Friday, November 30, 2007

Ask Mary: Oils

Dear Mary,
I can never decide what oil to use when cooking. Which is better? Olive oil, Canola oil or peanut oil?
Thanks so much! Michelle

I am asked this question almost daily and my answer is simple: When in doubt use olive oil. Olive oil heightens and layers any dish thanks to its rich, beautiful flavor. It’s perfect for salads, pastas and even a delicious pureed soup. I like to use olive oil when I want its taste to shine. But, like any rule of thumb, there are always exceptions.

For example, canola works better than olive oil in salad dressing emulsions (perfectly blended mixtures of oil and vinegar). That’s because olive oil is heavier than canola, and doesn’t mix as well. Plus, since the taste of olive oil is more intense and can mask other flavors in an emulsion, beautiful vinegars or fancy mustards really shine best in canola.

Canola also has a higher smoke point than olive oil, making it more ideal for sautéing. Peanut is great for cooking at hotter temperatures too and has a unique nutty flavor that is lovely in stir fries.

As far as health benefits go, however, olive oil takes the prize. There is research to support that small amounts of good olive oil can help reduce coronary heart disease, thanks to the predominance of Oleic fatty acids (monounsaturated fats) in the oil. Monounsaturated fats have been proven to raise good (HDL) cholesterol as well.

It is important not to over use any oil. Even though they contain beneficial fatty acids, they are still significantly high in fat and calories. One tablespoon is equal to 14 grams of fat and 120 calories. (Men should have anywhere from 1600-2000 calories a day, and women around 1200 calories a day).

Before you choose the right oil for your cooking needs, first consider these questions:

-What are you using it for?
-What temperature are you cooking at?
-What type of flavor do you want?
-What is healthiest?

I hope this is helpful!

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