Several months ago I gave a recipe here which required Olive oil. I specified “not Extra Virgin”. Tamara Leigh, The Kitchen Novelist, visited and asked why. (If you have not visited her site, please do yourself a flavor favor! Her recipes are one-dish complete and are often a bit more upscale than mine, but easy to prepare and as beautiful as they are flavorful! Click here:Tamara Leigh:The Kitchen Novelist
I explained why I asked for non-Extra Virgin Olive Oil, (or to borrow Rachael Ray’s term “EVOO”), and promised Tamara that I would do a post about different types of oils, their qualities and the best types to use in or with different foods.
Tammy, this one’s for you!
We will start with Olive Oil:
The both major types of Olive Oil, “Pure”,( or “Virgin”) and “Extra Virgin” available in America today are milder than those of the past, as modern tastes demand. My sister, who has only recently tried her hand at cooking, called me a short time back and wanted to know why the Olive oils she has been buying do not have the same strong flavor that we knew as kids. Her question was, “When did they start ‘virgining’ olive oil?” She had no idea what she was talking about. Let’s see if I can enlighten her and everyone who needs to know.
“Extra Virgin Olive Oil” is made from the first pressing of olives. This, contrary to what most articles and cooking shows tell you, does not make it “best” for every use. EVOO is greener than ‘Pure’ Olive Oil; it contains particles of the fruit. The flavor is strong. Prove it to yourself by comparing the taste of the two. If you do not like to use Olive Oil, it is probably because you have only been exposed to Extra Virgin Olive Oil. EVOO adds a flavor to whatever it is added to or is cooked in it. It has a distinctive flavor and even if you love it, it does not always compliment the other flavors in a recipe. If, and only if, you like the flavor, it is good in salads and dressings, as something in which to toss pasta to keep it from sticking,(I prefer butter or margarine), or to bake fish in,(coat the pan or foil and pour over the fish , with or without herbs.) It also burns very easily; you don’t want to fry in EVOO, ever. I do use it in some recipes, if I want the taste of EVOO in, say a meatless sauce, but I seldom add I t otherwise. My mother NEVER used in cooking. Enough said.[Notice that I did not say “marinara ” sauce. Marinara does not mean “meatless”; it means “of the sea”. Most do not contain fish, clams, what have you. That is a pet peeve of mine!]
“Pure Olive Oil” is now what they are calling what was once always labeled as “Virgin” Olive oil; it is sometimes simply labeled , “Olive Oil”. This oil is from the later pressings of the olives. It is clearer, with a cleaner flavor, if any at all. It is suitable for all types of cooking and in recipes, although I do not use it in baking anything other than, at times, breads or savory,(non-sweet), pastries. It is also not suitable for deep-frying, as it will burn easily, although not quite as easily as EVOO.
There is a difference in quality of Olive oils but if you are getting most of your information from me, most of the time, the price will guide your decision.
I will admit to being partial to Italian Olive oils, after all, my extended family in Italy had olive groves (!) I always buy Mediterranean Olive oils, if Italian is not in my budget. The prices vary. Unless there is a sale on the smaller sizes that makes it worth while, I buy it in the gallon can.(Watch your unit pricing; bigger, although usually, is not always the best buy.) All oils will tell you the country of origin, you just have to read the label carefully. My local supermarket’s brand, (and other “bargain brands”), vary from which countries the oil(s) originate. There is a code on the can: A= Italy, B=Spain, C=Greece, D=Tunisia, depending on which sources were least expensive and/or available to them at the time of packaging. Today the “pure” Olive oil was a “D”,(Tunisian), while the top of the EVOO was stamped: “A, B, C”; ( a blend of Italian, Spanish and Greek oils). Next time, who knows? But I have used them all with no problem whatsoever.
[Personally, I do not trust the cheaper oil from China. We have had too many recalls of foods from there and too many times have they been caught violating standards. Our government has little control and too few inspectors. I buy no foodstuffs from China.]
I did splurge for a better, smaller bottle of Italian EVOO to use for dipping oil, (to be discussed below), and in certain recipes, (as by drops in cream cheese-herb filling for stuffed olives; the recipe will be upcoming in post on appetizers. You need to know how to make hors d’oeuvres and appetizers. Yes, you do.)
BEWARE of “Lite” or Light” Olive oils. These are ‘watered down’ ,(diluted),with lesser oils, such as Safflower oil and sold at an inflated price. If you don’t like the flavor of EVOO, don’t use it, or mix it with other oils yourself.
Olive oil is food. It is healthy. If you are following a healthy diet,(and I hope you are), still use it in moderation, along with all other fats, but please use it.
As with off-brand Olive oils, “Vegetable oil”,( the least expensive oil on the supermarket shelves), is often a mix of whatever oils are available to the bottler, although the main ingredient is usually Soybean oil. The cheapest ones may contain Cottonseed, Corn, Sunflower, Flaxseed oil or Palm oils. I have no problem with using them for almost any recipe. Flavor is almost non-existent in them, so they don’t interfere with the flavors of your recipes and are some of the best for adding to sweet breads, muffins, cakes, waffles and other recipes calling for oil. They have a high-smoke point ; they can take high temps, so they are good for cooking and deep-frying.
