If you've cooked with Tastebox before you probably would have noticed that in the "what you need" section on our recipe cards, we simply list "oil" without specifying which kind. We choose to do this because the type of oil you use will not make a noticeable difference to the taste of the meal, but that's not to say that there isn't a difference between each type.
Choices, choices, choices!
These days you will find a wide variety of oils on your local supermarket shelf. sometimes taking up half an aisle, it can be quite overwhelming trying to decide which is the best choice! But you may be surprised to know that it's not as simple as cheap means bad and expensive means good. Different oils have different characteristics, making them more or less ideal for ceratin things, for example, high-temperature frying versus drizzling over a salad.
How to decide which oil to choose?
The things to look at when deciding on which oil to choose are the smoke point (the temperature at which it stops shimmering and starts smoking), the level of processing (an indicator of nutritional value), and the profile of types of fats the oil contains.
Here's a list of the most common oils you'll find in the supermarket with a short breakdown of each type to help you decide next time you're out shopping.
Sunflower oil is one of the most commonly used oils in South Africa, most likely due to its affordability. Sunflower oil has a high smoking point, meaning it is often used in fast food and take-away food settings. While it may be cheap, a significant downfall of sunflower oil is the fact that it is high in omega 6 fatty acids, which promote inflammation, which is not great for our long-term health.
Sunflower oil in a nutshell:
- Pros: Inexpensive compared to other oils.
- Cons: High in omega 6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory.
- Use: In limited amounts.
- Best for: Deep frying as it has a high smoke point, although we don't recommend doing this too often (or at all!)
Olive oil is an obvious choice for those that value their health but here is something about it you may not know: its smoking point is low compared to other oils and so it is not always the best choice if you are cooking at high temperatures. That is why it is best reserved for salad dressings or cooking below 180 C.
Olive oil in a nutshell:
- Pros: High in heart-protective monounsaturated fat and antioxidants.
- Cons: In the expensive range.
- Use: Whenever possible.
- Best for: Salad dressings and cooking at temperatures below 180 C.
Coconut oil has become popular in the last few years but some people remain concerned about its saturated fat content. As with everything, we feel it is fine when used in moderation, and it's important to remember that we do need a certain amount of saturated fat in our diet so don't panic if you see a tub of coconut oil on the counter at your next dinner party.
Coconut oil in a (coco)nutshell:
- Pros: High smoke point making it a good stable cooking oil.
- Cons: Hard at room temperature so not as easy to use as liquid oils.
- Use: moderately as it is high in saturated fat.
- Best for: High-temperature cooking.
Perhaps a less commonly used oil, particularly in South Africa, avocado oil is one of the best choices you can make.
- Pros: Its high smoke point plus its high amount of monounsaturated fats make it a great choice all round.
- Cons: Expensive compared to other oils
- Use: One of the better choices you can make
- Best for: high temperature cooking, salad dressings
Another commonly used oil, canola oil belongs to the same family as sunflower oil and is therefore also a source of those omega 6 fatty acids so be sure to use in limited amounts.
- Pros: Similar price point to sunflower oil and a bit lower in omega 6 fatty acids
- Cons: Being a vegetable oil, it still contributes a lot to our omega 6 intake
- Use: In limited amounts
- Best for: high temperature cooking
Before we go...
Although not technically an oil, a quick note about butter: many people are concerened about the saturated fat content of butter. Just like everything: moderation is key. Butter gives a divine flavour to many foods and we do often use it in our meal kits. But it is also important to find that balance. Use butter when you know it will give your meal great flavour, but balance it out with also using olive or avocado oil where you can!