Monday, 10 September 2012

Oils Ain't Oils

A few months ago, a friend of mine was teasing me about the description of "a good slug of oil" in one of my recipes. After which he turned around and said to me "all oils are the same" (yes, that would be you Adrian). I almost fell off my chair in disbelief. All oils are the same?? For a minute I thought he was just teasing me, but no, he was serious. But it got me thinking that, although I'm not naive enough to think all oils are the same, I actually couldn't tell you which of the multiple oils I have in my cupboard should be used for what recipe and why. So, I thought I'd do something about that and do some investigation on the different types of oils around.

Vegetable Oil
Vegetable oil is any edible oil made from a number of vegetables sources (nuts, grains, beans, seeds, olives) but from a cooking point of view it refers to the more generic or all purpose oil you buy in the supermarket. Vegetable oils have almost no flavour, and high smoke points, so they can be used for almost anything in the kitchen. But given their generic nature and lack of flavour, they are good for deep frying (but replace them after about 15mins), shallow frying, sauteing and stir frying.

Canola Oil
Apparently canola oil is one of the most healthy oils, although I have to say I don't use it often. It's low in saturated fat and high in mono unsaturated fat. It's mostly used in frying, but only medium temperatures. Canola oil is considered a vegetable oil, so is also an all purpose oil.

Olive Oil (or Pure Oil)
Olive oil (as opposed to extra virgin olive oil) has a mild fruity flavour. It's a more generic oil (although not as generic as vegetable oil) and is great in Mediterranean food, but also perfect to brown meat, start soups and stews, and in sauces and dressings with strong flavours as it doesn't overpower the flavours.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
For most people, I think this is the most common oil they have in their cupboard, and I know for me, it's the one I reach for the most often. Although I do use it in cooking (but I might stop after this), it really shouldn't be, as it's lovely flavours dissipate when exposed to a high heat. It's strong flavours do maintain if it's used in dishes that are cooked quickly. It is the best oil for most dressings, perfect for dressing blanched or steamed food, or to drizzle over soups and grilled food. It's more expensive than olive oil, so if you have both, save this for dressings, or when you're adding it to a dish at the last minute.

Toasted Sesame Oil
Sesame oil is a perfect addition to the end of a stir fry or almost any Asian dish. It has a lovely, strong sesame flavour, but as the flavour fades quickly when exposed to heat it's important to add it at the end. It has a potent flavour that also tastes delicious in dressing, sauces and marinates. It's apparently highly perishable, so should be stored in the fridge (excuse me while I run and put mine in the fridge).

Peanut Oil
Unrefined peanut oil has a nutty taste that's perfect in stir fry's, added at the end (as opposed for the oil you use to cook with) to add an extra level of flavour to the dish. This is not to be confused with refined peanut oil that, like vegetable oil, has a neutral flavour and a high smoke point, so perfect for deep frying.

Flaxseed Oil or Linseed Oil
OK, so this is maybe a bit or a strange one to add to the mix, but I use it when I make my muesli, so it's always in the cupboard, and it's also very good for you (although until today I couldn't tell you why). This oil is considered to be nature's richest source of omega-3 fatty acids that are needed for almost all body systems (cardiovascular, immune, circulatory, nervous system, joints...the list goes on and on). Some people take it as a tablet daily. I don't, but I do add it to things like muesli when I make it. This also should be stored in the fridge.

So this is just a handful of the oil's available out there, but I think it covers the main ones, and a lot of the ones I have in my cupboard. But if I was to pick my MUST HAVE's, what would it be: extra virgin olive oil, olive oil, flaxseed and sesame. I very rarely shallow or deep fry, so don't really use canola or vegetable oil, and I prefer sesame oil to peanut oil. But that's just me. Oh, one other that's a must have is truffle oil. No proper kitchen is complete without it.

1 comment:

  1. ALSO.... The are different oilive oils made from single olive varieties. AND.... There are different grades of sesame oil as well.