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Specialty Oils: Do you need an oil change?

November 28, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
You might hear experts say, an oil is mono or polyunsaturated. The truth is no oil is made up of just one type of fat. Each has its own unique recipe of mono-, poly- and saturated fat. So they vary in their smoke point and flavor profiles. While it is nice to choose oil for health benefits, most of the oils you buy are rich in poly or mono-unsaturates, which are both good for heart health. So, think instead about a new taste sensation to perk up a plate.

Almond oil smells and tastes like toasted almonds. Mostly monounsaturated, it is a nutty, heart-healthy way to flavor stir fry dishes. It is also a great oil to cook with at high temperatures.

Pine nut oil and pistachio oils are so flavorful and light; and wonderful when drizzled on roasted vegetables. You might even serve your dish topped with a few of pine and pistachio nuts as well.

Walnut oil has a low smoke point, so it's better in cold sauces and dressings, rather than cooking. But don't discount its value. Try it in a wild rice salad or in dishes using chicken or turkey.

Since many of the nut oils are high in monounsaturated fat, remember to store these oils in the refrigerator to prevent them from becoming rancid.

Grape seed oil is made my pressing the seeds of grapes. It was discovered as a by-product from making wine. Grape seed oil holds up well in sautéed dishes or stir fry dishes. However, it has such a light, neutral taste, that it works well in marinades and salad dressing. Just mix the oil with flavored vinegar and fresh spices.

Many chefs say avocado is the next hot ingredient. That's because the oil is pressed directly from the flesh and not the seed like many of the other oils. So, it has a smooth rich flavor, which is perfect for stir fry dishes and dipping.

The following are a few oils you may not have heard of:

  • Argan oil: Argan oil is the oil from nuts of the Argan tree which grows in Morocco. It is often used in spreads like tahini or drizzled over lentils, couscous and more.
  • Mustard oil: This is a spicy, pungent oil from India that is often used for frying. It is recommended that the oil be heated to the smoke point before using.
  • Rice bran oil: This oil is popular in China and Japan. The oil is taking from the inner husk of rice. It also has a high smoke point so sautéing and stir-frying are obvious uses.
  • Tea seed oil: Tea seed oil is a pale green oil with a herbal aroma. It is also used for frying due to its high smoke point, but many like it in dressings, marinades and dips due to the interesting flavor profile.

Check Trader Joe's and Whole Foods for almond, avocado, grape seed, and walnut oil. There are also gourmet websites that will help track down some of the more new and unusual.


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