April 19, 2018
Types of Fats and Oils

Types of Fats and Oils

by Berkeley Wellness  

The debate over which fats and oils are healthy versus unhealthy has gone on for decades, and likely will continue. In general, saturated fats from animals tend to be less healthy. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils are the fats we should emphasize in our diet. Keep in mind, however, that there are nine calories in each gram of fat, whether it’s butter or olive oil, compared to four calories in a gram of carbohydrates or protein.

Here’s a description of the main types of oils and fats:

Oils from grains and seeds

Many seed oils come in two forms: roasted and cold-pressed. A good example of this is sesame oil, which comes in both a toasty-tasting, dark brown form and a light-colored, almost bland cold-pressed form. Grain oils, on the other hand, are almost never roasted.

Canola oil (rapeseed oil): This bland-tasting oil has the distinction of being rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a polyunsaturated fatty acid related to the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. Canola oil is suitable for sautéing, baking, and salad dressings.

Corn oil: Made from the endosperm of corn kernels, corn oil is relatively tasteless and odorless and is used in the production of many margarines. It can be used in baking, and because it has a high smoke point—the temperature at which oil begins to smoke and burn—it is also good for sautéing and stir-frying.

Cottonseed oil: Cottonseed oil is used commercially in some margarines and salad dressings, as well as in many fried products.

Flaxseed oil: Cold-pressed flaxseed oil easily turns rancid, so buy it from the refrigerated section of the store, and keep it in your fridge at home. Like canola oil, flaxseed oil contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), but it’s hard to consume enough to get the benefits offered by omega-3s in fish.

Grapeseed oil: Extracted from the seeds of grapes, this oil is used to make margarine or salad dressings. It is also popular with chefs because it has an extremely high smoke point.

Pumpkin seed oil: Made from roasted pumpkin seeds, this is an extremely full-flavored oil with a deep green-black color. Because of its robust flavor, it is best used in combination with lighter oils.

Rapeseed oil: This oil comes from the seeds of the same plant that gives us the vegetable called broccoli rabe. The oil is sold commercially as canola oil.

Rice bran oil: Used commercially for frying foods such as potato chips, this oil has long been a staple in Japan. Rice bran oil has a light, nutty flavor and can be used both for sautéing and in salad dressings.

Safflower oil: Flavorless, colorless, and relatively odorless, safflower oil is extracted from the seeds of the safflower. It has a high smoke point, making it excellent for frying, and contains more polyunsaturates than any other oil.

Sesame oil: Sesame oil comes in cold-pressed and roasted forms. The dark-brown roasted oil is usually sold in the Asian foods section in supermarkets. Cold-pressed sesame oil, which is light in color and delicate in flavor, is available in health-food stores. The roasted oil is generally used as a flavor accent, added during the final minutes of cooking. In combination with a lighter flavored oil, it works well in salad dressings and sauces. The cold-pressed oil is good for both salad dressings and sautéing.

Soybean oil: Extracted from soybeans, this oil is used extensively in the manufacturing of margarines. Because of its high smoke point and relatively inexpensive cost, it is often used for sautéing.

Sunflower oil: Pale yellow in color and light in flavor, sunflower oil has a relatively low smoke point. It is used in salad dressings and baking.

Wheat germ oil: Cold-pressed from whole grains of wheat, this oil has a nutty flavor and can be used along with a lighter oil for salad dressings.

Oils from fruit

Avocado oil: Along with olive oil and canola oil, avocado oil is an exceptional source of monounsaturated fats. It is extracted from the flesh of avocados and is used in salad dressings.

Olive oil: Pressed from tree-ripened olives, olive oil is the most popular oil in Mediterranean cuisine and is a predominant staple of healthful cooking.

Oils from nuts

As with seed oils, nut oils can come both roasted and unroasted (cold-pressed). The cold-pressed forms are more commonly found in health-food stores, while the roasted forms tend to be sold in specialty food and gourmet stores. In general, the toasted varieties are full-flavored and best used sparingly, without heating.

Almond oil: This oil has the flavor of the roasted almonds from which it's made. Use it in baked goods, pastas, drizzled over vegetables, or on grilled bread. The unroasted form is usually labeled “Sweet Almond Oil.” Very light in flavor, without any real nut taste, sweet almond oil is often used by chefs to oil molds of unbaked desserts. It has a high smoke point, making it good for stir-frying.

Hazelnut oil: The most common form found in the market is derived mainly from unroasted Italian hazelnuts (aka filberts). However, a roasted version from American hazelnuts is also available. Full of flavor, hazelnut oil is excellent for seasoning desserts as well as salads.

