, no matter what your diet–high-fat, low-fat, vegan, and paleo eaters all need it. This isn’t a bad thing, as fat is vital to the proper functioning of the body. However, unlike in the days of your grandmother, when there was butter, olive oil, canola oil, and maybe one other fancy shmancy oil for special dressings, the modern grocery shopper has their choice of a dizzying array of liquid lipids.
First, a Handy Dandy Chart
I’m giving full credit to theconsciouslife.com for this chart. It’s fantastic and I immediately recognized that I could not do better at this time.
SFA: Saturated fatty acids
MUFA: Monounsaturated fatty acids
PUFA: Polyunsaturated fatty acids
Ω-3: Omega-3 fatty acids
Ω-6: Omega-6 fatty acids
Ω-9: Omega-9 fatty acids
Ω-6:3 Ratio: Omega-6 to omega-3 ratio
Smoke Point: The temperature at which a cooking oil starts to burn and produce chemicals that are potentially harmful.
What Does It All Mean?
Science tells us that no matter what your budget, or how delicious butter is, it’s really important to balance your omega-3 and omega-6s. What are these silly things? They’re essential polyunsaturated fatty acids, and are crucial for proper brain and body function.
Though omega-6 is necessary for a brain function, hair and skin growth, bone health, regulation of the metabolism, and maintenance of the reproductive system, too much can cause inflammation. Most Westernized eaters consume far too much, which leaving out it’s counterpart, omega-3 (which cuts down on inflammation). This lack of balance has been been blamed for a host of common 1st world diseases, from dementia to Complete Regional Pain Syndrome.
Omega 9, the fairly new kid on the health awareness block, is equally important for hearth health and blood sugar control. This omega is also likely to increase your metabolism with consumption, and improve your moods. It’s most likely found hanging out in canola oil, nuts, and avocados.from goodfats101.com
The bottom line: you’re probably getting enough omega-6, so it’s a good idea to focus on getting more omega-3 and omega-9.
When an oil starts to smoke, it means that it’s breaking down. What that means for you, as a chef, is that if it gets any hotter, your food is not going to taste very good, and you’ll some of the health benefits from your dish. Lastly, the blueish smoke you see rising from your dish is made up of acrolein, which can really do a number on your eyes and throat. If your pan starts smoking, turn off the fire, turn on a fan or open a window, and give it some space to cool down.
In general, for high heat operations, such as sauteeing, deep frying, or grilling, you’ll want to use vegetable oils. The main exception to this rule is hydrogenated vegetable shortening. The only animal fat that is suitable for this kind of operation is ghee, or clarified butter.
Lower smoke point oils, such as coconut and oil, are great for everything from coatings to salad dressings. Their more pronounced flavors will lend that special flare to your dish, without you having to worry about losing them to the heat of cooking.
What oil is your favorite to use? Do you have any unique oils in your pantry?