South Shore Gourmet: Cooking with oil

Written by Michelle Conway
 | Monday, 05 October 2009 05:00

Standing before the oil selection in the grocery store can feel overwhelming. Scientific words beginning with “mono”, “poly” and “trans” swirl and blend with catch phrases about heat points, flavor profiles and heart health values. Prices vary, labels beckon, and your recipe calls for a mysterious oil with the perky name of EVOO. What to do? Which to choose?

Below is a list of common oils and some suggestions on how to use them. Do remember that no matter which oil you choose, even the healthier oils contain fat grams and calories and shouldn’t be over used.

Olive oil: Popular with both nutritionists and cooks, olive oil is preferred for its health benefits and flavor. Olive oil is available in extra virgin (perkily nicknamed EVOO by Rachel Ray), virgin or regular.  Simply put: virgin has the strongest flavor and is best for salads, dipping and anything where the peppery, buttery flavor can be highlighted.  It’s a little more expensive, but worth the extra dollar for the extra quality. Regular olive oil is ideal for medium heat cooking and is less expensive than virgin olive oil.

Canola oil:  Least amount of saturated fat of all the oils and rich with Omega 3. An excellent all-purpose oil. Great for cooking and salad dressings.  For many cooks, canola is the preferred oil. When making a salad dressing that uses lots of herbs and interesting flavors, choose canola oil over olive oil as the canola oil has a milder flavor. Good for medium heat cooking.

Peanut oil: Good for cooking because it doesn’t absorb or transfer flavors and can handle a high heat.  

Vegetable oil: A blend of oils often based with corn, palm, soybean or sunflower oil. Its mixed origin is worrisome.  Choose canola, olive or peanut oil whenever possible.  

Avocado oil: Low in saturated fat, avocado oil has a light flavor and is a nice substitute for olive oil or canola oil when making a salad dressing.

Coconut oil: One of the bad fats and not generally used in cooking.  However, here’s a beauty tip: liquefy a bit of solid coconut oil by scooping out a spoonful and placing it in a bowl or dish. Place the bowl in a separate bowl of hot water to melt the oil. Spread the liquefied coconut oil on your dry skin. It is non-greasy, smooth and free of chemicals – a perfect moisturizer for your skin!

Hydrogenated oils: Demon hybrid blamed for the obesity epidemic and a myriad of health problems in the United States.  Read labels carefully. Other names for hydrogenated oils are: partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats, shortened fat and shortened oil.

Solid fats: It’s all been said before, but avoid Crisco, lard, solid margarines, shortening and vegetable shortening; they are guaranteed to clog your arteries.