Welcome to Cooking Oils 101! Use the information in this blog to take your culinary knowledge up a notch. There are a lot of oils out there. Let us help you learn which to use when! You can find all of these oils at the Co-op on a regular basis.
You can also watch our video all about cooking oils too.
Cooking oils are fats derived from plant, animal, and synthetic sources. Most are liquid at room temperature, but oils that contain saturated fats like coconut and palm, can be solid. This blog will cover many common plant-derived cooking oils.
Smoke point refers to the temperature at which a given oil produces a “continuous wisp of smoke” or the temperature at which the oil begins to burn. Heating an oil to or beyond its smoke point will degrade flavor, phytochemicals, and nutritional content. Smoke points can vary widely from oil to oil.
Saturated refers to fats made of fatty acid chains that have all or predominantly single bonds. Most animal fats are saturated (it is important to note that very few foods only contain one type of fat, most are a mix). Some plant oils, like coconut and palm, are saturated as well. Saturated fats tend to have a higher melting point and are usually solid at room temperature (think bacon grease or coconut oil). There is strong, consistent evidence linking saturated fat intake, blood cholesterol levels, and the cardiovascular disease epidemic. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat intake, but talk to your doctor about the specifics of your diet!
Unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature, contain fatty acid chains that are double bonded. There are two kinds of unsaturated fats: mono- and polyunsaturated. Mono- and poly-unsaturated fats are found in plant oils in varying ratios. These fats are generally regarded as beneficial for our health, but check with your doctor regarding intake levels best for you!
Store cooking oils in a dark, dry, cool place away from radiant heat from appliances and the sun to avoid rancidity. Some oil, like flaxseed oil, will go rancid quickly if stored out of the fridge, so read an oil’s packaging if you’re not sure where it should be stored. Oils usually taste best when consumed within 2-3 months of opening.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Smoke Point: 325-350˚ F
Best for: medium-heat sautéing, baking, finishing, vinaigrettes
EVOO is a pantry staple for a reason! It is a super versatile cooking oil with body and flavor enough to stand on its own (try dipping crusty bread or drizzling over chocolate ice cream) and stand up to medium heat cooking. Its flavor can be buttery, spicy, fruity, or grassy depending on where it’s coming from. “Extra virgin” olive oil is unrefined, unlike many vegetable oils.
Olive Oil/Pure Olive Oil
Smoke Point: 465-470˚ F
Best For: high-heat sautéing, roasting & frying; infusing
Also called “light” or “regular”, pure olive oil is lighter in flavor and color than extra virgin olive oil. Note that “light” here refers to the flavor; the calorie content is the same as extra virgin olive oil. Many people prefer the lighter taste of pure olive oil. Although more processed than extra virgin olive oil, pure olive oil can never (by definition) be extracted using chemical solvents, unlike some other vegetable oils.
Smoke Point: 520˚ F
Best For: high-heat sautéing, roasting, searing, vinaigrettes
Avocado oil is gaining popularity for its high monounsaturated fat content and sky high smoke point. It’s mild flavor and creamy texture makes it a great vinaigrette base too. Avocado oil tends to be pricier than other vegetable oils.
Smoke Point: 350-400˚ F
Best For: medium-heat roasting, sautéing, and baking
Coconut oil has gained huge popularity in recent years as a good substitute in plant based cooking and baking. Unlike most vegetable oils, coconut oil is solid at room temperature because it is high in saturated fats. “Unrefined” or “virgin” coconut oil tends to have a strong coconut flavor. “Mild”, “refined”, and “filtered” coconut oils have a less intense (sometimes non-existent) coconut flavor.
Smoke Point: 450˚ F
Best For: high-heat sautéing, roasting, deep frying
Peanut oil has a nutty scent and strong, peanut flavor. Because of this, pair with complimentary flavors like those in many Asian dishes. Its high smoke point makes it a good option for deep frying too. Best to purchase only what you need as peanut oil can go rancid quickly.
