There are numerous types of cooking oils available to us; how to know which ones are best suited to the cooking method you are using, in any given circumstance, can be confusing!
The infographic below is one of my favourites! Sourced from the Academy of Culinary Nutrition in Toronto, ON, this guide to choosing, using and storing oils, along with some additional details I provide, will steer you in the right direction when purchasing and maximizing the use of a variety of healthful oils in your own kitchen!
Firstly, our body NEEDS healthy sources of fat! Fat is an energy-storage substance; it also assists in holding our organs in place, protects our vital organs from both trauma/injury and helps to manage changes in body temperature. Fat also facilitates the transportation of various vitamins throughout our body, including fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K. Furthermore, fat contributes to the healthy functioning of the brain and Central Nervous System and is an important component of our cell membranes. We just can't exist in an optimal state of health without it!
Now, a little bit of chemistry for you!
Fats (fatty acids) in the body are composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms; a long chain/backbone of carbon atoms bonded to numerous other atoms.
A saturated fat is solid at room temperature. Structurally, this type of fatty acid is saturated (full) in terms of every carbon atom in the chain being bonded to a hydrogen atom. As such, due to their highly stable molecular structures, saturated fats are able to withstand high cooking temperatures. As seen in this infographic, examples of saturated fats include ghee (clarified butter) and coconut oil; these are your most healthful choices when it comes to high-heat cooking in your kitchen. Such oils should be stored in dark, glass bottles in a cool, dark place.
Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature; unsaturated meaning that the carbon backbone structure of the fatty acid is not bonded to hydrogen atoms at all points. A monounsaturated fat contains one less hydrogen atom within its structure, due to a double carbon bond in that position instead. These fats are slightly less stable in structure and are therefore more well-suited to moderate cooking temperatures, such as a stir-fry. Avocado oil, sesame oil and olive oil are best suited to medium-heat cooking temperatures. Such oils should also be stored in dark, glass bottles in a cool, dark place.
Polyunsaturated fats are the least stable in structure of all fats, as they contain multiple double carbon bonds within their structure where hydrogen atoms would otherwise be present . Due to their fragile structure, these oils are unable to withstand heat. Therefore, they are best utilized when dressing salads, grains and fish, or as an ingredient in cold dips/sauces. You could also add a tablespoon of these oils to smoothies, as a source of healthy fat. Such oils should be stored in airtight containers and kept refrigerated, when not being used.
*If purchasing an oil that is sold in a plastic bottle, please try to repackage the oil in a dark, glass bottle (these may be purchased at Dollarama or Ikea, for example). Oils can be sensitive to light, heat and oxygen. Therefore, they are best stored in dark glass, so that the chemicals within the plastic are not leaching into the oil. This storage practice will not only maximize your financial investment in high-quality oils, but will also retain their nutritional value!
Lastly, you certainly want to avoid refined/processed oils in favour of cold-pressed oils. Cold-Pressed means that the oil is extracted from the source by crushing the nut or seed directly, forcing the oil out of the nut or seed. This process is then followed by a series of additional steps. While some heat is generated during the extraction process, it is not nearly enough heat to damage the oil, nor destroy the invaluable nutrients it contains.
I certainly hope this infographic provides you direction and clarity with regards to understanding, selected, enjoying and storing your cooking oils with greater confidence!