Oils are your friend when it comes to cooking — it’s as simple as fat.
“These are a huge element in everything culinary,” said chef Marc Rouse, owner of FOOD! By Marc in Avon. “The fats in oils are the main lubricant in cooking, and they are so necessary in preparation, as well as presentation.”
Rouse said if you’re not cooking with oil, you should probably be steaming your food to compensate for the lack of coating. Healthy fats are essential for balanced nutrition, however, and it’s all about moderation.
“There’s not a specific amount of oil you should intake, because you are going to find fats in other foods—meats, dairies, baked goods, etc. — so overall, I recommend not going over 30 percent of your daily diet coming from fats,” said Susan Drake, nutrition consultant with Advanced Nutrition Concepts.
Drake said she works with clients on their nutrition in the mountains and the Front Range, and said she thinks it’s unrealistic to not use any oil in cooking, even for people who are trying to lose weight.
“I always suggest people avoid fats that are solid at room temperature—lard, shortening, butter — as a general rule,” Drake said.
Coconut oil is an exception to this, Drake added, as it sits solid when it’s not heated. This popular oil offers healthy fats, but it’s recent surge in the healthy cooking and natural beauty realm doesn’t mean it will stay in the limelight forever.
“Oils become trendy,” Rouse explained. “A few years ago, Dr. Oz was all about olive oil. Stuff has always been there, but trends come and go.”
All about olive oil
Even as cooking fat preferences fluctuate, olive oil seems to remain the culinary king.
“Some of my favorite oils are extra virgin olive oils from the Santa Barbara area,” Rouse said. “They harvest the fruit right off the tree instead of letting the fruit fall to the ground before harvesting it. What that does is give the oil a zesty, peppery, fresh taste.”
EVOO, as the oil is commonly nicknamed, is not to be used for anything except for finishing or dipping, however. The oil solidifies if it’s refrigerated and has a low smoke point, so it’s not good for sauteing, grilling or baking.
“Extra virgin olive oils are so good, yet so volatile,” Rouse explained. “They should be the star of the show, and should not be mixed into batter or anything else.”
Rouse said at FOOD! By Marc, cooking oils are often blended. His “go-to” combo is made of 70 percent canola oil and 30 percent pure olive oil (not extra virgin).
“It’s more economical, and we can keep our price point low,” Rouse said. “Also, if we use 100 percent olive oil and put it in the refrigerator, like for a salad dressing, it solidifies.”
From a nutritional perspective, Drake said her favorite oils are of the olive variety as well.
“I always promote the oils with omega-3 fatty acid, especially olive oil,” she said.
Rouse said when it comes to cooking oils, you just have to find what you like and what your body can digest.
Although Rouse only keeps several oils on-hand at the cooking studio, he said you can get creative with what you use.
His “garlic confit” oil is an infused garlic oil. To make it, Rouse boils garlic cloves in his canola-olive oil blend until the garlic pieces start to turn golden brown in the oil. He then cools it, separates the garlic from the oil, purees the garlic and then mixes the oil and garlic puree. He said it’s a great oil for finishing and grilling.
Here’s a brief breakdown of some popular cooking oils:
Avocado oil: Pressed from avocados to make a smooth and nutty oil that can be used at high heat. It contains more than 50 percent monounsaturated (heart-healthy) fats and is high in omegas.
Canola oil: Comes from the seeds of the canola plant and is low in saturated fat. It has a mild flavor and a high smoke point, making it good for general cooking and baking. Rouse said canola, sunflower and safflower oils are all very similar in their flavors and cooking integrity.
Coconut oil: Pressed from coconuts, this oil adds a slight coconut flavor to dishes and baked goods. Rouse said he likes using it for curries, but wouldn’t cook chicken Parmesan with it, for example.
Grapeseed oil: Extracted from the seeds of grapes and is a byproduct of the winemaking industry. It has an earthy and zesty flavor and can be used for high heat cooking like canola oil, but is generally more expensive.
Olive oil: Pressed from olives, this culinary staple contains heart-friendly fat. Extra virgin olive oil is from the first cold press of olives, and pure olive oil is a blend of refined olive oil and extra virgin olive oil. The robust flavor stands out and is good for blending into salad dressing and drizzling over soups and grilled vegetables.
Peanut oil: Comes from peanuts and provides a strong peanut flavor good for stir fries. It is also heart-healthy, with a high monounsaturated fat content.
Sesame oil: Provided from the seed of the sesame plant, this oil has a high flavor profile, which can be a good addition to dressings and sauces.
Flaxseed oil: Pressed from flaxseeds, Rouse said he does not enjoy the flavor of this oil and said it’s hard to work with because it spoils easily. Most people add this to their diet in smoothies or cereals for the healthy fats and not the flavor.
Cooking with your oils
Experiment with oils by breaking them down into several categories:
For baking: Canola or canola/pure olive oil blend, coconut, safflower and sunflower.
For frying: High-heat oils, including avocado, peanut, palm and sesame.
For sauteing and grilling: High-heat oils, including canola, safflower, sunflower, avocado, coconut, grapeseed, olive and sesame.
For dipping, dressings and marinates: Oils with high flavor profiles, including olive, sesame, peanut and walnut.
As a general rule, Rouse said he likes to buy oils that are GMO free.
“Anything that is genetically modified is messing with mother nature,” he said.
Oil is very versatile and just like with other foods, you can have fun with the different flavors.
“If I could only bring one oil with me to a desert island, I would take olive oil,” Rouse said. “Because I would be going to a desert island and there would be coconuts, so I would make coconut oil too.”