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The Differences Between Cooking Oils: What You Need to Know!

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Have you ever had a meal that you expected to taste one way, but came out another? Or perhaps you found that something got burned, came out with a better than expected texture, or even started reducing inflammation in your body? As many foodies know (or may not know) your food is as much a product of how you cook as well as what you cook it with – and with cooking oils, there is so much more than meets the pan! Choosing the wrong amount, type, temperature or even cooking time with different cooking oils can be the difference between a smashing dinner party meal, or a kitchen experiment gone horribly wrong. Today we are going to look at these differences between the various oils out there, and what you need to know while cooking for a healthy kitchen!

First and foremost, one of the major differences in cooking oils is what we like to call their “smoke point”. Effectively, these means that when each respective oil is subjected to a temperature above this point, the oil will start to smoke and burn (which we want to avoid!). Here are the smoke points (in degrees Fahrenheit, common for most stovetops) for oils most of us will use in our everyday cooking:

Butter: 260 F
Lard: 370 F
Canola Oil: 448 F
Corn Oil: 410 F
Cottonseed Oil: 450 F
Margarine: 410 F
Extra Virgin Olive Oil: 250 F
Olive Oil: 410 F
Peanut Oil: 450 F
Soybean Oil: 495 F
Coconut Oil: 350 F

With these numbers in mind, remember to match up your smoke points to whatever temperature you are cooking with! And if you are out of a certain type of oil but your meal needs to be at a higher temperature, you can look to either a) increase your cooking time or b) prepare a different meal until you pick up the oil you need. A good rule to remember is that if you are searing or deep frying any foods, the higher smoke point oils you will need. On the flipside, most other cooking and baking needs won’t require oils with a high smoke point.

But what about the flavor, the most important part?? Indeed, determining what flavors we want to impart on our meals is the next step in discovering our cooking oils. YUM. If you are looking for a cooking oil that won’t interfere with the flavors you already have in your dish, canola and grapeseed oil are more than likely your best bet, and to an extent olive oil can be included in this as well (provided you use a small amount). However for oils such as sesame, lard, butter, and bacon fat, they are utilized more for their distinctive flavor they each have, and can be used in your healthy cooking recipes as needed. If you want to get into more specifics, for foods such as salads (i.e. dressings) look to use oils such as olive oil or sesame oil as they can enhance the flavor. For any kind of baking items, you will want an oil that is solid at room temperature such as butter or margarine. Lastly, for any pan cooking (i.e. eggs, stir fry etc.) look to use a small amount of coconut oil or grapeseed oil as they will cook your foods safely while minimizing too much flavor overload.

The last factor to note is how each oil relates to each other for their healthiness factor! In a nutshell, the less refined and more natural your oil is, the better. For example, unrefined coconut oil or hemp oil will be more beneficial to your heart and cardiovascular health than say canola oil or any hydrogenated oils (shortening, hydrogenated margarine, etc.). This is because these oils are high in omega-6 (bad for inflammation in the body), and have also been modified to make a more processed product. Conversely, oils such as hemp, flax or coconut oil are chock full of more omega-3 fats (good for inflammation in the body) and in general are lot healthier for your heart and overall wellbeing. Other oils that we should aim to use sparingly include palm/palm kernel oil, cottonseed oil, shortening, and hydrogenated coconut/margarine. Again, scan the back of the nutrition label and look for the omega 3 to omega 6 ratio if they have it listed (1:4 is optimal, the western world average is a disappointing 1:16 ratio) and as best you can avoid too much trans fats and saturated fats. Either way, don’t be afraid to experiment and find out which oils work for you and for each situation. After all, nutrition is a wonderful world of choice and surprise – and our cooking oils are no exception!

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