Oil, Oil, Oil!


There's much to say about oil in food. FIrst, you have unrefined and refined; refined has undergone chemical processing and some discourage its use for health reasons. You also have animal oil and plant oil; and some discourage one, others the other; both for health reasons. Here is a further breakdown:

ANIMAL OILS
  1. Lard- is pig fat. It has a smoke point of 370°F. It can be rendered or unrendered with unrendered being unmelted and unfiltered pig oil.
  2. Ghee- is like clarified butter but simmered. The taste is nutty and it is aromatic. It is commonly used in Iranian and Indian dish preparations. It has a smoke point of 475°F. It is used for Ayurvedic purposes.
  3. Tallow- is rendered beef fat. Smoke point is 400°F. 
  4.  Margarine- is originally animal fat  but now more commonly vegetable oil based. Check labels for exact disclosure. It is imitation butter.
PLANT OILS (Vegetable Oils)
  1. Rice Bran Oil- can be used for cooking needs, including deep frying; it has a smoking point of 490°F. Rice bran oil is favorable for reducing bad cholesterol levels.
  2. Canola Oil- It has a smoke point of 400°F but is considered of medium smoke point, not recommended for deep frying.
  3. Sunflower Oil- Refined sunflower oil is suitable for deep frying. It is healthy oil but must be consumed in moderation, being high in fat. Check out these articles for more info.
  4. Corn Oil- is of medium smoke point, not recommended for deep frying. Livestrong discusses the benefits here .
  5. Olive Oil- is not recommended for deep frying although refined olive oil or light olive oil may be used if you prefer. Smoke point is low to medium depending on kind. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the highest of quality, it is unrefined, best for salad dressings, not good for sauteing since you will just destroy the nutritional content. Use Virgin Olive Oil for salad dressings and light vegetable sautes. Refined Olive Oil is cheaper and in terms of nutritional content, more inferior. it is however suitable for sauteing and frying. Pure Olive Oil is the least kind as to nutritional benefit and commonly recommended for skin and hair health purposes rather than cooking. It is a blend of virgin and refined olive oil. Pomace Olive Oil is different from Regular Olive Oil as for one, it is hot-pressed (heated above 80 degrees F, which destroys nutrients) and, number 2, it is chemically processed from remaining olive oil. OliveOilSource gives a fuller discussion on selecting olive oil. Deallo also gives a short insight here.
  6. Coconut Oil- can be taken in teaspoonfuls for health purposes. For cooking, it has a high smoking point of 350°F and can be used for deep frying. Coconut oil increases HDL levels (good cholesterol). It is known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial benefits.
  7. Safflower Oil- is flavorless or neutral. You can use unrefined Safflower oil as salad base and the refined one as cooking oil. It helps lower bad cholesterol. Smoke points for refined are 510°F and unrefined, 225°F 
  8. Sesame Oil- is highly nutritious and is recommended for salad flavorings and vegetable dish preparations. This is a staple kitchen supply in Asian kitchens. Dr. Axe recommends it for health purposes. Organic facts also lists benefits.
  9. Peanut Oil- is considered a healthy oil. It has a high smoke point and can be used for frying. It is also usable for dressing purposes. Check out livestrong on the benefits of using peanut oil.
  10. Soybean Oil- is not suitable for long or deep cooking and frying; advisable for light stir frys and light sautes, also as a salad dressing. It is high in polyunsaturated fats and is considered a healthy oil, providing the most vitamins among oils. Check this livestrong article on the benefits.
  11. Palm Oil- tends to be cheapest among all other vegetables oils and has a longer shelf life. It is high in saturated fats so many discourage its use. It has a high smoke point and very suitable for deep frying. Check this news article for a discussion on the palm oil controversy.
Additional Resources:
  • See livestrong for a discussion on coconut oil and rice bran oil.
  • A discussion on how animal oil is better for cooking.
  • A discussion on how vegetable oils are better for cooking.
  • CNN article on "Are Vegetable Oils Healthy?"
  • Oil Smoke Point pdf downloadable chart

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