Smoke Point: 400˚ F
Best For: high-heat roasting, sautéing, frying, and baking
Canola oil has a light color and mild flavor. Canola oil is extracted from the rapeseed plant and is sometimes called rapeseed oil. You can use canola oil anytime a recipe calls for vegetable oil. Its mild flavor makes it a good oil for baking.
Smoke Point: 400˚ F
Best For: high-heat roasting, sautéing, frying, and baking
Vegetable oils vary from brand to brand as to what specific oils make up the blend. Vegetable oil usually contains a mix of corn, sunflower, safflower, and soy oils. It is neutral tasting and smelling, which makes it a good oil for dishes with strong flavors. If you are avoiding corn or soy, check the label on vegetable oils as they often contain these ingredients.
Smoke Point: 445˚ F
Best For: high-heat roasting, frying, sautéing, and baking
Not to be confused with palm kernel oil which is derived from the seed of the palm plant, palm oil is semi-solid at room temperature. Palm oil farming practices often involve rainforest and habitat destruction, air pollution, labor violations, and more. Look for Fair for Life fairtrade certified palm oil if you’re using palm oil. Palm oil is often used as a replacement for trans fats in commercial baked goods so always check the label if you want to avoid palm oil. Visit Palm Done Right to learn how you can responsibly consume palm oil.
Smoke Point: 420˚ F
Best For: high-heat roasting, frying, vinaigrettes
Although it has a high smoke point which makes it great for high heat cooking, grapeseed oil is a wonderful oil for vinaigrettes. It is cheaper than olive oil and has a mild flavor which allows other flavors to take center stage.
Smoke Point: 440-450˚ F
Best For: high-heat sautéing and searing
This high-heat, neutral-flavored oil is made from sunflower seeds, which means it can go rancid more quickly than other oils. Use within 8 months and always trust your nose: if it smells off, toss it.
Smoke Point: 510˚ F
Best For: high-heat roasting, deep frying, searing
Safflower oil is nearly flavorless. Its high monounsaturated fat content means it has a high smoke point as well. This is a very affordable oil for deep frying.
Smoke Point: 420˚ F
Best For: high-heat sautéing
Sesame oil is the go-to oil for stir-frys! It holds up to heat and has a pleasant flavor that goes great in Asian cuisine. Even though it has a high smoke point, it is not used for deep frying traditionally. You can also use it in dressings, but toasted sesame oil will yield more flavor.
Toasted Sesame Oil
Smoke Point: 410˚ F
Best For: vinaigrettes, finishing
Toasted sesame oil has a deep, nutty flavor that shines best when added to vinaigrettes or drizzled over a dish. You can use it to sauté, but it is pricier than regular sesame oil and often sold in smaller pack sizes than oil traditionally used for high-heat cooking.
Smoke Point: 330˚ F
Best For: finishing, smoothies
Hemp oil has a deep green color and rich, nutty flavor. It’s best when drizzled over soup and grain bowls or added to smoothies. Hemp oil is a great source of quality plant based amino acids and omega fatty acids. If using in a dressing, cut with a more neutral oil so your dish isn’t overpowered. Store in the fridge. It will go rancid quickly.
Smoke Point: 225˚ F
Best For: vinaigrettes, smoothies
It’s best to never heat flax oil. Only use in vinaigrettes, as a finisher, or in smoothies. Always store in the fridge. Flax oil is celebrated for being a plant source rich in omega-3 fatty acids!
Smoke Point: 320˚ F
Best For: vinaigrettes, finishing
This is another rich source of omega-3s. It’s best to not heat it. You can find toasted walnut oil which is absolutely delicious, but pricey. If using for a vinaigrette, use a more neutral oil and top it off with the toasted walnut oil.
Sweet Almond/Almond Oil
Smoke Point: 430˚ F
Best For: vinaigrettes, finishing, high-heat stir-frying, sautéing
Almond oil is high in monounsaturated fats and antioxidant Vitamin E. Its high smoke point means it is a good option for high-heat cooking, but can be expensive. Look for unrefined almond oil as refined almond oil is extracted using high-heat processing and chemical solvents. It’s mildly sweet and nutty flavor makes it a great option for drizzling over a green salad.