Peanut oil is THE best oil for deep–frying. It will not smoke and therefore, it is the only oil that is allowed to be used for cooking on submarines. It is also good in baked goods, both sweet and savory; it adds a very slight taste that I find enhances many recipes.(If you pop corn the old-fashioned way, made with Peanut oil, it is delicious!) Some people with peanut allergies are able to eat foods made with or cooked in Peanut oil, although I would err on the side of caution if a person is not sure if it will kick up their allergy. I use it extensively. (I also buy this in the bargain size…and on sale when I can!)
Almost all Corn oil is a by-product of solvent extraction. The Corn oil is then highly processed, but there is still often a lingering taste. Although it has a high smoke-point, using it for frying increases the transfer of flavor. Again, the flavor can be an enhancement, but not always.
Canola oil is not, technically, ‘vegetable’ oil. It is made from highly processed rapeseed. It is less oily than Vegetable oils and frankly, I am not impressed with it. (There is some concern about its erucic acid content.)
Safflower and Sunflower oils are light oils,good for salads and within recipes. They have a medium-high smoke-rate but are quite expensive. I don’t know anyone who fries, (deep fries), with these oils.
Grapeseed oil is just that, oil made from grapeseeds, often those of Chardonnay.It is a lighter oil, (much life Safflower), has little taste, and has a fairly high smoke-point, so it is often used in stir-frying.It is very good in salads and can be used in many of the same places I suggest for Nut oils, (see below),and anywhere you would use Vegetable oil, although the price is much higher.
I have friends in India who swear by Coconut oil and use it not only for cooking and eating, but for skin care. I find it bland, although my husband eats it as a spread,( it is semi-solid at room temperature). It has a mild taste, but it will impart its flavor into foods. I think it enhances many cookie and cake recipes, or to cook Coconut Chicken,(recipe will be posted in the future), but if anyone does not like coconut or may be allergic, it may not be a good idea to use it. Coconut oil also has a low smoke-point; do not use it to deep-fry.
Nut oils, such as Hazelnut, Walnut, Almond, etc. are very expensive…and very delicious!
They are fantastic on salads, or drizzled on fish before baking. They are good by drops in cheese fillings for dates, in spreads and dips, or in baked goods. Although they are very costly, little is needed. (These may affect people with nut allergies.)
“Truffle Oil” is Olive or Safflower oil infused with truffles…and terribly expensive. Buy only if you really know and like truffles. Use as Nut oils, or for dipping.
Sesame oil is VERY strong flavored. You should add it one drop at a time to flavor your cooking oil when making Asian or some Easter European-inspired foods. It is good, (in minute quantities), in cheese spreads, cheese balls or salads, including chicken salad, especially if you use sesame seeds in the recipe.
Also on the shelves you will find flavored oils. These are oils that are infused with herbs, alone or with spices. Some are Chili infused. These are generally Olive , Soy or Safflower oils that have been heated and had the desired flavoring items added. After some time, they were strained and bottled. Some are called “Dipping Oil”, and the herbs &/or spices remain in the bottle. They are often tasty, but you may get sticker-shock! You can easily make your own. To infuse flavors takes a couple of steps,(heating, adding, waiting, straining, but it’s worth it). “Dipping oil”, however, is a matter of simply adding whatever flavors appeal to you and which compliment the rest of your offerings. Here is a simple sampling:
What is shown is a better Extra Virgin Olive oil with a little salt and basil,(dried , with a fresh sprig, because I had it; it isn’t necessary.)I added salt and a little parsley. The other has salt, cracked black pepper,(any would do), garlic granules, and ground rosemary. Use any dried herbs you like. Examples: Italian seasoning, (usually made of basil, parsley, marjoram, oregano, rosemary and thyme,[no sage!]) Mix or match any you have of these or other herbs.. Add garlic or onion powder. If you use garlic or onion salt, omit salt; if you are avoiding salt, do not add it at all. (“Mrs.Dash” or other non-salt additives, used alone, will work.) You can add a dash of dried lemon peel, or hot pepper flakes. If you have dried sweet peppers and or tomatoes,(flakes), you can add them, with or without finely diced olives.
Let your cabinet and your taste decide!
Try adding a splash of Thai Sweet Chili sauce, or Sesame oil,(either, alone) to your oil.
Again, if EVOO is too strong for you, use a good grade “Pure” Olive oil or any other better oil, (such as Safflower or Sunflower oil).
Traditionally, Italian bread is used to dip; French bread is acceptable, as are multi-grain types. Gluten-free breads are usually hearty and can easily be used.
Slice the breads thinly or pull the middle out of your Italian/French bread or rolls. Make the pieces big enough to pick up but small enough to avoid ‘double dipping’ . And don’t be afraid of them getting stale, as you want them slightly-to-very dry; damp bread is not good.
Try one or more before your next sit-down dinner or when family and friends gather; it is a perfect vegan snack or appetizer.
Keep all oils out of sunlight and away from heat. Do not store over your stove or next to your oven, so that the heat will not spoil them and because cooking oils are, of course, quite flammable. We don’t want any terrible accidents.
Since I usually buy the largest sizes of some oils, I keep a small bottle,(pint or quart), ready at hand and keep the rest in the coolest spot I can find, a cabinet against an outside wall in the Winter and then move them to near an A/C vent in the Summer!(It gets hot here.) You can keep them under refrigeration but many oils solidify and are hard to use or measure. DO keep Nut, Sesame and Truffle oils in the refrigerator. These spoil quickly if not kept very cool and you will probably use them sparingly over time. They will last much longer this way.
Do not use rancid, (spoiled) oil. You will be able to tell the difference by smell or by taste.
Did I cover everything? Are there any questions?