Remember when extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) became mainstream - creeping into our parent’s pantries and replacing vegetable and canola oils as a healthier (and tastier) alternative? Today, we not only have EVOO, we have a whole host of cooking oils to choose from, many of which can now be found at most supermarkets. From grapeseed to avocado, alternative oils are finally having their moment to shine in kitchens; with most standing up to the heat of a frying pan, the taste buds of picky palates, and what could be most important - the LDL “bad” cholesterol found in saturated fats.
Recently, the American Heart Association (AHA) issued an advisory urging consumers to decrease their consumption of saturated fats, and replace them with healthier fats to reduce cardiovascular disease. Coconut oil, along with butter, beef fat and palm oil were all cited as being high in saturated fat and raising levels of LDL cholesterol. Instead, the AHA recommends consuming oils (in moderation) containing polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which are thought to help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
So the next time you’re reaching for a bottle of EVOO or coconut oil, try these six alternative oils, rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. We’ll show you how to cook with them.
How do you like your avocados these days? Are you a traditionalist who likes it smashed on toast, sprinkled with lemon juice and topped with chili flakes? Or perhaps you like your avocados scooped and baked with an egg? However you like your avo, try it as an oil, made from the fleshy pulp surrounding the seed. High in monounsaturated fat, avocado oil has a slightly grassy flavor. Try it drizzled over Mediterranean Baked Salmon or guacamole (yes!). With a high smoke point around 450°F (the degree to which the oil starts to burn) this oil is perfect for sautéing, roasting and baking.
Best known for complementing stir-fries, sautéed vegetables and noodles, sesame oil is a seasoning standout and a nutritional powerhouse. High in both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, this oil has been linked to lowering blood pressure. Pressed from sesame seeds, expect a rich and nutty flavor for toasted dark sesame oil, and a slightly nutty flavor for light sesame oil. Both hold up to medium-high heat, however, save dark sesame oil as a finishing oil for Asian Steamed Halibut with Scallions and Bok Choy, and light sesame oil for vinaigrettes. A little goes a long way for either oils.
Looking for a neutral tasting oil that allows other flavors to shine? Experiment with grapeseed oil, made from oil extracted from grape seeds. Rich in polyunsaturated fats, omega-6 fatty acids and Vitamin E, grapeseed oil is often considered a “better for you” fat option. Because it has a higher smoke point (around 450°F) than other oils containing high amounts of polyunsaturated fats, it’s a great choice when roasting vegetables. Grapeseed oil is equally as good in dips and dressings - replace the olive oil with grapeseed in this Strawberry, Goat Cheese & Hazelnut Salad recipe.
Safflower oil is extracted from the seeds of the safflower plant: a herbaceous annual adorned with a crown of yellow, orange or red flowers. High in omega-6 fatty acids - a type of polyunsaturated fat - safflower oil is neutral in taste and has a high-heat smoke point, perfect for stir-frying and sautéing. If you’re used to cooking or baking with canola or olive oil, give safflower oil a try, like in this Mustard Balsamic Baked Chicken recipe.
If your dish is missing a certain level of richness, look to walnut oil to provide the big finish. Traditionally imported from France, walnut oil is made by extracting oil from the nut meat. High in polyunsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids, walnut oil has a low smoke point and should not be heated. Instead, toss it with cooked pasta as a sauce replacement, or try it as a finishing oil, drizzled over Creamy Zucchini Superfood Soup for a touch of umami. Walnut oil comes at a price, so make sure to refrigerate after opening to prevent it from going rancid.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: hemp oil will not get you high. Pressed from the seed of the hemp plant, the oil does not contain any amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - the chemical responsible for the psychoactive effect. Low in saturated fat, and high in essential fatty acids, like omega-6 and omega-3, hemp oil is commonly touted for its health benefits. Deeply nutty and earthy tasting, it’s best used in small quantities. Try it drizzled over hummus or grain bowls, like the Veggie Chopped Quinoa salad. Hemp oil should be stored in the refrigerator before and after opening to prevent spoilage.
Our advice? Do your research and factor in your collective diet and lifestyle when evaluating the health benefits of oils. And in the meantime, get to the grocery store and start experimenting and cooking. Who knows, maybe you won’t miss coconut oil after all.