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Cooking Oils

With Christmas just around the corner and with many of us about to embark on a holiday of cooking and feasting, it seemed a perfect time to explore different cooking oils.

It wasn’t so long ago that we all cooked at home using vegetable oil and Extra Virgin Olive Oil was classified as exotic. Nowadays, the oil market is flooded with every type you can imagine, but it is not always easy to know what to use when, so here’s a helpful run down:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil is best reserved for salad dressing as cooking can break down the natural waxes which alters the flavour. It is a staple of the Mediterranean diet and it is heart healthy, full of antioxidants and phytochemicals. It is called extra virgin as it comes from the first pressing of the olives, hence its dark green colour and strong flavour. When you want to cook, choose just plain olive oil as opposed to extra virgin, this is normally a blend of refined oils and extra virgin, giving a lovely taste but is able to be heated at higher temperatures.

Rapeseed Oil is a great all round oil, it has cholesterol lowering monosaturates, and in fact has half the saturates of olive oil. One tablespoon also contains 1/5th of your daily vitamin E requirements. Cold-pressed types generally have more flavour, but on the whole it is good when you do not want too much flavour influence in your dish, such as in stir fries or baking.

Flaxseed/Linseed Oil can only be used for dressings as it is very heat sensitive, but it is a brilliant source of omega 3, it is a great choice for vegetarians who cannot get their omega 3 fats from oily fish. It is another great oil source for your heart and can dampen inflammation in the body. It has a shorter shelf life and should be kept chilled.

Sunflower Oil has fallen a little out of flavour, this is mainly because it is high in omega 6 polyunsaturated – generally we are eating too much of this. That said it is the best source of vitamin E which is scarce in many foods. It can be heated to a high temperature and has little flavour, it can be used when needed, but it is best if this is not your only fat source.

Coconut Oil is probably the newest fat out of the block with a stellar celebrity following already. This is because it is high in medium chain triglycerides that is a new type of saturated fat that does not raise cholesterol. There is also some evidence that consumption may boost metabolism, but be mindful of the fact it is very high in calories. It is stable at high temperatures, so you can fry with it.

There are many more oils, such as nut/seed oils that could also make up your pantry – almond (suitable for frying), hazelnut (salads, dressing & dips), peanut (often used in Asian cooking for flavour), walnut (nutty flavour best used for cold dishes) and sesame (best used in oriental dishes, gives a rich nut flavour if the seeds have been toasted before pressing).

Storage & Usage:
Keep opened oils in a cool dark cupboard. Refrigerate Hemp and Flaxseed oils.
Use refined oils for high temperature cooking.
Cold pressed oils and extra virgin oils tend to have more health benefits.
Do not re-use oils; the fatty acids degrade in to toxic compounds.