My cousin Celia, who is my business partner and always has her ear to the ground on what people are struggling with in the kitchen, recently asked me about the variety of cooking oils we see in the grocery store. She struggles with understanding (outside of a premium, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil) what to do with all the other oils. Walnut to sunflower, safflower to grapeseed, canola to truffle — there are so many choices out there! And if you are like many, you may even have some of these in your own cupboard that have been there quite a long time.
First off, oils don’t have an unlimited shelf life. Oils will go rancid over time. A good olive oil should be used in the first year you buy it. Flavored oils will lose their potency and eventually turn if not used. Nut oils get a rancid smell when they go bad, so they are a little easier to detect when it is time to get rid of them.
I mainly use extra virgin olive oil in my kitchen. However, there are other oils that come into use. And, there are some that I avoid all together.
Grapeseed: This is extremely mild and is a good oil to infuse other flavors in (like making your own basil or rosemary oil). It also has a high smoke point making it a good choice for stir fry or foods for the grill.
Walnut Oil: Slightly nutty in flavor, this is good tossed in a salad but can get bitter if cooked at a high heat.
Safflower or Sunflower: Oil from safflower is made from the seeds of the Carthamus tinctorius flower. The oil itself has virtually no flavor and is light in color. It can be used in cooking along with sunflower oil. When I lived in Italy, sunflower oil was commonly used in baking. I would use either of these instead of a “vegetable” oil, which is usually highly processed and is hydrogenated or has trans fats.
Canola Oil: This is a bit of a controversial oil, and I’ll be honest up front — it is not one of the oils currently living in my cupboard. Do you know what a canola plant is? That’s because there is no such plant. The name “Canola” essentially comes from “Canada + Oil.” It was initially made from rapeseed plants in Canada which are in the mustard family. It is mild in flavor. I would look for cold pressed and organic if you are going to use it.
Truffle oil: This luxury oil can really elevate a dish. It is one of the most expensive oils, averaging about $20 for a 4 oz bottle. However, a little goes a long way. You can drizzle a teaspoon onto a vegetable dish, or in risotto or over fish or meat and wow yourself and your guests at a special dinner.
Keep a mild-flavored oil, a good quality extra virgin olive oil and a flavored oil for variety to give you great options in the kitchen.
Until next time, stay fresh and delicious!
~ Chef Domenica