Is it time for an oil change in your kitchen? When it comes to cooking, not just any ol' oil will do. Oil has the potential of being healthy or harmful depending on how you use it. The best advice we can give you is to keep a variety of different oils in your pantry for different uses. Why? Read on to find out. Here are five important facts to remember about oils:
1. Know what "smoke point" is and know it well. Heat changes the chemical state of matter and oil is no exception. Different oils handle heat differently. The "smoke point" is, well, the point at which oil begins to smoke. At this temperature, the oil begins to a) break down and release toxic fumes, b) impart a bitter off-taste due to the formation of a toxicant known as acrolein and c) lose its antioxidants and nutrients. When your oil starts sending out smoke signals, it's time to discard it.
When cooking with heat (i.e. stir-frying), stick to plant-based oils that have high smoke points (above 400 degrees), such as sesame oil. The higher the smoke point, the less likely you are to reach the point where the oil starts to oxidize rapidly. If an oil has a low smoke point, stick to using it for dressings, dips, and the like. Oils with low smoke points include walnut or extra virgin olive oil.
Pay attention to your cooking technique and make sure to have all your ingredients ready before heating your oil on a pan. This way your oil is less likely to reach its smoke point.
High smoke-point oils: almond, avocado, hazelnut, palm
Medium smoke-point oils: grapeseed, macadamia nut, extra virgin olive, peanut, hemp, sesame, walnut, coconut
Low smoke-point oils (not to be used with heat): flaxseed, wheat germ oil
2. Avoid highly processed oils and consider the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio: Sesame and walnut oil are good oils to use. However, because of the high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, use them moderately. Vegetable oils such as canola, corn, safflower, cottonseed or soybean oil may be cheaper but they come with a price. They are highly processed, too high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids (over 50% omega-6), and too low in omega-3. The high omega-6 content makes it difficult to achieve the ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. This creates an imbalance of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory fatty acids. Such an imbalance is linked to chronic inflammation, hypertension, digestion problems, poor immunity, and cancer.
3. Cook with coconut oil. Coconut oil is rich in stable, plant-based saturated fats, thus making it less likely to smoke at higher temperatures. It brings a subtle, tropical flavor to your dish. It also contains lauric acid, a fatty acid with antimicrobial and antifungal properties.
4. EVOO: Why pay extra for extra virgin? Technically, all oils are processed to some extent. However, virgin oil is less refined and processed. A less processed extra virgin olive oil will retain more nutrients and antioxidants, like squalene. Squalene is an antioxidant that helps inhibit cholesterol synthesis and can quench free radicals. Olive oil, which is high in oleic acid, is safe for moderate cooking temperatures because of its stable monounsaturated fat content.
5. Oil storage 101: To retain the nutrients and quality of your oil, store in a cool, dark place away from heat and light. High-temperature storage conditions cause gradual changes in oil composition, leading to rancidity. This process transforms aromas to odors. Light exposure will lead to antioxidant and nutrient loss.