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Sarina’s Sephardic Cuisine app includes over 160 easy to follow recipes, photos and video links to demonstrations. 

Know Your Oils

There are so many different kinds of cooking oils out there that it’s hard to know what’s what. I know I have to have various oils in my kitchen. This has been a learning curve for me as I watch cooking shows and experiment.

My mom only used vegetable oil so that’s what I did. Then I saw Rachael Ray who only uses EVOO (extra virgin olive oil).  Recently I found avocado oil and bought some. What you are using the oil for is a factor in what oils to use.

Oil is a cook’s go-to fat because it’s so versatile and makes food tasty. It tenderizes and conducts heat past the boiling point of water. Often the price of oil determines what gets into our pantry, so taste and quality end up losing. In terms of calories, most oils have 120 calories in a TBS and have 14g of fat. Oils have no protein or fiber. Where they differ is how much saturated, unsaturated or monosaturated fats they have. All oils have a bit of each.

The bottom line is that we do need fat in our diets and they do have health benefits. The heathy unsaturated fats are unsaturated and good for your heart and brain. They help our brain cells speak to each other and help us absorb some vitamins.

Here is a guide to many of the oils on the market.

Avocado Oil - is a product of Spain and is made from pressing the pulp of the fruit, not the seed. It’s low in acidity and has one of the highest smoke points I’ve seen. Slightly green, it is high in monosaturated fat and has a buttery texture. The best Avocado oil I know of is the De La Rosa Brand – kosher year-round, gluten free and has no additives.

Corn Oil - is made by pressing yellow kernels of corn and is used in frying, salad dressing. It is high in Omega-6 fatty acids.

Cottonseed Oil - is a cooking oil derived from cotton seeds grown for cotton fiber.

Canola Oil - Canola is an engineered plant developed in Canada. The oil is derived from crushing the seeds of the grapeseed plant, which is a member of the mustard family. It is a great go-to oil to saute or oven fry and bake because it has a neutral flavor.

Canola oil is marketed as an oil very low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat. Canola oil is, for the most part, tasteless, making it a good choice for baked goods.

Grapeseed Oil - Grapeseed oil is one such cooking oil that’s been controversial for some time now. Grape seed oil is processed from the seeds of grapes, which are formed as a by-product of wine making. It is a light neutral-tasting oil that lets the other ingredients in your recipe stand out. On one hand, it’s similar to olive oil in that it contains some monounsaturated fat, but mostly it’s made of polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) like omega-6s and omega-9 fatty acids. The high smoke point is great for stir fries. Great for blending into your salad dressing.

Olive Oil - is usually produced in Italy, Spain or Greece, it has no additives. Basically they extract the oil from the olive fruit which preserves the natural taste. By cold pressing, the oil preserves its flavor.

EVOO - is similar to olive oil but the virgin in the name means it’s not refined, has no chemical treatment resulting in a stronger flavor and higher quality.? Olive oil is considered one of the healthiest oils due to its high monounsaturated fat content and low saturated fat content. Studies show olive oil helps the heart remain healthy and aids in regulating cholesterol.  It is also part of the Mediterranean diet food pyramid.

Pure Olive oil - usually a blend og virgin olive oil and refined olive oils. If the extracted olive oil is of poor quality, this process helps it to have a better flavor. This oil is good for frying.

Olive Oil from Morocco – De La Rosa Foods makes an excellent Kosher year round olive oil from Morocco.

Peanut Oil – made from pressed peanuts and used in Southeast Asian dishes for general cooking. It has a high smoke point, so it’s useful for frying, but it is high in fatty acids. Its very mild because it has been bleached and deodorized. This oil is so refined that it is safe for people with peanut allergies.

Red Palm Oil – has a buttery carrotlike taste and comes from the fruit of a palm tree. The red color is good for your eyes. But this oil has more saturated fat than most oils, limit its use. Palm oil production is also environmentally unfriendly.

Safflower Oil – produced from safflower seeds, this oil has a milder flavor than olive oil and can be cooked at higher temperatures.

Sesame Oil – Well, obviously it’s made from toasted sesame seeds and maybe its not so odd! This is a polyunsaturated oil used in Asian and Indian foods, as well as Middle Eastern foods. It was one of the first crops processed for oil. This oil is very unique in that it has equal parts monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats. It has compounds that may improve blood pressure and cholesterol. Toasted sesame oil has a more robust and nutty flavor.

Soybean Oil - this inexpensive oil is partially hydrogenated and can be found in most processed food. It is made from soybeans and considered a cheap source of protein. The oil is problematic due to its transfat it contains, making it a contributing factor to poor health.

Sunflower Oil - is extracted from the sunflower seed and is a very commonly used oil.

Vegetable Oil - is actually a blend of corn, soybean, palm and sunflower oil. This is what my mom always used. On a recent trip to Costco, I noticed that their vegetable oil is really Canola Oil – gotta read those labels! Now that’s a problem because while canola oil is supposed to be healthy, it doesn’t get hot enough for some foods when frying.

Walnut oil - comes in either bold, which is roasted, or mild, which is more nutty in flavor. It is one of the few oils to deliver omega-3 fat, which is healthy fat. Delicious in pasta sauces.

Photos above by Mark Greenberg

Videos by Joe Williams