You have heard us say what fats and oils we recommend and the various health reasons behind those recommendations. Today we wanted to expand on the topic of cooking oils to bring you the practical approaches to using them in your cooking. They can be an overwhelming world for new cooks and knowing when and how to use them is very important. Understanding their properties will help guide you in knowing what oil to use in certain situations.

Understanding Stability

In the simplest of explanations the more saturated the fatty composition is the more stable and less likely to be damaged, rancid, or oxidized. Oxidation primarily occurs in unsaturated fatty acids. We are often instructed by health leaders to eat antioxidants to minimize the damage done to cells by free radicals. Free radical damage is closely associated with oxidative stress. It seems to me that one of the ways we can combat oxidative stress is to remove damaged or oxidized oils from our diet. This will in fact eliminate much of this stress. Here are some examples of fats/oils and their stability based on their saturation. This is taken from Diana Sanfilippo’s Guide to: Cooking Fats chart.

Most Stable Fats (high saturated fats):

  • Coconut Oil: 86% saturated fat
  • Butter/Ghee: 63% saturated fat
  • Cocoa Butter: 60% saturated fat
  • Tallow (beef fat): 55% saturated fat
  • Palm Oil: 54% saturated fat
  • Lard (bacon fat): 39% saturated fat
  • Duck fat: 37% saturated fat

Moderately Stable Fats (high monounsaturated fats):

  • Avocado Oil: 20% saturated fat
  • Macadamia Nut Oil: 16% saturated fat
  • Olive Oil: 14% saturated fat
  • Peanut Oil: 17% saturated fat

Unstable Fats (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils):

The processing of these man-made oils is very very damaging. They oxidize easily by being exposed to light, air, and/or heat.

  • Margarine/buttery spreads
  • Canola Oil
  • Corn Oil
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Soybean Oil
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Safflower Oil
  • Rice Bran Oil
  • Shortening

Fats and Oils in the Kitchen

So, now you want to know how to use these in the kitchen right? Well it’s pretty simple. For high heat cooking you want fats/oils that are stable. Stick to the fats/oils mentioned above that are highly saturated. The best ones include: coconut oil, butter, ghee, tallow, and palm oil. Use these for hot uses. Think sautéing, roasting, baking, frying. These are the fats/oils we use on a daily basis.

For cold uses, such as drizzling on salads or foods after they have been cooked, include: olive oil, sesame oil, nut oils, and avocado oils. These oils are good for us when used appropriately. If theses oils are used for high heat purposes (as mentioned above) they easily become damaged. When purchasing the type of fat/oil to use in your cooking here are our (best) recommendations:

  • For hot uses: buy organic, unrefined (to maintain nutritional content, flavor, and color), and grass-fed butter (preferably)
  • For cold uses: buy organic, extra-virgin, and cold-pressed

Additional tips:

  • For frying go with ghee (or clarified butter) vs. butter as real butter lends to burning easily due to the fact that it has some sugar and protein.
  • Olive oil and avocado oil can be used for cooking or baking, as long as you don’t use very high heat. Keep to 350 degrees or less.
  • Store your oils for cold uses (think olive oil) in a cool, dry, and dark place as this will slow down the oxidation process as light, air, and heat increases rancidity. This tends to be why a good quality oil is sold in a dark bottle instead of the clear plastic bottle. For the best oils go for fresh, in dark bottles that have not been on the shelf very long.
  • You can always buy ready made lard at the store, but if you eat a lot of bacon (like me) you can save the drippings to have your own.
  • Most recipes call for some type of vegetable oil or shortening. Use these substitutions: If a recipe calls for vegetable oil a good replacement is coconut oil. Choose a naturally refined coconut oil if you don’t want the coconut flavor. If the recipe calls for shortening or margarine use palm shortening instead as it is very similar.
  • You can sometimes detect if an oil has gone rancid by an unpleasant smell and taste, but not all the time because highly processed oils are made in a way to mask the rancidity. Pleasant right?
  • Run far away from seed and vegetable oils. Trash these in your pantries. They are not heart healthy- that is a bold lie. Be sure to read the ingredient list because these are often included in various ways.
  • Understand that restaurants use damaged oils. You may cook with the right fats/oils at home but if you eat out often you are still getting a hefty amount of damaged oils in your diet.

That’s about it! If you have any additional tips we would love for you to share!

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