Do you know your oils?

Oil being poured into a small bowl

Oil is an important Pantry item but do you know the best oil for cooking? This is a an important question to consider when cooking.

Admittedly the question is unsurprising since most of the calories from a food plate come from the oil or fat used in cooking.

In this blog, we will consider different types of oils, discuss their use, and highlight Greenwich Pantry’s top five.

Of course, the list is not exhaustive and knowing even a little bit about oils will help massively with cooking delicious food and give you confidence to cook and eat balanced meals.

Unless you’re privileged enough to own a farm where you grow and press your own olives (or other plants) for oil, when you purchase oil in a shop, always read the label. If the producers have played their part, there should be a label on the bottle.

Back of olive oil bottle and label

The label gives a clue as to how much of the oil is actually what it says it is.

What makes an oil good for cooking?

Research into the best oil for cooking sheds some light on what might be best.

For the most part it has to do with smoke points.

Generally, every oil has a smoke point. This is the point at which the oil changes its “chemical state” and molecules break down.

Essentially some oils withstand heat better than others. In other words, some oils have a higher smoke point than others.

Cooking at a high heat favour oils with a higher smoke point and thankfully there are a few seeds that produce this type of oil.

Changes in smoke points are important to bear in mind as they can be problematic when cooking healthy food; because this turns the oil into a trans-fat that clogs up our arteries.

The oil with a high smoke point that we are most familiar with in the UK is rapeseed oil.

For instance, people often ask this question about vegetable oil “is vegetable oil good for cooking?” One answer is “it depends what it says on the label.”

The fact is vegetable oil can be made using anything plant based such as peanut, corn, avocado sunflower etc. However, with our need to eat healthy and distinguish one type of vegetable oil from another, it is really useful to know your oils.

A rapeseed field

Rapeseed oil is often sold as vegetable oil and as Rapeseed is grown and cultivated in many British farms, it is plentiful and therefore ‘considerably less expensive’ than olive oil for instance.

Next time you purchase vegetable oil check to see what type of seed oil it is, where it comes from and what percentage of the seed you are actually buying.

Before we delve deeper into the different type of oils there are, let’s spend some time discussing what oil is and where it comes from.

How is oil made and where do oils come from?

Commercially available cooking oils that we are familiar with, are taken through a series of steps and processes before they can be used for cooking.

Those steps involve seed planting, growing, harvesting, pressing, extracting, separating and cleaning the resulting liquid.

Single estate oils are generally more authentic and have been made with a lot of attention given to the growing harvesting and pressing process. These processes are often passed down the centuries and nurtured in family estates throughout their generations.

Cooking oils not only come from seeds, they also come from nuts and occasionally flowers.

Seeds, nuts and flowers such as black seed, mustard seed, walnuts, avocado, coconut and safflower all produce beautiful oils we can use with food.

Bottles of hazelnut and walnut oil

Here’s our top five oils that are great for cooking, making and baking.

Oil TypeBest forWhy
Rapeseed OilHigh heat cooking, frying, baking and basting. Typical smoke point is 400 degreesHigh in monounsaturated fats
Sunflower OilHigh heat cooking, frying, baking and basting. Typical smoke point is 450 degreesHigh in polyunsaturated fats
Corn OilHigh heat cooking and frying. Typical smoke point is 450 degreesHigh in monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and saturated fats
Peanut OilHigh heat frying and baking. Typical smoke point is 450 degreesHigh in monounsaturated fats and lower in saturated fats
Grapeseed OilBaking and sauté. Typical smoke point is 390 degreesHigh in polyunsaturated fats

Remember, life is for cooking!

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