Cooking oils can improve your meals dramatically. They can improve taste, avoid your food from sticking to the pan and they can even provide you with energy, vitamins and minerals — but they need to be used wisely in order to reap the benefits.
Cooking oils are made up of fatty acids. Differences on the type and composition of fatty acids are what determine their application and nutritional value. Choosing the appropriate cooking oil depends on the amount of temperature you will be using. The most common used oils are soybean, palm, rapeseed, sunflower, peanut, cottonseed, palm kernel and coconut.
It is also important to keep in mind that the quantity of oil you use makes a difference, so remember to use it sparingly. Check below the different type of oils classified according to the type of cooking that they are best for.
Here’s a run-down of the main types of cooking oils you may find and how to use them:
Extra virgin olive oil is better consumed raw or uncooked. However, there are many types of olive oils and their extraction process determines how best to eat them. From pure, light to extra virgin and simple olive oil the difference between all of this relies mainly on three things:
- The process of extraction — The refined version is processed to remove solids, making it clearer, with less flavour, aroma and bitterness.
- Use of additives
- Level of free oleic acid — The more the fat is broken down into fatty acids, the higher the oleic acid content.
1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is an unrefined oil characterized by a darker, golden-green colour and it’s the highest quality type of olive oil. The level of oleic acid is lowest (1% or less), it has a higher content of the vitamins and minerals found in olives and an olive taste is retained. Another characteristic of this oil is that no chemicals or temperature is used in its extraction process. Extra virgin olive oil contains a lower smoke point than other oils, which means that it burns at lower temperatures, which should be avoided.
How to use it: Eat it raw by drizzling on bread, salads and your favourite dishes.
2. Virgin Olive Oil
Virgin olive oil follows in quality from its extra virgin counterpart. It is also an unrefined oil and although it maintains the purity and taste of the extra virgin oil the production standards are not as strict. The oil that is extracted from the fruit of live trees is known as pure olive oil. Sometimes simply labelled as olive oil, is usually a mixture of virgin olive oil and refined olive oil. Some chemicals or heat are used in the extraction process. Its flavour is more neutral and contains around 3-4% of oleic acid.
How to use it: It’s good for light frying and can be used as all-purpose cooking oil.
3. Light Olive Oil
Light olive oil doesn’t mean it has less fat or less calories, it refers to the flavour. This type of oil is refined, has a more neutral taste and a higher smoke point.
How to use it: Good for baking, sautéing, grilling, and frying.
How to Choose Your Olive Oil
If you are out in your supermarket, the label and type of bottle can be of help when detecting quality, although it’s not a guarantee. Things to pay attention when choosing your olive oil are:
- The harvest date
- The producer and place of production
- The type of olives used
- Dark glass bottles (light degrades olive oil)
- If it contains a certification seal enominazione di Origine Protetta (‘Protected Designation of Origin’ or O.P.) seal on European oils
- Ideally a mill would be the ideal place to buy olive oil since you can observe the fresh olives be transformed into oil
Cooking Oils for Roasting
1. Rapeseed Oil
If you want to go local try rapeseed oil. It has a very low content of saturated fats. Like most oils, it is rich in vitamin E, omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. Compared to olive oil it has a higher smoke point which means that it can tolerate higher temperatures.
How to use it: Good for frying and roasting.
High Temperature Cooking Oils
Cooking at high temperatures can have its advantages. For example, if you cook vegetables quickly at a high temperature, the nutrient content and texture is better maintained. Oils to use when cooking at high temperatures include ghee and coconut oil.
Ghee is butter where the milk solids have been removed producing a clarified type of butter and is quite common in Indian cuisine. Although it was traditionally produced with buffalo milk, cow milk is now a common alternative. This type of oil is darker than regular clarified butter and is characterized by a strong and nutty flavour.
You can produce your own ghee. Select high quality unsalted butter and stir continuously in a pan until boiling point. Simmer for 30 minutes, then remove the scum generated on top and let it cool. Store in an airtight container in the fridge and you’ll have ghee available to cook for up to 2 months.
How to use it: Excellent for frying.
2. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is obtained from the coconut kernel which is a type of fruit rich in saturated fat. Usually, we recommend saturated fat be consumed in moderation because of its association with heart disease. However, the type of saturated fat that coconuts contain is called lauric acid which could inhibit the growth of virus and bacteria.
This type of fat is transported directly to the liver where it is oxidized and it’s believed that this mechanism could increase the use of energy by the body and decrease its accumulation. Some studies suggest that it could be a good food source to reduce body fat, especially in the abdominal region. Of course it continues to be a fat that provides calories. In the end it all comes to moderation and the type of foods you cook with it.
How to use it: Very good for frying.
Other types of oils include avocado, which is rich in good monounsaturated fats, and sunflower oil which is rich in vitamin E but high in omega-6, the type of fat that we tend to obtain too much of.
In sum, it is important to consider the oils we choose to cook with. Make sure that it’s appropriate for the temperature you’ll be using and your method of cooking. Using oil in your meals can increase the taste and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins — but remember to always use oil in moderation. No matter how magical it sounds, it is still a fat and should never be the primary focus of any diet.