Oils in cooking

Understanding The Oils We Use Everytime someone mentions oil or fried foods, we are quick to associate it with obesity and heart ailments. Though the fear is not entirely unjustified, the truth remains that food prepared in oil is tastier and fats from oil are an important part of our daily diet. Thus, it is important to know the why, what and how about cooking oil.

Why Does The Body Need Fat?

  • The main function of fats in the body is to provide energy By supplying energy, fats save proteins from being used for energy. Fats on oxidation provide almost twice as much energy as that given by carbohydrates

  • 1 g of fats provide 9 Kcal and 1 g of carbohydrate provides 4 Kcal

  • The body needs fat to absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, E, D and K from food

  • Fat enhances texture, taste and flavour of the food, reduces it gastric emptying time and thereby affects satiety

  • Vegetable oils also contain the essential omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, whose benefits include having a positive effect on the cholesterol level and immune system. They also play a important role in vision and brain development in infants. They help in lowering blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart diseases

Using a high-quality vegetable oil in the kitchen is important for healthy cooking. The label will provide details of the type of oil and the method of production. But what do terms such as "extra virgin", "cold pressed" and "refined" actually mean? How can you recognise a good-quality oil and what types are suitable for different purposes?

Saturated Or Unsaturated?

In contrast to animal fats, most vegetable oils (with the exception of palm oil and coconut oil) contain plenty of unsaturated and few saturated fats. Vegetable oils are therefore of higher quality as the unsaturated fatty acids can have a positive effect on lipid levels and thus on the heart and blood vessels. The unsaturated fatty acids are themselves divided into mono-unsaturated fatty acids – to be found in rapeseed oil and olive oil for example – and poly-unsaturated fatty acids. These are especially abundant in sunflower oil, corn oil and soya oil. As the body needs both mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fatty acids, it is recommended that you switch between various different types of oils when frying, cooking and preparing salads.

Pure And Blended Oils

Most vegetable oils bear the name of an oil plant, for example rapeseed oil, sunflower oil or olive oil. In this case, at least 97% of the oil comes from the oil of this plant. If the label contains the additional word "pure" or "homogeneous", then 100% of the oil comes from the oil plant in question. With blended oils there is generally no indication as to type. You will see them on the shelves with names such as cooking oil, vegetable oil, salad oil and deep-frying oil. So, the name often indicates how they should be used. With pure vegetable oils, bear in mind that not every oil is suitable for every purpose.

The so-called smoke point of the oil determines whether the oil can be used for frying or baking. This is the temperature at which the oil starts to smoke when heated. Undesirable substances can form above this temperature. For frying, the recommendation is to use thermally stable oils with a smoke point above 160 degrees. This includes most refined oils such as refined rapeseed oil, olive oil, soya oil, sunflower oil, groundnut oil and corn oil.

Virgin, Cold Pressed And Refined

In addition to the type of oil, the manufacturing process also influences the quality of a vegetable oil. The fundamental differentiation is between two manufacturing processes: the extraction and the pressing of the vegetable oils. Pressing retains more ingredients, even those which are sensitive to heat. In the extraction process, the oil is first of all released from the vegetables and then "refined" in most cases. In this procedure (refinement), various impurities in the oil are removed. Refined oils are more thermally stable and last longer than non-refined oils. However, some valuable elements in the oil are also reduced, for example vitamin E. Refined oils such as sunflower oil also contain a lot of vitamin E. The label will indicate how the oil has been manufactured:

Type This means:
Refined
  • Oils are relatively neutral in taste and longer lasting
  • Manufactured by means of extraction and refinement
Virgin
  • Oils of this type have a distinctive taste and colour, but should not be heated too much
  • Manufactured by means of pressing without the addition of heat or by means of gentle mechanical processes, no refinement
Virgin extra, extra virgin
  • Shelf life the same as virgin oils
  • Manufactured in the same way as virgin oils by pressing with the addition of heat, but with special care and using top-quality olives
Cold pressed or "from first pressing"
(additional name for "virgin" or "unrefined")
  • Shelf life, colour and taste the same as virgin oils
  • Manufactured in the same way as "virgin" or "unrefined" oils, but under particularly gentle conditions

Oil in moderate amounts in our food is necessary, however excess of oily food can cause health issues you would rather avoid. Choose healthy oils with essential micronutrients that contain high quantities of good cholesterol and fatty acids use them adequately in your diet.