Thursday, March 10, 2011

What oil do I use?

A friend recently asked me what does it mean when a recipe says an oiled pan, or calls for cooking oil?  What is Cooking oil anyway?  Of course I started in with my ‘know-it-all’ self.  As usual I went to the internet to verify my information.  We talked for a few minutes about all the oils and how you use a different oil for different heats.

She found the information very interesting and thought that not many people knew this much about oils.  I often assume that other people somehow have acquired all this knowledge that for some reason I only recently learned.  Don’t ask me why…  It got me thinking that maybe most people don’t know about cooking with different oils. 

Story time J

When I was younger, during my formative years, my mother worked a full time job, then came home to run her three children everywhere.  This didn’t leave her the time for scratch baking and experimenting that she was able to do in her first years of marriage.  She made quick easy dinners; anything that came from a box, a drive thru, or cooked in minutes was the best for dinner.  We never complained – In fact one time I wanted McDonalds so bad I offered to pay for the entire family.

Needless to say I didn’t grow up learning all those baking techniques of the old world, home-style sort.  When I first moved out I followed my mother’s lead, as most young women do, everything was prepackaged and easy to make.  It has only been the last few years that I have been trying to re-invent the wheel if you will.  For about seven or so years I have been slowly returning to those homemade, scratch, time consuming recipes.

I called my Grandmother a lot!  I love to talk to her, knew she made things from scratch, and remember some of them as favorites.  It started out of a need to make sure that I could make something when she was gone, then grew to all kinds of substitutions advice, or anything I could think of.  Of Course I called my mom and mother-in-law as well.  But more and more I needed newer advice so I was turning to the internet for help.

I would say I was like most people using the standard vegetable oil and the solid Crisco, with a little olive oil here and there.  A few years ago I was using some olive oil and noticed a lot of smoke.  Later on I looked up cooking oils and my eyes were opened.  Since then I have been experimenting with many different, healthy oils.  Here is a little of my prior knowledge and what I found the other day. 

Oil Basics
  1. All oils are not the same.  Oil can be extracted from most nuts and some vegetables; the process is not the same for all oils of the same variety and may involve chemical extraction.
  2. Every oil has a smoke point (cooking temp); some are more suitable for low heat others for high heat.  Look for a range of values; some are touting high numbers that really aren't true.
    - The smoke point is the temperature that the oil is when it actually begins to smoke.
  3. The more refined oils (and also more expensive) have a higher smoke point.
  4. If your oil is smoking it is very near its flash point – i.e.  FIRE!
  5. Use the right oil for the right job.  Can I stress how important this is?    

Here is information from my Spectrum Organics Kitchen guide and other notes I've made the past few years.  I highly recommend downloading one for free.

Up to 350   F
–Cooking Methods
Low-heat baking, light sauté, pressure cooking, sauces
–Oils You Should Use
unrefined coconut oil (smoke point 280 F)
unrefined corn oil (smoke point 320 F)
unrefined olive oil (smoke point 325 F)
unrefined toasted sesame oil (smoke point 350F)
unrefined peanut oil (smoke point 350 F)
semirefined safflower oil (smoke point 320 F)
unrefined soy oil (smoke point 320 F)
unrefined high-Oleic sunflower oil (smoke point 320 F)
unrefined walnut oil (smoke point 320 F)
Up to 425   F
–Cooking Methods
 Baking sauté, stir-fry, wok cooking
–Oils You Should Use
refined soy oil (smoke point 360 F)
coconut oil (smoke point 365 F)
refined high-oleic sunflower oil (smoke point 390-450 F)
refined walnut oil (smoke point 400 F)
refined grape seed oil (smoke point 425 F)
refined canola oil (smoke point 425 F)
refined canola oil (smoke point 400 F)
refined corn oil (smoke point 450 F)
unrefined olive oil (smoke point 320)
refined peanut oil (smoke point 450 F)
refined safflower oil (smoke point 450 F)
unrefined sesame oil (smoke point 350 F)
semirefined sesame oil (smoke point 450 F)
refined soy oil (smoke point is below 450 F)
semirefined sunflower oil (smoke point 450 F)

Up to 500   F
–Cooking Methods
Sear, brown, deep-fry, or all purpose cooking.
–Oils You Should Use
refined almond oil (smoke point 495 F)
refined safflower – supper high heat oil (smoke point 460 F)
refined sunflower oil (smoke point 460  F)
refined Palm fruit oil (smoke point 450 F)
refined high-oleic sunflower oil (smoke point 445 F)
refined sesame oil (smoke point 445 F)
refined avocado oil (smoke point 510 F), the highest temperature of all the plant oils.