What is a marinade?
marinade (n.) a sauce, typically made of oil, vinegar, spices, and herbs, in which meat, fish, or other food is soaked before cooking in order to flavor or soften it.
With grilling season upon us, it’s time to brush up on the basics. Let’s start with marinades. As you’ve just read, marinating involves meat, seafood, veggies, or tofu soaking in a sauce for anywhere from 5 minutes to overnight. The amount of time a given cut of meat needs to marinate is a subject of tradition and debate. Conventional wisdom suggests the longer you marinate, the better (more flavor, more tender texture). Unfortunately, food science doesn’t back this up. The experts have found that marinating meat in a highly acidic marinade for too long can result in poor texture. While food scientists have shown marinating meat for longer than one hour isn’t necessary, marinating meat ahead of time can make dinner prep easy peasy! Just follow the steps below to ensure non-mushy meat.
As for flavor, aromatics like herbs or sauces like miso don’t soak into the interior of your meat. Salts and sugars in your marinade do work to pull juices out so other liquids can seep in (think brining). There is a huge upside to your marinade staying on the outside of your meat though: it’s the first thing to hit the heat, which means it’s the first thing that cooks. Cooking will develop flavors more deeply and create a layer of caramelization on the outside of your meat which will taste delicious.
Okay, but what goes in a marinade?
There are many avenues to go down here, but every marinade is made up of 5 basic components. You can follow this formula: 3 parts oil + 1 part acid + aromatics + sugar + salt
You need an acid to tenderize what you’re marinating. Vinegar, lemon juice (or other citrus), and wine are all good options. Be careful not to use too much or marinate too long or you’ll chemically cook your meat resulting in a mushy or stringy texture. Stick with the formula above and limit citrus marinades to a 2 hour soak.
You’ll need an oil to bind your marinade together. Canola, avocado, olive, toasted sesame, and peanut are solid options. Go with a flavorless oil (like canola) if you want your flavorings to do more of the work.
Aromatics & Spices
Fresh herbs, spices, hot chilies, miso, tangerine zest, mustard, garlic, ginger etc. are all flavoring options! The possibilities are endless so we’ve shared a few go to combinations below.
Adding a touch (or a ton) of sweetness will round out your marinade and ensure caramelization. Honey, brown sugar, white sugar, maple syrup, and agave will do the trick.
While the acid in your marinade is working to tenderize the outermost layer of your meat, salt is actually pulling out liquid so your meat can absorb all the other good stuff. Therefore, salt is a must. Soy sauce/tamari, Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce, and fine sea salt are good options.
How long should I marinate?
If you’re using citrus juice as the acid in your marinade, a quick soak will do it. This may sound very different from what you’ve heard, but 15 – 30 minutes for beef, lamb, pork, poultry, tofu, and veggies will do the trick. You can marinate up to 2 hours before you seriously start compromising texture. If you’re trying to marinate as a part of meal prep, stick with a less acidic vinegar (apple cider or rice) as your acid and marinate up to overnight, but anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours is best.
For shrimp, and fish steaks and filets, marinate for just 15 minutes. Scallops only need to be marinated for 5. Marinating longer than these times will result in chemical cooking and potential mushiness.
A few more tips!
- Always marinate in glass or plastic (try reusable, resealable Stasher bags instead of single use plastic zip top bags) since the acid can react with metal containers.
- Be sure to keep your marinations in the fridge white marinating. Bacteria can spread quickly outside of refrigeration.
- Avoid using the marinade that came in contact with raw meat as sauce. If you plan on using your marinade as sauce, make a double batch and separate out what will be used for sauce.
Go To Marinades
This is all too much work.
No worries! You can find DFC-marinated meats in our Meat Department ready for the grill or oven.
Beer is made with four ingredients: water, grain, hops, and yeast. Despite this humble foundation, however, there’s a wide variety of color, flavor, and aroma to be found on the shelves.
