I grocery shop with tunnel vision most days. With a list in-hand itemizing my go-to staples and a few one-off items for specific recipes, I make every attempt to avoid deviation. When open to shopping on a whim I end up bringing home food I don't have a plan for. This can go one of two ways; it either becomes a welcomed surprise in my kitchen or it ends up as waste. I hate food waste. I really hate food waste. Bad for the environment, bad for my wallet. So tunnel vision it is.
Last week I did something I typically avoid; I allowed myself to openly shop an aisle. I needed olive oil, it was legitimately on my list, but I also wanted to explore the dozens of other oil options available. Here's why I began exploring the world of oil:
- I can fall victim to dietary/health/beauty trends just like anyone. I'm only human. When enough people wax poetic about oil pulling I'm gonna give it a whirl (more on that later).
- With the new US dietary guidelines released last month, keywords like monounsaturated fats, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids are ripe for over-exposure (and its a good thing). Where can these compounds be easily found? Oils. Duh.
- I'm on a cooking kick. It happens. I'm also exploring the influence of food in my daily well being; everything from energy-level to skin condition and mood to sleep. I happen to be a big believer that we are what we eat.
Until this eye-opening trip to my new fave, Lakewinds Food Co-op, I always had a supply of extra virgin olive oil, and a few seed oils. After long abandoning classic vegetable oils that are commonly full of saturated and trans fats along with high percentages of omega-6 (which actually counteract the benefits of omega-3) I've been interested in testing low-flavor, high smoke point oils that can act in place of vegetable oil. For oils that can substitute butter and those that add a nice flavor addition.
Here are the oils I tested out:
Coconut oil has enjoyed quite the resurgence lately. Classified as a superfood for its combination of fatty acids and medium-chain triglycerides that can increase energy expenditure, it touts lots of health and beauty benefits. Cooking with coconut is extremely popular for the light hint of flavor it gives off and works very well as a butter substitute in baking. Some also claim it has antioxidant effects when gargling (oil pulling) and can event whiten teeth. The verdict is not out on that one yet.
Easily the most popular frying oil, peanut oil is sweet and flavorful. It is high in energy (calories) with a 450 degree smoke point with low oil retention in the foods. Peanut oil's lipid profile (fats in healthy proportions) and great sources of vitamin E give it a number of health benefits when used in moderation.
Red Palm Oil
Regarded as a scared healing food by many communities along the tropical belt, red palm oil has recently be regarded by the West as one of the most edible and nutritious oils in the world. Derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree it is a redish-yellow color rich in beta-carotenes and lycopene and a powerful form of vitamin E. Environmental activists have been concerned by the deforestation resulted in red palm and palm kernel cultivation so buying fair trade is very important. Red palm oil has an earthy aroma and a rich buttery taste. The real reason to cook with red palm oil is for its nutritional benefits but it does work great for popcorn, also giving it a nice color, and to saute vegetables or meats.
Tea Seed Oil
Also known as Camellia oil, tea seed is a pale amber green fixed oil with a sweet and herbal aroma and is mostly commonly used to make green tea. Its high smoke point of 485 degrees, makes it popular cooking oil in some regions. With high counts of monounsaturated fats and vitamin E it's great to use in salad dressings, stir frying and in home-made margarine production. It is also used in a number of beauty products like moisturizers, make-up removers or even as a homemade sunscreen. Talia uses olive oil on her face, next time give tea seed oil a try!
Like lots of other oils, almond oil is high in monounsaturated fats and like other nut and seed oils, has a high smoke point. But this is not the oil to use for sauteing and frying as you'll lose the wonderful nutty flavor. Almond oil is great for as a dressing ingredient and to spritz on already cooked vegetables, pasta, bread or meat. The flavor can also be preserved very nicely in baked goods.
Derived from a flowering plant also known as wild flax, camelina oil is best known for its extremely high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which is uncommon in vegetable sources. It has an almond like flavor and aroma with a high smoke point but like almond oil, the price of the oil leaves it best suited for a simple drizzle on food already cooked.
Featuring a mild, nutty flavor, avocado oil is incredibly versatile. It can be safely heated up to 500 degree without breaking down and has a high level of monounsaturated fats similar to olive oil. It also is high in vitamin E and the heart-healthy beta-sitisterol. When not used in grilling or pan-roasting, avocado oil is perfect for dressings, soup-garnishes or drizzled over pasta, bread, pizza, etc.
I am most excited about almond oil. It is a flavor I absolutely love and it works really well in baked goods. Red palm oil still has my interest and I'm looking forward to experimenting more with it in cooking and food prep.
Here is a delicious recipe to get you started on an unconventional oil in an untraditional way. Enjoy and happy cooking!
Meyer Lemon Blueberry Coconut Bars
adapted from A Spoonful of Sugar's original recipe
inspired by feedfeed's recipe suggestions
- 1.5 sticks butter
- 4 tablespoons almond oil
- 2 cups granulate sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1.5 cups plain flour
- use King Arthur's gluten free all-purpose flour
- 1 cup shredded coconut
- 1 tablespoon Meyer lemon zest
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup blueberries
- 1/4 cup confectioners sugar, to dust
Preheat oven to 350º F. Line a 9x13" baking pan with non-stick parchment paper.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in almond oil. Remove from heat. Stir in sugar. Add eggs, 1 at a time, and stir until mixture is thick and glossy.
Sift the flour over the egg mixture and stir until well combined. Stir in coconut, lemon zest, lemon juice and blueberries. Spread over base of prepared pan.
Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Set aside in the pan to cool completely. Cut into pieces. Dust with confectioners sugar.