With consciousness on the rise about obesity and the detrimental effects of a bad diet on health, many are developing an aversion to fats. However, it is almost impossible to imitate the texture and flavor that fats give foods, with alternatives. Kitchens would be hard-pressed to prepare food without fats, even without taking deep-fried options into consideration. Despite the many options available, by choosing just a few cooking oils to keep in stock, food businesses can easily prepare high level, healthy, and delicious foods. The type of oil used for each dish depends on the preparation of the dish, making it important for chefs and cooks to know the basics of which oil can be used for what. Venues offering food on a budget, with deep-fried options on the menu, will probably choose to stock up on inexpensive oils with high boiling points, such as soybean oil, while other venues will choose to occasionally deep-fry in Canola oil, an alternative which is often considered healthier.
Before diving in to share our top 3 picks, it is important to understand why smoke points matter in cooking oils. An oil’s smoke point will go up, as its chemical structure gets more saturated. That’s the same type of “saturated” people are referring to when they say that you should try to eat more unsaturated fats and fewer saturated fats. The difference in health and smoke points in saturated and unsaturated fats are due to the same reasons. The less saturated a fat is, the more reactive it will be. This means that it is easier for the body to break down, but also that it can react with oxygen in the air to get oxidized. Oxidized oils are even more reactive than unsaturated oils, which can cause health damage when consumed over time and in large quantities. Oxidized oils also have a rancid taste. So what does this have to do with cooking? When you heat an oil, you enhance its ability to react with its surroundings, making oxidation occur faster, and making the oil go rancid faster. Therefore, you want a highly saturated oil when using high temperatures, since it has a higher smoke point, which means it will be less reactive at a higher temperature. Burnt oil has carcinogenic components as well as a foul flavor, making it non-servable. Due to all these reasons, saturated fats are best for deep-frying and cooking at high temperatures.
On the other hand, unsaturated oils and fats such as those found in nuts and olives, are considered healthy. Not only do unsaturated oils add great flavor to dishes such as salads and Carpaccio, they also draw a customer’s attention to the dish: Greek salad with “extra-virgin olive oil and fresh-squeezed lemon dressing” is a more attractive dish than the same salad with “canola oil and fresh-squeezed lemon dressing.” Now that the reasons for using specific oils for specific purposes are clear, here are our top 3 picks for oils in the kitchen.
1. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
No restaurant is complete without a good olive oil. Olive oil is a very versatile option, with a smoke point of 375o Fahrenheit. It is mostly used in salad dressings and pasta, but is also great for using in roasted vegetables and baked goods. Different olive oils have different flavors, so some venues choose to have a few different types on hand. Other venues can select the best one for their purposes by tasting a few different kinds. The term “extra-virgin olive oil” refers to a high quality oil that was extracted from the fruit without the use of chemicals. In some refining and oil-extraction methods, chemicals are used to get the most oil possible out of the fruit. Though the chemicals are removed before selling the oil, the treatment is widely considered a process that lowers the quality of olive oils.
2. Canola Oil
Canola oil is considered relatively healthy, but can have a high boiling point (depending on the type). Canola oil has a smoke point of 400o Fahrenheit, making it a good option for using in baked goods, for browning meats, and for deep frying (not heavily). The oil has a milder flavor when compared to olive oil, which, along with its higher smoke point, makes it more versatile.
3. Soybean oil
Though soybean oil sometimes gets a bad reputation for being cheap and having a strong flavor, it has a high smoke point (around 460o Fahrenheit), which makes it an excellent choice for burger restaurants, bars, and other venues offering many types of deep-fried foods. Though this oil is great for deep-frying and therefore very useful to most venues, it is not usually recommended for other purposes.
The best types of oil to keep on hand in a professional kitchen depends on the menu. Venues with many different types of salads may choose to keep a few different olive oils on hand, along with avocado oil and walnut oil, in order to have a wide variety of flavors for use in dressings. Venues serving lots of grilled meats may choose to fry in Canola oil, if not using butter. Canola oil is a must-have for baking as well. Having the 3 types of oils above on hand will provide venues with a wide range of options for preparing foods at their best.