At the most basic level, there are two types of beer: ales and lagers. Ales are typically a bit heartier, while lagers are usually lighter in both color and body and are crisper, cleaner beers. Most mass-produced beers that you see in stores and on TV are lagers (Pilsners, to be precise).
When pairing beers with food, try to choose a beer that either complements or offsets the food’s flavors. Serve small glasses of beer per plate to avoid overstuffing your diners.
If you’re cooking meat on a grill, a stout (a dark, slightly smoky ale) will bring out the charred flavor. If the meat is already pretty flavorful (or, say, coated in cheese), a crisp lager will provide a refreshing counterpoint. And if it’s a greasy burger you’re after, go for a wheat beer; it will also pair nicely with French fries.
When cooking with hot chili pepper or fiery curry, a German bock or dunkelweiss (dark wheat) will provide some slight bready sweetness to help soothe your burning palate. Likewise, a “hoppy” India Pale Ale (IPA) will impart the bitterness you need to slake your thirst and bring out your food’s flavor, not just its heat.
Veggie lovers should steer toward Pilsner, Kolsch, and Dortmunder styles, which are mostly crisp and clean with grassy or peppery hop flavors, complementing vegetarian dishes without washing out subtler flavors.
Above all, take these guidelines as suggestions. After all, there is no right or wrong way to pair beer with food. The next time you’re looking to serve beer with your meal, ask the food co-op staff about the local microbrewed beers they carry (if your food co-op carries alcohol), and sample a few to discover what you like most. Remember that food and beer are meant to be convivial and are best when shared with others—so have fun!
This blog was written by Charles Davidson, a contributor to NCG’s “Welcome to the Table”
Monday, May 24th, is National Asparagus Day
We love this spring staple at the Co-op and hope you find something celebratory about asparagus too!
A love affair for the ages
5,000 years ago, Egyptians used asparagus in rituals as offerings, and as food and medicine. Archeologists found asparagus, along with fig and melon, residue on ancient dinnerware possibly belonging to Queen Nefertiti. 3,000 years ago, Caesar Augustus created the “asparagus fleet,” a flotilla of his fastest ships to find the vegetable and bring it to the alps where it could be frozen for later use. A recipe for cooking asparagus from this time appears in one of the oldest surviving cookbooks. 600 years ago, asparagus’s popularity spread to the nobility of France, Germany, and England. French king Louis XIV supped on spears the size of swan’s feathers. 300 years ago, asparagus became widely available to most people and had made its way to North America via colonialism.
Today, asparagus is grown and eaten all over the world. Top producers include China, Peru, Mexico, Germany, and Thailand. It may be native to Europe, North Africa, and western Asia, but the crop does well in many parts of the U.S. We prefer local asparagus, which is available at the Co-op throughout the season. Asparagus contains more glutathione, a powerful antioxidant, than any other vegetable! The tender, green stalks pair well with olive oil, aged cheese, bacon, sausage, lamb, prosciutto, cream, eggs, butter, shallots, fresh herbs, yeasty breads, like sourdough and wheat, and grains such as Arborio rice, quinoa and farro.
California is one of the top producers of asparagus in the United States and it takes time and care to harvest! Each spear is harvested by hand. Farmworkers clear out 9 inches of soil around each stalk to reach the base before each spear is snipped. We’re grateful to our farmers and farmworkers for taking the care to bring us this spring specialty!
Storing asparagus: asparagus should be trimmed approximately ½ inch from the bottom and then stored upright in a glass or bowl filled with enough water to cover stems, as you would do with flowers in a vase. Keep refrigerated.
You can find a Kids at the Co-op recipe and coloring page here!
It’s that time when tossing a few special cheeses, a bowl of olives, crusty local bread, and some backyard strawberries on a large wooden cutting board is our preferred way of eating. Afternoons are warm with light breezes and plenty of shade thanks to Davis’ urban canopy.
Sharing meals in the backyard, on the porch, or in the park is once again part of our daily nourishment. Don’t bother with the stove on days like these. Just make sure you have plenty of cheese on hand. And, if you can’t construct an underground cheese cellar in your home like our very own Cheesemonger Jess suggests, there are other measures you can take to ensure your fromage maintains its cheesy integrity.
