turn up the heat on oils

Recently, one of my clients shared that she was confused about all the cooking oil options in the supermarket she frequents.

“I don’t understand the difference! Are all olive oils the same? What does refined mean? Which one should I choose?”

Well, it depends. What are you cooking? Is it a salad or a stir fry? And what does the latest research say about oils?

Up until now, we’ve followed the thinking that certain oils should be used at room temperature, as they break down with heat. However, a 2018 study done by Modern Olives Laboratory Services, an Australian olive nursery and advisory company, shows that in contrast to what was previously thought, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) actually holds up best at higher temperatures. That’s important news since EVOO has the highest levels of antioxidants and contains other important nutrients as well.

Good to know, but this is not the end of the story. As reported on 60 Minutes and written about in Forbes, all olive oils are not what they seem. Turns out there is a lot of corruption in the olive oil world. Extra virgin olive oil should be from the first pressing of the olives. Nothing added. This means it is not refined and, therefore, better for your health. Some less reputable olive oil producers from Italy and several other countries are mixing their oils with lower quality olive oils from nearby countries or with other kinds of oils.

According to the Forbes’ article, depending on where you live, 50 to 80 percent of the EVOO on supermarket shelves is adulterated. Inexpensive extra virgin olive oil is a sign that you may not be getting the real thing. The ultimate test is taste and smell, but that doesn’t help us before purchasing. If you don’t think it smells or tastes the way it should, return the oil.

Another caveat: while olive oil is considered the healthiest oil, it can break down with time and substandard storage and handling. When purchasing, make sure to check the “best before date” on the bottle. Keep your oil in a cool, dark place, such as a cabinet that is away from the stove.

Back to cooking. You can use the EVOO for salads, cooking on the stove, and in the oven. Being a mostly dairy free person, I cook my eggs in olive oil and they are delicious.

What about other oils?

When cooking with heat, coconut oil comes in a close second to olive oil in the Australian study. Canola oil, so popular in the United States, does not hold up at high heat; neither do the other seed oils (sunflower seed, sesame seed, grape seed, etc.).

Why cook with anything other than EVOO? Taste and other health benefits. Olive oil has a distinctive taste. Depending on what is for dinner, you may or may not be looking for that flavor. Coconut oil has just a hint, not a strong taste, of coconut. I use it in curries as well as in some soups and other foods. Coconut oil may not have the same antioxidant level as EVOO, but it has many other important qualities such as immune and hormonal system support, as well as antifungal, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties.
Not to confuse things, but the Australian study only tested non-animal sources of oils. If made with organic butter from grass fed cows, ghee (clarified butter) is another healthy fat and cooking oil.

I steer clear of margarine, canola, and shortening. I do use avocado oil on salads if I don’t have any ripe avocado, but it’s very expensive so I don’t use it for cooking. When making something that calls for sesame oil, I add a few drops after cooking and just before serving. The food still absorbs the flavor and tastes great.

Using the right oils in your uncooked and cooked foods means you get their health benefits without compromising on taste.

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