Cooking Oil: Know Your Label Lingo
Not all oils are created equal. Make sense of the labels on cooking oils with these terms and know what oil you’re using.
“Free of Saturated Fat”
Labels may make claims of being “free of saturated fat,” but the fact is, most all cooking oils don’t contain saturated fat. Saturated fats are fairly easy to spot, since they are solid at room temperature. Fats from animals, like butter and the fat in egg yolks and meat, are all saturated. A few plant oils — specifically coconut oil and palm oil — are also high in saturated fat. Other plant oils are polyunsaturated and/or monounsaturated. Monounsaturated fats are considered the most healthful. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and, unless refined, can go rancid easily.
Trans-fatty acids are created when unsaturated fats are hydrogenated so they are solid at room temperature. They act like saturated fats and many people seek to avoid them, thus the labels “free of trans-fats” or “100% trans fat free.”
Omega-3 fatty acids are sought for their ability to support cardiovascular and developmental health. They are found mainly in marine life (oily fish, certain seaweeds and algae), but also in unrefined flaxseed oil.
Expeller-pressed oil is extracted from its source, be it sunflower seeds, olives, or flaxseed, by physically pressing the source. It is a time-consuming and expensive method of obtaining oil, so the resulting oil is more costly. Why pay the premium? Most oil is extracted using heat and/or chemicals to break down the oil source and separate the oil from everything else. The process tends to break down vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids that are present in some oils, like olive oil and flaxseed oil. Oils labeled “cold-pressed” or “extra virgin” are also expeller-pressed.
Vegetable oil is a refined oil and can come from any plant. Most vegetable oil sold as such is some combination of sunflower, soybean, palm, safflower, canola, and/or corn oils. It is blended to have a mild, neutral taste and a high smoking point, making it a versatile cooking oil adaptable to all uses.
Canola oil is made from the seeds of the canola plant, a botanical relative broccoli and cabbage. It has a low saturated fat content and is high in monounsaturated fat, so it’s often touted for its healthful benefits. It has a high smoking point (450°F), making it a popular oil for frying. Its neutral flavor also makes it useful for cooking and even salad dressings when cooks want to highlight other flavors.
Olive oil comes extra virgin, virgin, pure, and refined. Each has its application, although extra virgin is the one that’s most commonly called for when the distinctive taste of olive oil plays a role in the dish. Learn more about the different types of olive oil here.
Sunflower oil is low in saturated fat and high in vitamin E. It is an all-purpose oil, good for frying, cooking, grilling, and in salad dressings.
Peanut oil is prized for its distinctive, slightly nutty flavor and high smoking point. Its ability to take the heat makes it an excellent for frying.
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