Buy only what you need
Cheese is best fresh, so Cheesemonger Jess recommends only buying what you need for a few days at a time. Once you get your cheese home, use these tips to keep your cheese it’s best!
Beware the plastic wrap
There are a lot of reasons to avoid using single use plastic. When it comes to cheese, plastic wrap or cling film can significantly alter the taste and texture the longer a cheese remains wrapped up. This is because your little slice of heaven is alive. Cheese ages, sweats, and even breathes, all of which can be stifled if left in plastic too long.
We are currently exploring alternatives to plastic wrap in our Cheese Department! Until then, rewrap your cheese in parchment, wax paper, or specialty cheese paper when you get home. We carry Formaticum cheese paper – just ask any of our Cheese Specialists. Start by cutting a square 2-3 times larger than your cheese. Wrap cheese somewhat tightly, as you would a birthday present, and secure with a piece of masking tape or a cute little twine bow if you have the patience for that. Label with the type of cheese and date wrapped.
Hard cheeses: Hard cheeses are meant to be hard, but not so hard that you can’t cut them. After you wrap them in paper, wrap in a square of aluminum foil. This helps maintain proper moisture.
Soft cheeses: Soft cheeses like Brie and Camembert need plenty of air to breathe. Store paper-wrapped soft cheeses in a glass container lined with a paper towel to absorb condensation. With the lid slightly askew, place in the fridge.
Extra soft cheeses like mozzarella that come in water or brine can remain in their liquid.
Blue cheeses: Blue cheeses are piquant, to put it lightly, which is probably why you love them. Wrap in paper and store in a sealed reusable glass container to prevent the blue cheese flavor from spreading to its milder brethren.
Store in the drawer
Always store cheese in the fridge, never in the freezer. That little drawer is the perfect space for your cheeses: it’s a good balance of humidity and air circulation. Allow cheese to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature before you serve it so it reaches maximum flavor.
If you have any questions about storing specific cheeses, our Cheese Specialists are stationed at the Cheese Counter to assist.
With warm, but not stifling, weather and a break from the wind on its way, this weekend is a great time to fire up the grill. It’s also Mother’s Day weekend, so you may already be planning an outdoor celebration! If Mother’s Day isn’t your thing, check out this blog we wrote about alternative ways you can spend the day (you can still grill, of course).
We received our first local peaches of the season this week! Try them in this grilled stone fruit and prosciutto salad recipe that comes together in just 30 miuntes. You can easily make this vegetarian or vegan by swapping cubed fontina or smashed green olives for the prosciutto.
Speaking of grillable fruit, spicy pineapple chicken kebabs served with a chilled Sauv Blanc are a crowd-pleasing appetizer or main. I’ve also been dying to try this grilled pork tenderloin recipe with homemade rhubarb bbq sauce since I came across it a few weeks ago on National Co-op Grocers’ website.
If you’re the type to endlessly nibble at family gatherings, which I am, try putting out this grilled vegetable antipasto with asparagus to satisfy the grazers. Psst, local asparagus is on sale for $3.99/pound through 5/11! Grilled artichokes with parmesan aioli and grilled scallions with romesco sauce fulfill this brief as well.
Recipes mentioned in this post
Local Flavors Recipe Challenge
Throughout MArch and April we challenged you to make the best recipes from three provided ingreedients lists. Here are our winners.
The three winners will receive a $50 Co-op gift card.
The Baker’s Challenge:
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
Up to 1/2 cup brown sugar, or any sweetener such as turbinado and coconut sugar. (I like to halve sugar in recipes, less would make it more tart)
1/8 tsp (dash) salt
1/3 cup veg./neutral oil
1 cup grapefruit juice, preferably fresh—it may take 3-4 grapefruits
2 tbsp zest
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 to 1 cup powdered-sugar
3 tbsp (vegan) butter such as Earth Balance
3 tbsp grapefruit juice
- Preheat oven to 375F. Oil a cake pan or loaf tray. Mix wet ingredients. Mix dry. Mix together. Feel free to take a picture of how vibrant and pink the batter is.
