What are you cooking with? Olive Oil vs other Oils
It’s amazing to see the rise of a broad range of seed, fruit and vegetable oils that have emerged on to the market in recent years. I’m sure we’ve all tried plenty of different options, but what probably concerns us most are the health implications of using one oil over another, particularly for cooking.
Olive oil is the only commercially important vegetable oil extracted from fruit rather than seeds (such as sunflower, rapeseed, soy etc). Because the fruit contains considerable amounts of water, extraction is done mechanically with a centrifuge or press, seed oils however generally require industrial solvents, typically hexane to extract the oil. Removing this solvent and any associated odours requires high-temperature neutralisation, bleaching and deodorisation to give a taste and colour free liquid fat. This information isn’t designed to scare you, it’s just important you are aware of the facts. One of the great benefits of Olive Oil is that it can simply be pressed and spun to extract freshly pressed juice that is complete with all its natural and healthy characteristics. This is why the quality of the olives really counts – you get out what you put in. Of course great olive oil has a flavour, so it’s not going to be your first choice for Asian cooking for example, but within most European cuisine, it should enhance the flavour of your dish and compliment the other ingredients.
You can check the summary of smoke points of different oils here. The main point to focus on is not burning any of your food, which is extremely easy when cooking with gas and when we are time poor – this is the major issue. A carciofo alla giudia (deep fried artichoke in the Roman style) has a frying temperature of 180°C – if you have ever had the pleasure of enjoying one then you can imagine that nothing really needs to be cooked at temperatures higher than this (it is extremely crispy!). Anyway to summarise, these are the headline smoke points that may help you to choose which oils to keep in your larder:
1. Avocado Oil 270°C
You should certainly have Avocado Oil in your larder, especially if you need to cook at high temperatures. There are some side effects if you consume too much, but for usual usage levels there is little to worry about. The only possible concern would be for pregnant or breast-feeding women as it can restrict milk production.
2. Highest quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil 207°C
There has been so much confusing media coverage about smoke point of Olive Oil. What you need to know is that lower quality olive oil (which could be labelled Extra Virgin, you should be guided by the price – under £10 is low quality) has a smoke point of around 160°C, where as the highest quality EVOO is far higher at 207°C and this is likely to be high enough to suit all cooking needs.
3. Unrefined Virgin pressed Coconut Oil 177°C
Refined coconut oil has a higher smoking point (around 204°C), but the best quality Coconut Oil has a much lower smoke point. In any case, it’s important to know which quality level you are buying.
4. Unrefined Sunflower Oil 107°C
You may think that for frying, Sunflower oil is a better choice, but in terms of smoke point it may not be the best option.
5. Unrefined Rapeseed Oil 105°C
If you are looking for a high quality rapeseed oil, it is likely to be Unrefined yet it has a surprisingly low smoke point.