Walk into a grocery store today and there is an entire aisle dedicated to oils and cooking fats. From olive oil to canola oil, and from butter to coconut oil, there are more options than one could truly need. So which are the best fats for cooking? Let’s break down the best cooking oils and fats, what to use, what to avoid, and why.
Types of Cooking Fat
There are two primary types of dietary fats; saturated and unsaturated. The difference between saturated and unsaturated fats can be found within their bond structure.
The bonds in saturated fats are, quite literally, more saturated. Saturated fats do not contain double bonds as each carbon (C) has two hydrogens (H), while unsaturated fats do contain double bonds. The presence of this double bond in the chain of carbons creates a more unstable structure in the fat. This is why saturated fats are found to be solid at room temperature, while unsaturated fats are found liquid at room temperature. For this reason, saturated fats are considered to be very stable, and less easily damaged by light, heat, and air, and therefore there is less chance of them going rancid. Alternatively, unsaturated fats (monounsaturated or polyunsaturated) are more susceptible to going rancid as they are more easily damaged by light, heat, and air. Here is a quick review:
- Saturated Fats: Coconut oil, butter, ghee, and animal fats.
- Unsaturated Fats: Two types depending on how unsaturated the bonds are; mono = one, poly = many.
- Monounsaturated Fats: Olive oil, avocado oil, nut and seed oils.
- Polyunsaturated Fats: Canola oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil and corn oil.
There more unsaturated an oil is, the less ideal it is for heating and cooking, as they are very susceptible to oxidation and can become rancid fairly quickly. Most polyunsaturated oils (canola, soybean, cotton, corn, etc..) are, therefore, not ideal for cooking as they are industrially processed oils and a refined source of oil.
Think of it this way, if I gave you a canola seed and a cup of cream and 30 minutes on the clock; which one do you think you could turn into a source of cooking fat quicker? I’m pretty sure you could churn that cream to butter 100 times before you could even make a small dent in the canola seed.
When it comes to cooking, because you are heating the fats by grilling, sautéing, frying, or roasting, it is important to choose fats that are not easily damaged in the process. Here are 5 cooking fats to include in your kitchen.
The Best Cooking Oils and Fats
Here is a list of the best cooking oils and fats:
Butter is a traditional cooking fat that simply got a bad rap. Because butter is a saturated fat it is ideal for cooking with, however, does have a lower smoke point, and the other fats are listed below. When buying butter ensure you are buying the best quality butter from grass-fed cows making it a rich source of CLA, vitamin A, vitamin K, and vitamin D.
2. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is roughly 90% saturated fat making it an ideal oil for heating and cooking. It is very stable, has a high smoke point, and its medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) fats are easily converted into a source of energy in comparison to other sources of fat.
For people who are sensitive to dairy, ghee is a great alternative to butter. Ghee, also known as clarified butter, is made by simmering butter, which is churned from cream and removing the liquid residue. In doing so, the milk constituents that can be bothersome (lactose and casein) have been removed. You can buy ghee in any grocery store, buy it online, or you can also make it yourself at home.
4. Animal Fats
Animal fats are the most natural and traditional form of cooking fats, and although many people (unfortunately) fear them today, they are one of the best sources of cooking fat. Pork fat (lard or bacon), beef fat (tallow), and duck fat are highly saturated and solid at room temperature, therefore, are very heat stable for cooking at high temperatures. So you can cook your bacon, then fry your eggs, and not feel bad about it.
5. Olive Oil
Olive oil is, in fact, a monounsaturated fat, and the only one on this list, as it does fairly well under medium to low cooking temperatures. Olive oil is best used as a dressing or seasoning, or in cooking methods at low temperatures like sautéing as it oxidizes quite quickly when overly heated. When buying olive oil, look for extra-virgin versions in dark glass bottles to avoid oxidization from light, and always store your olive oil in the pantry, never on top of the stove in order to keep it away from heat.
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