- Pour in pan and bake 27-30 minutes. For cupcakes, check it at 16-18 minutes.
- Mix icing ingredients until altogether smooth. Refrigerate if you have time.
- When the cake is done, let it cool (10 min, or you can slice and try a piece if you’d like), then add icing.
- (While you wait, you can eat some grapefruit you juiced. :))
½ cup Rotini pasta (also works with gluten-free noodles, which can be even higher in protein)
½ onion, diced
Kite hill almond ricotta cheese (vegan), to taste
¼ cup nutritional yeast (aka nooch)
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
½ cup Chopped tomatoes, can be fresh or canned. And cherry tomatoes, to taste
¾ cup coconut cream (if possible, chill the can)
½ cup Chickpeas
Capers, olives, to taste
Serves 1-2-3 hungry (small) human(s)
- In a pan, fry the fresh garlic and onion in olive oil (or what’s on hand) until aromatic. Add tomatoes and coconut cream and nooch. Simmer on medium heat.
- Cook pasta. Once ready, throw it together in the sauce pan and add chickpeas, capers and olives. Stir on heat if you’d like.
- Now it’s ready to eat; and top with sage, cherry tomatoes , and ricotta as desired.
The Eastern Flavors Challenge:
Asian Udon Peanut Sauce Noodles
8 oz. Wide udon noodles
¼ cup chopped green onions
½ Fresh lime
Peanut Sauce Ingredients
⅓ C creamy peanut butter
2 T. Rice vinegar
3 T. Tamari sauce
¼-½ t. Sriracha (depending on how spicy you like)
2 T. maple syrup or honey
1T. Sesame Oil
1 t. Freshly minced ginger
2 cloves garlic minced ( or if have to use powder ¼ t garlic powder)
3 T. warm water
- Whisk ingredients listed for Peanut sauce in a small bowl until smooth.
- Cook wide udon noodles according to package directions. Drain well.
- Pour peanut sauce over noodles in serving bowls. Use tongs or chopsticks to mix until sauce covers noodles.
- Garnish with green onions and squeeze a slice of lime to give fresh flavor.
How it worked:
STEP 1: Choose Ingredient List
We’ve compiled three different lists (see below) all with very different ingredients. Create a recipe using at least 4 ingredients from the list. While 4 is the minimum, we encourage you to use as many ingredients from your chosen list as possible.
Additionally, you can use up to 3 ingredients off the list. We’re not counting water, salt, pepper, dried spices, and small amounts of cooking oil as “off-list” ingredients – feel free to use these ingredients as needed.
STEP 2: Create a recipe
Get creative! Go sweet or savory, simple or extravagant, breakfast, lunch, or dinner as long as it’s original. Whatever you come up with, write down the recipe. Be sure to include measurements and step-by-step instructions. Photos aren’t necessary, but you can include them if you wish. You may also wish to send us a video of your thought process or of you making the recipe, but this is optional.
STEP 3: Send us your recipe by 4/15/21
Email your recipe to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can submit one recipe per ingredient list. You must submit recipe(s) by 04/15/21.
STEP 4: We put the best to the test
Once we get all of the recipes, we’ll pick a handful of the best looking ones for each ingredient list. Madison and Christine will make them in the Teaching Kitchen, taste test them, and choose a winning recipe from each ingredient list. Each winner will receive a $50 Co-op Gift Card!
We’ll post videos of us making the winning recipes and what we come with for each list. Good luck!
The Baker’s Challenge
- sour cream
- whole wheat or buckwheat flour
- baking powder
- baking soda
- white chocolate
The Mediterranean Challenge
- DFC chicken apple sausage
- noodles of your choosing
- fresh sage
- ricotta cheese
- mozzarella cheese
- fresh garlic
- coconut cream
The Eastern Flavors Challenge
- peanut butter
- coconut milk
- tamari or soy sauce
- shiitake mushrooms
- wide udon noodles
- fresh ginger
- hot peppers