15 Dec The best oils for your pantry
Fats and oils are such a luxury to add to our homemade cooking. Without oils, food would stick to our best pots and pans and dishes would taste pretty bland. Besides their delicious taste, the right fats/oils offer some pretty necessary nutrition. For example, avocado oil is rich in heart healthy polyphenols, vitamin E, lutein and lycopene that aids macular degeneration. However, the nature of an extracted oil is tricky. A healthy oil can become very unhealthy if processed unfairly, cooked on high heat or stored improperly. There are also signs to look out for when an oil gets too old or oxidizes and becomes rancid. Rancid oils are high in destructive free radicals which are detrimental to our health. Avoiding these oils completely is something I strongly live by. Before fats and oils are extracted, they are protected by the whole plant they derive from. Once extracted, they are exposed to the elements and can very quickly degrade.
Read on to get a general idea of the guideline I use to ensure the healthiest fats and oils are being used in everyday dishes.
Why smoking is unhealthy
Yes, even oils smoke and it’s really not good for them or us. When using oils for cooking, the most important thing to consider is the smoke point. This means that if an oil begins to smoke at a certain temperature, the integrity of the oil is damaged. If you ever notice an oil smoking in a heated pan, it is important to discard this oil because it will damage your body (poor it in a dish and let cool before throwing out).
Keep in mind, refined and expeller pressed oils tend to have higher smoke points than unrefined/cold pressed oils. There is more on the these processing methods below.
Here is a quick list of oils and their smoke point tolerance:
The best oils for high heat
- Avocado and Macadamia oil luckily retain all of their healthy properties and flavours up to 500°F if expeller pressed, or up to 400°F if raw/cold pressed.
- Ghee (clarified butter) can be heated up to 450°F.
Best oils for low-heat cooking
These are not the best for frying, just low-medium heat
- Olive oil can withstand heat up to 350°F but can oxidize very quickly at temperatures higher than that.
- Butter can be heated safely at temperatures between 300°F-350°F.
- Coconut oil is safe up to 350°F.
- Nut oils such as sesame, peanut, almond, walnut, hazelnut and pistachio can go up to 400-440°F if they are expeller pressed. If they are cold pressed, it’s best to use them for drizzling on dishes or salad dressings.
Did you know? When oil begins to ripple (not bubble) in a warm pan, it is at its perfect cooking temperature!
Processing Method – What is the difference between expeller pressed, raw/cold pressed and refined?
A longstanding fact is that healthier oils tend to cost more because they are more difficult to produce and process. Refined oils are easier to process so they are cheaper, but at the expense of nutrition and flavour. Unrefined, Extra Virgin, Cold pressed and Expeller pressed are all very similar but with a few caveats.
Unrefined. An oil labeled unrefined means that is has been mechanically pressed only, under extremely low heat of 160°F. Then, the oil may be filtered once to remove certain residues. The benefit of unrefined is that the oil retains its nutrients, original taste, aroma and colour. It is normal for unrefined oils to become cloudy. One of the nutrients unrefined oils contain is Vitamin E, which helps to slow down rancidity. Of all the information printed on a bottle of oil about its processing, unrefined is the most important.
Extra-Virgin. Like unrefined, this method means no use of chemicals were used in the extraction process. Instead, it is purely a mechanical production resulting in superior quality. Something to look out for as an indication of extra virgin is a dark oil, as light olive oil for example, is most likely refined.
Cold-pressed & Expeller Pressed. When oils are labeled cold and/or expeller pressed, it also means the processing is low temperature without the use of chemicals. I believe this to be true for certain oils like coconut and olive oil but unfortunately over the years, the cold pressed/expeller pressed title has been abused and oils have still been heated for commercial extraction. This also means not every oil processed as cold or expeller pressed is also unrefined. If you do notice the term cold pressed, take a look on the bottle to see if there is a temperature they claim to use to make it truly cold pressed. A reference point of 100°F and below is the temperature in which an oil may be termed cold pressed.
Refined Oils. I avoid these at all costs. Some of them are extracted at high heat with harsh chemicals. They can be bleached and chemically treated to ensure a colourless, tasteless oil with a “forever” shelf life. The lesser evil of refined oils are expeller extracted which means no chemicals, but these oils are still subjected to high heat that ruins the nutritional integrity of the oil. The high temperatures we’re talking about is exceeding 450°F. Keep in mind trans fatty acids begin to form after 320°F in certain oils.
Oil’s Stability and Shelf Life
Proper storage of oils keep them from rancidity. Some oils are less stable and oxidize more quickly than others such as Polyunsaturated oils (safflower, sesame and sunflower seeds, corn, soybeans, many nuts and seeds, and their oils). Monounsaturated oils like olive, peanut and avocado oil tend to be a bit more stable. However, all oils are susceptible to rancidity if exposed to light, heat and air.
Oils should only be purchased in a dark bottle, otherwise light will turn the oil rancid. Just as important, make sure the oil is in a glass bottle to prevent oxygen and endocrine disruptive chemicals from leaching through the bottle and into the oil. If you don’t go through a lot of oil at once, buying smaller bottles is safer.
Oils like avocado, coconut and olive can be kept in a cool dark cupboard and can last up to a year. Butter and Ghee can stay at room temperature for a couple of weeks but it’s best to keep them in the fridge. I usually only keep 1/2 cup worth of butter out at a time. Nut and seed oils such as hemp, sesame, pumpkin, chia, flax, walnut, corn, sunflower and safflower should be kept in the fridge and will last for about 3-6 months.
Do you know how to tell if an oil is rancid or not? Sometimes we are almost used to the taste of old oils. Other times we are sure something is off about the oil. Check out the rancidity test on page 12 in Dandelion’s Guide Clean up: Replace toxic habits with clean alternatives