By Margaret Riesen
Adapted from Margaret Riesen’s “Food for Thought” column in MALIBU MONTHLY MAGAZINE
After a bad rap – and the disastrous low fat/high carbohydrate movement that preceded our unprecedented obesity rates – dietary fats and oils are reclaiming their rightful place at our tables. They are essential to our health. Because of their different properties, different oils are suited to different uses. High quality cooking and salad oils are available in a great variety in local markets and specialty shops – here is a thumbnail sketch of what to look for.
Salad oils come in a great variety of flavors. They can be used to add a distinctive flavor to your creation, e.g. olive oils, toasted sesame oil, nut oils, or stay discreetly in the background. Blander oils include safflower oil, corn oil, grape seed oil, canola oil. Stay away from “vegetable oil” in plastic bottles!
Most oils can be used for cooking at low temperatures, but oils used for sautéing and frying need to have a high “smoking” point. When heated too high, oils and fats’ chemical structures are altered, creating unhealthy substances, e.g. trans-fats. Refined oils (oils which have been processed and filtered) generally have higher smoking points than unrefined oils and lend themselves well to frying at moderately high temperatures. Examples include refined safflower oil, peanut oil and light sesame oil.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and can also be used for frying. They should be used sparingly, but by no means avoided; examples are coconut oil, lard and butter. If frying with butter for frying, use clarified butter or “Ghee” (found in Asian markets).
There is no such thing as a canola plant. Canola oil comes from rape seed, a member of the mustard family. Rape seed oil is an excellent lubricant for moving machine parts and has also been used for heating. The majority of edible rape seed crops consist of genetically modified plants. I personally avoid canola oils, along with corn oil and soybean oil.
Olive oil is versatile and healthy. Olive oils can be used for cooking at low temperatures, they come in a huge variety, and hail from all over the world, including California. Check out our blog on olive oils.
What now? Like any other food, oils are to be explored and experimented with. Enrich your diet and your mind, and enjoy the journey!
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