June 15, 2008

Know Your Oils

By Gabi Sahner

THERE are cooking oils and those to be used only as condiments. And did you know that overheating oils can turn them into unhealthy substances? GABI SAHNER tells you more.

With so many different types of oils now available on supermarket shelves, it can be quite tricky choosing one that is suitable.

What are the various types and uses of oils, and which are the healthiest?

The kinds of oil you need depend on the type of dishes you cook, and whether the oil is for cooking or to be used as a condiment.

Premium-priced olive oils are best used as a condiment rather than for cooking. Drizzle them over cooked fish, meat, vegetables, salads and pasta. If you fry food with them, their flavours will be lost.

For deep-fried foods, you will need an oil with a high smoking point, such as soya or any other vegetable oil.

These oils can be heated to a very high temperature before they break down into harmful substances. Be sure to follow the temperature guidelines of the cooking oil. If you overheat an oil, it can ruin your food, besides smoking you out of your house! Oils should be stored in a dark, cool place and used within a year. We describe some of the varieties of oil.

Corn Oil

This mild, bland oil is used in many kitchens. With a relatively high smoking point, it is used primarily for cooking, stir-frying and grilling at high temperatures.

Sunflower, Canola and Soybean Oils

These mild oils with low smoking points are typically used for boiling, steaming and stewing.

Coconut Oil

A heavy, almost colourless oil with a distinctive flavour, it can turn waxy when cold. It is used for deep-frying and other kinds of high-temperature cooking. Discard after use.

Grapeseed Oil

This light aromatic oil is a by-product of wine-making. It has a mild flavour of grapes and is used for salads, frying and sauteeing.

Walnut and Hazelnut Oils

These have delicate, nutty flavours and are excellent for baking, cooking and salads. Once opened, they need to be refrigerated.

Olive Oil

Olive oils vary in flavour, are thick or thin, and come in hues from yellow to green.

The different varieties of olive oil are extra virgin, virgin, extra light and refined.

Light olive oil is the most commonly used, and preferred for cooking. The least processed and most flavourful is cold pressed extra virgin, adding a delicious flavour when used in salads, or drizzled on vegetables and pasta before serving. They turn bitter if allowed to smoke.

Sesame Oil

This delicate oil has a rich, nutty flavour that enhances the taste of many foods.

It comes in either a dark and heavy version, or as a lighter one. The light oil can be used for sauteeing, while the dark version is generally used as a finishing oil. Use up this oil quickly, as it will turn rancid if left too long in the cabinet.

Flavoured Oils

These are infused with lemon, chilly, herbs, truffle, basil, basilica, pepper - just to name a few. They are less versatile than pure oils. Make sure to only buy small bottles of these oils, as they too turn rancid quite fast.

Many liquid vegetable oils are low in artery-clogging saturated fat and contain no cholesterol. Unfortunately, many people also assume that they are low in total fat and calories and therefore use them liberally.

But, the fact is, all oils are pure fat. Just one tablespoon of any oil has 13g of fat and 120 calories. Therefore, be aware that some oils are better than others in light and healthy cooking.

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