Fearce Friday-Oils for cooking and eating

Whether cooking food or soap, we need fats, aka, oils. Oil is that basic pantry item that you rarely think about. True story; just the other day my Mother pulled a nasty bottle out of the cabinet over the stove. After she smelled it, she asked me if oil could go bad and stated that it didn't "look" nasty. I didn't have to lift the bottle all the way to my nose, because I smelled it half way there! How she didn't is beyond my comprehension. So, being the frugal, tough woman that she is, she wanted to taste it and see just how "bad" it was. Being the good, easily grossed out kid that I am, I stopped her by grabbing the bottle. The bottle had an expiration date of  1999! I kid you not! Needless to say, it went into the trash, but that got me to thinking about oils and how many of us don't really know much about them.

We all have oil in the kitchen cabinet, and most of us probably keep it in that tall cabinet over the stove. But how many different oils do you have? Do you use one oil for everything? Did you know that not all oils should/can be used for all things? Even the weekend cook should have more than one oil in the pantry. Oh, and that is where the oils should be stored, in the pantry. That cabinet above the stove has too much of a  temperature variation, which will cause your oil to degrade more quickly than it should.

The type of oil you need for cooking will depend upon the type of cooking you are doing. Each oil has "smoke point". That is the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke. This information is included on the labels. You never want to heat the oil beyond its smoke point because that generates toxic fumes and releases harmful free radicals.  If you do accidentally heat oil to that point, make sure to discard it, along with any food that it came in contact with.

So what oils do you need to stock? What type(s) of cooking do you? For baking you will want to use; coconut, palm, canola, high oleic sunflower or high oleic  safflower oil. For frying;  Use avocado, peanut, palm or sesame oil, as these stand up to the heat well. When you are sauteing many oils work well. Try; avocado, canola, coconut, grapeseed, olive, sesame, high oleic safflower or high oleic sunflower oils. When you are making salad dressings, marinades, or just want a  dipping oil, you need an oil that is quite flavorful. Try one of these oils; flax, olive, peanut, toasted sesame or walnut oil.

Here are some suggestions for oil uses;
Avocado Oil is pressed from avocados. It is a smooth, nutty oil, that is high in monounsaturated fats (more than 50%), which makes it a heart-smart choice. It is great for use in salad dressings or to saute chicken or fish, or try it on sweet potatoes.

Canola Oil is actually a variety of rapeseed (soy) that is part of the mustard family, which includes cabbage and brussle sprouts. It is low in saturated fat and has omega 3, so it is also a great oil for heart health. It is perfect for light cooking, making sauces and desserts.

Coconut Oil is pressed from the fruit of the coconut palm tree. It is perfect for light cooking and for subtly flavored dishes. Try it in popcorn making or hash browns and see how good it is. At one time many thought this oil wasn't healthy, but extensive study has proven that this oil should not be avoided. In fact, it is being recommended more and more and is listed as a healthy and heart beneficial oil.

 Most corn oil is extracted only from the germ of the corn kernel. It is a golden yellow color, but the unrefined oil will be darker in color, and richer in its corn taste. This oil is good when used in salad dressings and dips, and with stronger flavors, such as peppers or garlic.

Grapeseed Oil is extracted from the seeds of grapes and is a byproduct of the wine-making industry. Use this on salads and raw veggies, or in dips, sauces and salsas. Grapeseed oil is also good when mixed with garlic and basil, then drizzled over toasted bread.

Olive Oil is one of the oldest known culinary oils and a mainstay of the Mediterranean diet. It is a heart-smart oil, consisting mostly of monounsaturated fat. Extra virgin olive oil is from the first cold-pressing of the olives. "Pure" olive oil is mild, but is a blend of the refined olive oil and the extra virgin olive oil. Whichever you have, try drizzling some over grilled vegetables,  hummus, or toasted bread.

Peanut Oil is relatively high in monounsaturated fat, so it is heart-smart and is  good for light sauteing. But it is considered superior for frying foods, especially   stir fry, due to its high smoke point. You do have to exercise extreme caution with this oil however, because of its allergen potential.

Sesame Oil comes from the seed of the sesame plant and is high in antioxidants.  Unrefined sesame oil is a wonderful and key flavor component in many sauces and dressings. Use the refined sesame oil for frying and other high heat applications. Use the toasted oil for stir fries and Asian sauces and dips.

A few more things you should know about oils;
Oils do spoil. Heat, air and light trigger oxidation, which begins the degradation cycle for the oil. You cannot prevent oxidation, but you can delay it, thereby extending the oil's shelf life. Oils should be stored it air tight containers, out of direct sunlight, and in a cool place. The more polyunsaturated, the shorter the shelf life. To extend it, store these oils in the refrigerator.  Once an oil is rancid you will easily smell and taste that. Throw it out!

Some oils, such as olive oil, will appear cloudy when they get cold or are put in the  refrigerator. This does not affect their quality at all, and after they get warmed up a bit they will look normal again.

Some oils are refined in order to make them more stable and raise their smoke point. That process tends to remove a lot of the natural flavor, color and even some nutrients. So use the refined oils for baking and stir-frying, where their high smoke point and neutral flavors are a big benefit.

It is best to use unrefined oils in either no-heat, or low-heat applications. But, since unrefined oils are just pressed and bottled, they retain all their original nutrient content, flavor and color. They offer their full-bodied flavor to any dish that they are used in.

I could go on, delving deeper into the types of oils (polyunsatured, triglycerides and such), but I am a soap maker, not a nutritionist. But, since we all need to care for bodies and our health, I suggest that you check into this more. Speak to your physician and/or dietitian for more detailed information and recommendations.

Next Tuesday's post will look at Oils again. This time we will be looking at using them in soap! So please come back Tuesday when we will discuss the properties of various oils, and how those properties impact our skin care.

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