– : extra-virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil, coconut oil, palm oil :-
Extra-virgin Olive Oil
Huge clay vats found at Knossos in Crete testify to the fact that populations in the Mediterranean have traditionally relied on olive oil to form a major part of their balanced diet for millennia. Unusually for a vegetable oil, 75% of olive oil is in the form of a monounsaturated fat, 10% omega-6 and 2% omega-3 fats (a natural, healthy ratio). It is also rich in naturally occurring antioxidants and enzymes. Best of all no European olives on sale today derive from genetically modified plants.
Because it is liquid at room temperature (meaning the hydrogen carbon bonding is looser than saturated fats) olive oil is prone to turning rancid if exposed to heat, oxygen and light. To avoid the freshly harvested fruit from turning the olives are crushed as soon as possible – certainly no later than two days after harvesting. To qualify for the label “extra virgin” the oil must be extracted at a temperature below 27 degrees centigrade. At such low temperatures there is no risk of heat turning the oil rancid. There is no hexane treatment and no deodorisation treatment. It must be bottled and sealed as soon as possible to prevent oxygen and light reacting with the oils and turning it rancid.
It is best to purchase EVO in dark bottles to block out light and it should be stored in a dark, cool cupboard. Under such conditions olive oil can last for a number of months before turning. It can be used for frying at low temperatures but is best used for salad dressings or for use in a mayonnaise. When eaten cold the eater will benefit enormously from the natural enzymes, anti-oxidants and natural nutrients that are otherwise destroyed by high-temperatures.
There is no doubt that extra virgin olive oil is expensive and has a stronger flavour than “lighter” varieties – but in terms of delicious, natural flavours, nutrient density, provenance and health benefits, it is worth every penny. Cost will ensure that this oil is used sparingly by the everyday cook – but the taste, health benefits and pure, delicious flavours will ensure it is worth every penny spent.
Coconut oil has always formed a vital part of the diet for those living in tropical climates. In the past few decades its use has been discouraged because of its high saturation levels (approx. 92%) – higher than butter or lard. Yet, it is a great source of lauric acid which has strong anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties.
In tropical countries coconut oil is liquid at room temperature but turns solid in cooler climates. Virgin coconut oil has a strong coconut flavour, which is not to everyone’s taste . It can be used for baking or for frying. Virgin coconut oil is expensive and butter may be a cheaper alternative.
Palm oil, (not be confused with palm kernel oil) has been used in tropical countries for thousands of years. Like coconut oil it is a highly saturated fat. Like coconut oil it contains a high percentage of lauric acid. Being a saturated fat it is relatively stable and not prone to turning rancid. In its natural sate it has a red colour and tastes unpalatable. As a result it is often subjected to processing and deodorisation to remove taste and colour.
For years palm oil was dismissed by the food industry and governments as unhealthy due to its high level of saturation. With the banning of trans-fats, however, the food industry has turned its sights on palm oil as an alternative. Nutella, for example, recently announced that it will be using palm oil exclusively from now on – highly processed palm oil that is.
Human populations have been consuming the seed of the flax flower for thousands of years. How extensively the oil from the flax seed was extracted and consumed is uncertain. In cases where the oil was extracted it was done under small-scale, artisanal methods relying on stone-milling rather than high-speed milling.
Precisely because it is challenging to extract linseed oil from the flax seed it is unlikely that linseed oil formed a staple part of most people’s diet. Unlike other vegetable seed oils, flax oil has a higher percentage of omega-3 (57%) than omega-6, which is why it is often sold as a health food. Some suggest that this high level of omega-3 to omega-6 helps balance out the over-consumption of omega-6 that most people eat in processed food or from using seed vegetable oils.
Because of its high concentration of polyunsaturated fats flax seed oil goes rancid quickly – quicker than almost any other vegetable oil. It should never be used in frying and always kept in dark bottles in the fridge.
Flax seed oil tastes delicious in salads and poured over a cooling taboulleh. Like most virgin pressed seed oils it is very expensive. Alternatively, buy loose flax seeds. They are relatively cheap and taste delicious ground and sprinkled over salads, mixed into porridges or used in breads.