Sunday, March 14, 2010

What Not To Do With: Olive Oil

Ultra Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil 500ml bottle at $55
Don't cook with it.

My earliest memory of cooking oil was lard. People didn't know better than. Then, we switched to corn oil, then canola oil, then olive oil, and then extra virgin olive oil. Oil made from olive contains high level of monounsaturated fat which reduces risk of heart disease and lowers your calorie intake. The oil also has a nice aroma and flavour. I think I will write another post about the science behind olive oil later.

I am here to talk about why we should not use olive oil for medium and high heat cooking.

Commercial grade or refined olive oil should not be heated to more than 230 °C/446 °F about high heat. Extra virgin olive oil cannot be heated heated above 177 °C/350 °F about low to medium heat. Unrefined particles in the oil get burned causing the flavour compounds to deteriorate and create toxins. The toxin, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, is carcinogenic. Refined olive oil is more heat tolerant, but it is still not healthy for high heat chinese stir fry. Cooking with extra virgin olive oil is a waste of money, creates a burn or bitter tastes in your food, and it is also counter productive for your health.

Extra virgin olive oil should use for cold dishes such as salad or food that has already been removed from heat. The most heat I use with olive oil is boiling water when I cook pasta. I might use refined olive oil to cook my low heat sauté common for Moroccan dishes, but why carry an extra bottle of olive oil?

Should you go back to canola oil? Not necessarily. There are other lower calorie, good for health oils that can tolerate high heat.

Grape seed oil: This oil has a muted clean tasted, which is not great for salad but perfect for high heat cooking. It lowers your cholesterol and also has trace amount of antioxidant reducing the risk of cancer. While most grape seed oils in stores are about 120 cal per tablespoon, same as most other oil, but grape seed oil acts differently when heated. It becomes less viscus than other oil, almost like water, so less amount of oil is used when cooking and the food is less likely to absorb it. I actually ingest less oil.

Coconut oil: This oil can tolerate moderate amount of high heat (340˚F) and a lot of health benefit. It is antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial, so not only does it reduces risk of cancer, heart problems, it also detox and strengthen the digestive system. It is also 120 cal per tablespoon. Coconut oil has a strong sweet nutty flavour and is not suitable for dishes with delicate flavours.

Safflower Oil: This flower extract is in fashion in the organic and vegan culture, and also very expensive compared to other oils. I am starting to see a lot of new foodie recipe call for this oil. It is tremendous good for health. Amongst all the other health benefit other oils has, it actually effectively combats type 2 diabetes and age related weight gain. Yes, it actively helps weight loss. It has a very light and clean tastes adaptable for any use. Also, it has a high smoke point and can be used for deep frying, but I am not sure that would still be health beneficial.

Avocado oil: This oil has the highest smoking point (tolerate the highest heat) of all the oils, but it's nasty. I did some research and apparently there are delicious avocado oil out there, but the qualities and flavours are very different from brand to brand. I have seen it on restaurant menu for creamy dishes though. It does add a beautiful color to the dish.

What oils do you use at home?

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