Published January 25, 2022
Which cooking oil is healthier? Nowadays, the grocery stores are teeming with various kinds of cooking oils, from the well-known go-tos, such as vegetable oil and olive oil, to the newer selections like avocado oil and walnut oil. With the increasingly diverse options in the market, how do we decide which cooking oils are the best for us?
There are many factors to consider when evaluating cooking oils for use in the kitchen. To determine the nutritional and cooking qualities of different oils, let’s assess the oil compositions, smoke points, and processing methods.
First, cooking oils vary in chemical composition. Each kind of cooking oil has a unique ratio of different fatty acids, the building blocks of fat. Fatty acids can be divided into four general categories: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans. Saturated and trans fatty acids are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids are associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases. However, these associations are not uniformly supported in research. Some research suggested that the effect of dietary oils on our health may differ not only according to the general classification as saturated or unsaturated, but possibly according to different profiles in individual fatty acids, such as whether they are odd or even chain fatty acids or their chain length. Overall, the American Heart Association and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans still strongly recommend lowering intake of saturated fat and replacing it with unsaturated fat to prevent and manage cardiovascular diseases.
The smoke point of an oil is another important factor to consider. An oil’s smoke point is the temperature at which an oil starts to smoke and begins to break down. If an oil starts to smoke, it can form and release chemicals harmful to your health. Using suitable oil(s) for the cooking method you choose will keep the oils within their smoke point limit and enhance the flavor and nutrition of your dish.
Have you ever wondered what words like “extra virgin,” “unrefined,” or “pure” on an oil bottle mean? These terms reference the processing method used to extract the oil from its original source. The processing method affects the nutritional quality of the oil and its smoke point too.
Unrefined oils are extracted mechanically, mostly through pressure rather than heat or chemicals. Compared to refined oils, unrefined oils have a fuller, richer flavor and are higher in nutrients as such antioxidants and polyphenols. On the other hand, refined oils are extracted using heat and/or chemicals. These oils have a higher smoke point than unrefined oils. However, refined oils lose a lot of nutrients as high heat or chemicals are applied during processing. In general, unrefined oils are healthier than refined oils due to their higher nutrient level. Refined oils are more suitable for higher heat cooking, such as searing, browning, deep frying, baking, and stir-frying, because of their higher smoke point.
“Extra virgin” and “virgin” are often used to describe the grade of olive and coconut oil. The most common grades for olive oil are extra virgin, virgin, and regular (or “pure”). Extra virgin olive oil is from the first pressing of the olives and is the highest quality olive oil. It is not treated with any heat or chemicals. Virgin olive oil is also from the first pressing but a lower tier in quality. Regular olive oil is the lowest quality oil. It is a mixture of oil from second pressing and oil released during heat and chemical treatments. Coconut oil comes in virgin and regular grades, although some might label the virgin grade as extra virgin. Virgin coconut oil is pressed from coconut meat, while regular coconut oil is extracted with heat and chemical solvents. Regular coconut is more processed and thus has a higher smoke point than virgin coconut oil.
At Gourmet Gorilla, we primarily use canola oil for food preparation. None of the menu items are prepared using high heat cooking methods such as deep-frying, searing, or browning. Therefore, canola oil is a great option that will not be brought beyond its smoke point during any cooking process in the Gourmet Gorilla kitchen. You can be rest assured that the quality of every Gourmet Gorilla meal is always our top priority!