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Product focus - Storecupboard heroes: Oils.

Summary: There's a huge variety of oils available, but which do you need in your kitchen? Orlando Murrin explains how to buy wisely, and reveals the health benefits


This is cold pressed, meaning that it has a superior aroma and health benefits -- it's rich in protective compounds called polyphenols. Save extra virgin olive oil for dressings and drizzling, as it loses its aroma when heated. It varies hugely in colour and flavour (not to mention price). As a rule, olives picked when ripe give a more golden colour and milder flavour, while underripe olives yield oil that is greener and more peppery in flavour.


Use this distinctive, pungent oil sparingly, as a last- minute touch for Asian dishes and salads. Supplying a good balance of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, the oil is usually made from toasted seeds, which concentrates the flavour and gives it a dark amber colour. Once open, use within a month or two, as it quickly turns rancid.


This light-tasting oil, a good source of vitamin E, is high in polyunsaturates. It is useful for baking and often found in recipes for carrot cake. Be aware that the cheaper, more refined versions tend to contain less of the healthier fats. Stick to the unrefined oils for cold dishes and for blending with olive oil. Use the more refined version, which has a higher smoke point, for frying and baking.


The common name for peanut oil, this is light-flavoured, inexpensive and produced all over the world. It has a relatively high saturated fat level, and is the best choice for stir-fries and deep-frying because of its high smoke point.

Not all fats are created equal

Fats and oils are crucial for health. They help us to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins D, E and K, as well as the carotenoids we need to make vitamin A.

We need to consume a balance of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and even saturated fats (for vitamin D) to boost energy levels, promote our heart health, and benefit from their anti-inflammatory properties.

Undoubtedly, it's the unsaturated fats (both mono- and poly-) that are the good guys, found in most of the oils on this page. With saturated fats, try to stick to your daily Reference Intake of 20g. Trans fats, most commonly found in processed foods, are now considered the most damaging -- keep these to an absolute minimum.


Rich in monounsaturates and antioxidants, including vitamin E, this speciality oil helps to protect the heart and manage inflammation. Pioneered in Australia and New Zealand, and made from avocado flesh rather than stones, it has an attractive grassy colour and a slightly nutty flavour. Although expensive, it can be used for cooking and has a high smoke point. A classy touch drizzled over a mozzarella & tomato salad, or use as a base for salad dressings and marinades.

Which is best for frying?

Each oil has its own smoke point (the temperature to which you can heat it before it smokes). The smoke point is also affected by how refined it is -- refined oils have higher smoke points. For both deep- and shallow-frying, choose an oil with a high smoke point, which enables you to cook hotter and faster, reducing loss of nutrients and potentially absorbing less oil. Groundnut oil is best (225C), followed by rapeseed (210C), corn and regular olive (200C), and sunflower (190C). Oils lose their distinctive flavour when heated, so save expensive ones for the table.

How long can you keep oils?

Most oils will keep for a year or longer in a cool, dark place. Once open, use within three months. There is no particular advantage to keeping them in the fridge; some will go thick and/or turn cloudy, but they will return to normal when brought back to room temperature.


Walnut oil, produced largely in France, Australia, New Zealand and the US, has a distinctive taste and provides mainly monounsaturated fat. The best versions have a rich, sweet flavour -- use sparingly for drizzling and dressings. Once open, use within a month. Hazelnut oil is more delicate -- it makes an exquisite salad dressing teamed with raspberry vinegar. Other nut oils, such as almond and macadamia, are also high in heart-friendly monounsaturated fats -- but virtually tasteless. Oil from coconuts -- not technically a nut -- is solid at room temperature and is very high in saturated fat. It adds a distinctive flavour to bakes, and a rich finishing touch stirred into Asian dishes.


Unsurprisingly, this is made from maize and usually has a yellow tinge. It is high in polyunsaturated fats and, although a traditional choice for frying or deep-frying, groundnut or rapeseed oil are better options because of their higher smoke points.


A cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is high in heart-friendly monounsaturated fat (although, like many other oils, it is still reasonably high in saturates). The regular, filtered version ranges from light to golden, and is best used for shallow-frying.


An economical choice, this is often a blend of oils -- for instance, rapeseed, sunflower and peanut. It is usually formulated to have a high smoke point and is therefore ideal for deep-frying. Some vegetable oils contain mass- produced oils such as soybean, safflower and cottonseed, which are used mainly in industrial food production.


Known in the US as canola oil, rapeseed oil is light-flavoured and all-purpose. A good source of both poly- and monounsaturated fat, it contains the lowest saturated fat of any of the oils on this page, with less than half the amount found in olive oil. It is a good source of omegas 3, 6 and 9, which help to maintain healthy joints, and brain and heart functions (it has 10 times as much omega-3 as olive oil). British rapeseed oil is made from the bright yellow rape plant that you see in flower over vast swathes of the countryside at this time of year.

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Publication:BBC GoodFood Middle East
Date:Sep 30, 2016
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