Remember the 1990s when everybody was terrified of fat and Snackwells were king? The cut-fat-out-of-everything approach turned out to be the wrong one and we’re all the happier for it. Except maybe the people at Nabisco*.
In the spirit of 2012, at the start of this year I decided to add some new heart-healthy oils to my cooking arsenal and I’ve never looked back. Here’s what I keep on hand and why:
Grapeseed oil: As I’ve mentioned, grapeseed oil is a great choice for cooking over high heat, much better than olive oil. Grapeseed oil has a neutral taste and very high smoke point, so I use it for nearly all my cooking. It’s also high in vitamin E and polyunsaturated fats, which help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
Walnut oil: I’ve fallen in love with this nutty, super-healthy oil, which is rich in antioxidants and is a great source of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 essential fatty acid that decreases blood clotting and inflammation in the body. Beyond that, it just tastes really good — and I don’t even like walnuts generally. Its delicate flavor is lost when it is heated, so I use it in vinaigrettes or drizzled over soup. Store it in the fridge to keep it from going rancid.
Avocado oil: Like olive oil, avocado oil is high in monounsaturated fats, as well as vitamin E. This is the priciest oil of the bunch, so I don’t use it very often, but when I do, I keep it simple, drizzling it over vegetables and fish, or mixing it into a creamy cilantro dressing. Avocado oil should also be stored in the fridge; it will get cloudy, but will clear up again when it comes to room temperature.
I also keep an unrefined extra-virgin olive oil on hand, which I mostly use for vinaigrettes (can you tell I love vinaigrettes?) or for drizzling over already-cooked ingredients, since the flavor is so much better if there is no heat involved. And I occasionally cook with virgin coconut oil when its intensely coconutty flavor and scent are appropriate.
In general, look for oils that are expeller-pressed, which means the oil is extracted by pressing the seed/nut/fruit rather than by using a solvent like hexane.
Upgrading your oil collection isn’t cheap, but unless you’re swigging the stuff, each bottle will last you awhile. And your happy heart will thank you.
* Is it just me or does the new Snackwells campaign have a Fifty Shades of Grey S&M vibe? Because nothing goes with patent leather stiletto boots like individually-portioned fudge pretzels!