Ask Peter: Cooking oils
My husband wants me to use rice bran oil for cooking as he believes that is the most heart-healthy, but I like the flavour of olive oil. I use grape seed oil in baking and I am interested in all the talk about coconut oil, but don’t know how healthy it is. What oils do you like to use, when?
Healthy oils - it’s almost an impossible concept if we look at how oils can affect our heart, body fat and general health.
For some people (and I’m not one of them) all oil, alcohol and sugar are seen as evil bedmates - responsible for the global increase of ill health, obesity, diabetes etc. But look at the amount of olive oil and wine being consumed around the Mediterranean and those gorgeously sugar-laden egg white and almond cakes that make an appearance at Christian festivals and take note of how healthy the locals are, how many are quite advanced in years, and you’ll have to reconsider the concept of what makes us healthy.
I’d suggest lethargy and anxiety has as much of an impact on our health as too many deep-fried potatoes.
Life in balance is what health is really all about. Not pigging out on cakes, having moderate alcohol consumption and regular exercise are all essential, but I will never give up on deep-fried fish and chips, tempura soft shell crab, or tuna confit in olive oil. My cholesterol is too high (based on global averages), but I have low blood pressure and have only ever smoked 1 full cigarette so my doctor has said I am at low risk for cholesterol-related issues.
What I struggle with is maintaining a constant “healthy’ diet (being a chef isn’t the healthiest of lives) and I don’t take enough regular exercise. I have a demanding sweet tooth, I adore anything packed full of butter, sugar, wheat and eggs, I truly enjoy wine and innovative cocktails, and I love my salad drenched in olive oil.
So, to answer your question, use whatever oil takes your fancy, but decide what it is you’re hoping to achieve and do some dietary research.
Extra virgin olive oil is thought to be very healthy if used in moderation and the flavour is gorgeous whereas rice bran oil, which has a reputation for lowering cholesterol, is almost tasteless, so ultimately it becomes a question of flavour.
When it comes to cooking, the more refined the oil the better it is to cook with as the smoke point increases, and it’s at the smoke point that the nutrients in the oils begin to lessen and the oil deteriorate. However, refining an oil takes away a lot of the nutrients you want to ingest.
As an example, the smoke point for unrefined avocado oil is 200C, where as refined avocado oil is 270C.
Rice bran oil is around 254C, extra virgin olive oil is 207C and grapeseed is 216C.
Coconut oil has made a welcome come-back. Unrefined coconut oil reaches smoke point at 177C but when refined it reaches 232C.
So I guess what I’m saying is depending on what you want to use the oil for, decide whether flavour is key to the finished dish, or is the oil merely a lubricant you need to cook something in. If we want to be truly healthy I guess we’d steam everything and avoid oils all together, but where’s the fun in that?
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.