25 January 2009


PDF Of the Chart

I got a recent email, asking me about the different sorts of oils out there.
I'm curious about what types of oil you like to cook/fry with. I typically stick with olive oil unless I'm baking something (other than bread). I haven't really tried any other types of oil and don't know what oil works best for what food, so I'm not really sure what to start with. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated!!
I will have a podcast episode dedicated to this for sure, but until such point, I've made a little spread sheet that you can look at to give you a rough idea of where I stand on the different sorts of oils out there.

This is definitely not a comprehensive list, and it's not a substitute for my upcoming episode of the podcast, but I certainly hope that it'll tide you over until I do upload the new episode.

The difference between a cooking and a finishing oil is based on two things: resistance to heat, and price. For example, although coconut oil can technically take a lot of heat, it's expensive, so I personally wouldn't consider it to be a cooking oil. This is why I list it as a finishing oil, although I do put cooking as a possibility.

Why do I factor in cost? Because the more expensive oils should be used in such a manner that their full flavour is brought to the forefront, instead of being muddled by other factors. Every time you heat an oil, you change its chemical and flavour structure. Things break down, things interact with the ingredients in the cooking vessel and the vessel itself, and all sorts of things happen to the oil, so that it's no longer the same as before.

Just as I wouldn't dream of taking a perfectly ripe, juicy, succulent mango, and demolishing its delicate flavours and textures by cooking, I wouldn't dream of using a fine quality extra virgin olive oil and blasting it with a hit of heat. If it's a grocery store mango, on the other hand, whose origins are shady, and whose skin (and not flavour) is perfect, or in the case of an olive oil with equally shady background and "consistent" (how I loathe that word) oil all throughout (no sediment, and identical product form bottle to bottle), I wouldn't be bothered about using it for whatever.

If you're going to be spending that money in any case (as neither good mango nor good olive oil is cheap), you might as well get the best that you can afford, and enjoy the experience fully, rather than settling for a half-assed, bland, watered down version that isn't going to satisfy you. And then when you have the product which is the best that you can afford, you treat it in such a way so that you showcase the best of that product, and hide nothing. That beautiful mango, whose aroma wafts up from the skin to your nose, and fills your head with the sun-drenched, rain quenched soil in which it grew, should be served simply: sliced and peeled. MAYBE a tiny teeny touch of salt to bring out the flavours, but nothing more. You take your first bite, and the perfume envelops you in its warm embrace, and you are fulfilled.

It's the same with a good quality oil. You want to show off the fact that you have that oil in such a way that the flavour comes to the forefront. When I use olive oil, sesame oil, til oil, coconut oil, or any other fragrant and expensive oil, I use only the barest little amount, and in places where it'll shine. With the olive oil, I'll drizzle a tiny bit over fresh, sun-ripened tomato, liberally sprinkled with fresh basil. With sesame oil, I save it for when the summer cucumbers are crisp and cold, and loaded with flavour. I add a few drops to the thin slices of cucumber, and finish it off with a bit of rice wine vinegar. With the til oil, I add a few drops to the dosa that I'm frying, or use it for dressing up a bowl of steamy, fluffy rice. For coconut oil, that king of all oils, I use it on my skin and hair. If ever I use it in cooking, I add just a few scant drops to the boiled soups and stews (in each individual bowl) just before serving, so that the heady aroma can diffuse through the air.

In the end, I am able to save those oils for a much longer time than if I were to use them in cooking. Moreover, a tiny amount goes a long way, meaning that I won't have to use quite as much oil as most recipes call for, thereby reducing the total fat intake in general.

I hope that this gives you some insight into oil, and gives you some ideas as to what to do with it!