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There is such an array of oils too choose from and much debate on whether we should be cooking with unsaturated oils or saturated fats and at what temperature we should be cooking with them. When oil is heated, they risk being damaged and releaseing chemicls that are detrimental to health. Most vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, sesame and to a lesser degree rapeseed) contain high levels of polyunsaturated ‘omega-6’ fats, which are susceptible to damage when exposed to heat. Most of these vegetable oils are highly refined and genetically modified, so are not particularly healthy. Saturated fats and monosaturated fats, such as coconut oil/butter and olive oil respectively, are less susceptible to damage when heated, so are better than the polyunsaturated ones for cooking.

We have put together a brief summary of the most popular oils around which we hope will help you make some informed choices.

Coconut oil – is often touted as a ‘healthy’ oil because of its unsual composition – whereas most saturated fats (the ones that are solid at room temperature) are made up predominatly of ‘long chain fatty acids,’ coconut oil has a high content of ‘medium chain fatty acids.’ These are absorbed more easily by the body and convereted into energy more quickly that the long chain FAs – the result of this, apparently, is that rather than being stored as fat, the medium chain farry acids are efficiently converted into fuel for muscles and organs. Studies have also shown that coconut oil can help riase HDL or ‘good’ cholestrerol. The claims that coconut oil has anti bacterial or other health properties are not proven. So by all means use coconut oil to cook or bake with but don’t use it in everything.

Olive oil– has become the staple of most kitchens. In the past it was considered not good to cook with as it has a relatiely low smoke point (i.e. a lower temperature at which point the oil begins to burn). There are a variety of types or olive oils depending on how much it has been refined or processed. Olive oil usually comes in dark glass bottles as it deteriorates if exposed to light, air and heat so keep your oil in a cupboard or larder.

Extra virgin is the least processed and comes from the first pressing. It has a darker colour and stonger flavour. The more the oil is processed the lighter the colour becomes as does the flavour. Extra virgin olive oil is best used in dressings, to dip into or to drizzle onto salads, vegetables or pasta and it contains many anti-oxidants. It also has the lowest smoke point of all the olive oils so it is not good for cooking with. Extra virgin olive oil is more expensive as well so you probaly won’t want to use it to cook with!

Regular olive oil is usually lighter in colour and is a combination of extra virgin and processed olive oil and has a higher smioke point. It is cheaper than the extra virgin variety and good to use for cooking and baking.

Light oilive oil is the most refined or processed and therefore has the highest smoke point. It can be used for frying or roasting.

Vegetable oil – is high in polyunsaturated fat and releases toxic cheimcals when heated to hign temperatues such as in frying (aorund 180℃). This is particulary the case with shallow frying as the surfact area of the fat reacting with oxygen in the air and creating the toxins are high.

Sunflower oil – one of the highest levels of polyunsaturated fats, so not suitable for cooking at high temperatures. Also, tends to be highly refined.

Grape seed oil – one of the highest levels of polyunsaturated fats, so not suitable for cooking at high temperatures. Also, tends to be highly refined.

Sesame oil – high in polyunsaturated fats, so not suitable for cooking with but excellent in dressings and marinades.

Hemp oil – a very good source of omega 3 fatty acids but it’s made predominatly of polysaturated fats, so it not suitable for cooking with.

Fats which are healthy for us are polyunsasturated and monounsaturated and are found in olive oil, nuts, oily fish and avocados.

So, bottom line, for cooking use coconut oil, olive oil or butter/ghee.