Is there anything worse than a badly dressed salad? Or that acrid, burnt aftertaste that comes with food that’s been cooked in the wrong oil? Those black flecks that form in the bottom of a frying pan are a tell-tale sign that maybe you used the wrong oil for the job. How do you keep track though? In the early 2000s Jamie Oliver had us all glugging olive oil into everything like there was no tomorrow, and it’s true those Mediterranean folk know a thing or two about how to simply dress a dish. Lately though, there’s been a huge influx of other oils on the market – coconut, avocado, and all sorts of nuts and seeds. But do we need another expensive oil in the pantry? And if so, what on earth do we use it for?
There are a few things to consider when buying oil, and working out what to use it for: health benefits, fat content, heating temperature, and flavour.
The endurance of the olive
Jamie Oliver has a lot to answer for, and it was his smiling face cheerily adding glug after glug of this Italian staple to his dishes that has surely partly accounted for its enormous popularity in Western countries. It’s good, undoubtedly so. There are different kinds though, and that’s worth bearing in mind.
Extra virgin Olive oil, or EVOO, should not really ever be thrown in a hot frying pan. It’s rich in flavour, and usually pretty dark in colour. You can do olive oil tastings much like you can for wine – different varieties of olive lead to a vast range of flavours. It’s the highest quality, and most expensive olive oil on the market, and shouldn’t have additives – it’s simply the pressed juice of the olives. EVOO is great for using in a salad dressing, having on a table to dip fresh bread into, or simply drizzled over greens.
The lighter varieties of olive oil can withstand heat better. The lighter olive oils are closer to your stock standard vegetable oils, and thus sautéing, light frying, and roasting vegetables are all appropriate.
Let’s hear it for rice bran
Rice bran oil rode a wave of popularity once people started getting clued up to the fact that maybe we shouldn’t be putting EVOO on absolutely everything. Rice bran is a nice and neutral cooking oil. It’s relatively low in saturated fat, with little to no flavour, and a high tolerance for temperature. You’ll get crispy roast potatoes with this one; even fish and chip shops are ditching the lard for this much healthier alternative.