One of my TIOSN homework assignments last week was to choose a fat, and review it in-depth. I chose peanut oil, and learned some pretty helpful information about this common cooking oil. Like most oils, there is the whole food product, and the refined product. The refining process actually bleaches, filters, and deodorizes the oil, providing a more shelf-stable, non-allergenic oil with a significantly higher smoke point. In theory, this sounds great, and makes it a common choice for the fast food industry. However, what we think are the “gains” of refining, actually create more difficulties as we, the general public, begin to over consume a product that should be had in moderation. But, I digress…
My research referenced smoke points frequently – do we all know what that is? It’s the temperature in which the oil begins to decompose, and the free fatty acids, water, and other volatile compounds begin to separate. Why do we care about the smoke point? It’s at this point of degradation that the product actually becomes toxic – releasing free radicals and producing a compound called acrolein.
Personally, I’d never given this much thought. Until recently, I always used olive oil, and I tried not to let it smoke because I didn’t like the flavor. I never realized it was toxic. I also never considered that I had options, and as I listened to my classmates give their presentations, I was prompted to look up some other cooking fat choices.
Like many of us, I’m trying to stay as close to the whole food as possible in my cuisine. For that reason, I’m not even considering any of the refined oils as an option. Below I’ve listed what I believe are the best choices to keep in my oil arsenal, in order of their smoke points.
1) Butter– 300 degrees F, contains vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as many minerals and healthy fatty acids. It also has a 1:1 ratio of Omega 6s and 3s, which is the ideal ratio for homeostasis in the body.
2) Lard– 340 degrees F, contains similar properties to butter, and when it comes from pastured, grass-fed pigs is one of the highest natural sources of vitamin D. Even this vegetarian is raising an eyebrow… I have some in my freezer, from a local, pastured, grass-fed source, ready to be rendered. I’m just scared.
3) Coconut Oil– 350 degrees F, not especially high in the Omegas, but many benefits are derived from its medium-chain fatty acids, such as heart health, immune support, and increased metabolism.
4) Olive Oil– 375 degrees F, higher in the Omega 6s, modest amounts of vitamins E and K, most benefits derived from high amounts of antioxidants. Be mindful of proper labeling (NAOOA), as there is a great deal of adulteration in the industry.
5) Ghee– 485 degrees F, the highest smoke point of my choices, making it ideal for frying and sautéing, contains vitamins and nutrients, as well as many short and medium-chain fatty acids.
So all in all, there are lots of options for all our cooking needs. Remember, essential fatty acids are just that – essential. Our bodies need them for proper functioning, and we are not capable of producing them on our own. What’s important to remember is to consume these fats in moderation, being mindful of the ratio of these polyunsaturated fats, as well as their sources. If we’re consuming our fats from primarily processed or GMO foods, then we are doing our bodies no good, no matter what our ratio is. So good luck, and let me know of your experiences with cooking oils, and fill me in on any others you love that I didn’t include! And above all, don’t forget, if it starts smoking, turn down the heat!