A Primer on Cooking Oils & Fats

A Primer on Cooking Oils & Fats

The question of which dietary fats are good and which are bad has caused a lot of confusion lately. Some fats are heart-heathy, some are not. Some oils are processed with chemicals, some are not. Some break down at high temperatures, some do not. Some sound healthy because of the word vegetable in their name, but aren’t. What’s a cook to do?

We thought we’d put together a short primer on which fats to use and when. Bookmark this page and refer to it when in question.

Most cooking oils on the market are processed with chemical solvents, steamers, neutralizers, de-waxers, bleach and deodorizers before they end up in the bottle. Highly processed seed oils contain very high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, that can have detrimental health effects when consumed in high quantities. Sadly, these oils are in nearly everything we eat nowadays. Grain-fed livestock, is also high in omega-6. A diet high in omega-6 is associated with an increase in inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and cancer to mention a few.

Here are the industrial oils to toss from your kitchen:
Canola oil
Vegetable oil
Cottonseed oil
Soybean oil
Sunflower oil
Safflower oil
Corn oil
Grapeseed oil
Rapeseed oil
Refined palm oil
Sesame oil
Refined peanut oil

These are the saturated fats and healthy plant-based oils from meat, seafood, eggs, nuts, and avocados that are loaded with omega-3s. It has recently been debunked that saturated fats cause heart disease. In fact, it’s the very removal of these from the American diet and the increase of sugar and carbohydrates that has attributed to a whole host of health issues, including obesity, diabetes and chronic inflammatory conditions.

Saturated fat has been shown to have positive effects on the body, including helping the liver to function more effectively, boosting the immune system and aiding in the regulation of hormones.

Some things to keep in mind during food prep:

  • Saturated fat is typically more heat stable and doesn’t oxidate as quickly as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which makes it more suitable for frying and other high temperature cooking.
  • Nut oils and olive oil are more fragile and can be cooked with but are best used unheated to retain the most antioxidants, vitamins and flavor.
  • Expeller-pressed or Unrefined oils (where the oil was extracted using a mechanical process rather than chemicals) are best for high temperature cooking such as deep-frying. Avoid anything labeled Refined.
  • The smoke point of a fat or an oil is the temperature at which it gives off smoke, and starts to break down and oxidize, losing nutrients and developing toxic properties. Most foods are fried at around 330°F so it’s always best to choose a fat or oil with a smoking point just above that.

Best fats for hot use (with their smoke points):
Beef tallow (400°F)
Lard (370°F)
Duck fat (375°F)
Schmaltz (375°F)
Ghee (450°F)
Avocado oil (400°F)
Coconut oil (350°F)
Extra virgin olive oil (325°F)
Grass-fed butter (350°F )

Best for cold use:
Extra virgin olive oil
Macadamia oil
Avocado oil
Hazelnut oil
Walnut oil
Flaxseed oil
Grass-fed butter
Coconut oil

At The Organic Butcher, we carry a wide array of high quality oils and animal fats, and can help guide you toward the right choice for your needs. Just ask!

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