Macadamia nut oil: With its light, delicate macadamia flavor, this oil is especially good with fish, chicken, vegetables, or baked goods. It has a high smoke point and can be used for sautéing or stir-frying. Roasted macadamia oil has a fuller, somewhat nuttier flavor than unroasted and should not be heated. Use it as a finishing oil to drizzle over cooked foods.

Peanut oil: While most American peanut oils are mild flavored, Chinese and health-food store varieties tend to have a full peanut flavor and aroma. Available both roasted and unroasted, peanut oil is delicious in salad dressings and sauces. Use the unroasted variety for frying because of its higher smoke point.

Pecan oil: Roasted pecan oil has a deep, nutty flavor. It makes a nice salad dressing when used in combination with a lighter, less flavorful oil. It can also be drizzled on vegetables or pasta.

Pine nut oil: A little of this oil, made from ground and roasted pine nuts, goes a long way. Use it to drizzle over pasta, vegetables, or bread.

Pistachio oil: This cold-pressed oil, derived from pistachios, has a deep green color and a rich, full-bodied flavor. Use it along with a lighter oil to flavor salads or drizzle over fish or vegetables. A roasted pistachio oil is also available and has a slightly more pronounced, toasted flavor.

Walnut oil: This highly fragrant oil made from walnuts is frequently used in salad dressings in combination with a less flavorful oil. Walnut oil can also be used for sautéing, in baked goods, and drizzled over vegetables or fish. Roasted varieties have a fuller, deeper flavor and should be used only with finished dishes, not heated.

Margarine and vegetable shortening

When shopping for a margarine or spread, there are some pointers on how to choose one with better ingredients. First, most margarine products have labels telling how much saturated and polyunsaturated fat they contain. Look for a product with at least twice as much polyunsaturated as saturated fat. If a brand doesn’t give you a breakdown of fats, be suspicious.

Next, although all the oils commonly used in margarine are high in polyunsaturated fat and low in saturated fat, they vary substantially. Those lowest in saturated fat are safflower, sunflower, corn, and soybean oil, in that order. Be wary of sodium content, which tends to be relatively high.

Hydrogenated fats, also called trans fats, are rarely used in large amounts in shortening anymore because they are associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Still, check the label. If a hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil is listed first, the product may contain more trans fats than you want.

Margarine: As in butter, 100 percent of margarine’s calories come from fat, but the fat is largely polyunsaturated. Margarine is used for spreads and in cooking. None of the major brands have any dietary cholesterol, since almost all are made from vegetable oils.

Vegetable-oil spreads: These contain less than the 80 percent fat by weight required in a margarine, but this does not necessarily add up to them being more healthful than regular margarine.

Diet or reduced-calorie margarine: Though all of its calories still come from fat (about 45 percent fat by weight), it is diluted with water, so it has half the fat and calories of regular margarine per tablespoon. It is not, however, suitable for cooking.

Butter-margarine blends: These are anywhere from 15 to 40 percent butter. Thus they contain some of butter’s saturated fat, as well as its taste.

Sprinkle-on powders: Made from carbohydrates, these powders are virtually fat- and cholesterol-free. They melt well on hot, moist foods like baked potatoes. But they can’t be used in recipes or for sautéing.

Vegetable shortening: This solid fat is made from vegetable oils such as cottonseed and soybean. It is made solid by the process of hydrogenation. Solid vegetable shortening is used primarily for baking and can be stored at room temperature.

Cholesterol-lowering spreads: There are brands of margarine that can actually lower total blood cholesterol by an average of 10 percent when eaten in sufficient quantities daily. They are stated to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels without adversely affecting HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. These cholesterol-lowering spreads are intended to be taken in daily doses (each of them is slightly different) in order to have a beneficial effect.

Tropical oils

Coconut oil: This tropical oil is semisolid at room temperature and highly saturated. Coconut oil is often used in commercial baked goods, and particularly as a replacement in vegan foods.

Dende: This deep-orange oil comes from the fruit of the red palm (but not the same palm as the source for palm oil). It is a common ingredient in Brazilian dishes.

Palm oil: This tropical oil is semisolid at room temperature and highly saturated, though less so than the other tropical oils. Palm oil is made from the fruit of the oil palm, and the nut inside the palm fruit is also used to make an oil called palm kernel oil. Palm kernel oil is extremely high in saturated fat and is used chiefly in soapmaking.

Animal fats

Butter: Made by churning cream until it reaches a solid state, butter comes in sweet (unsalted) and lightly salted varieties as well as whipped and reduced-calorie versions. Whipped butter, which is packed in tubs and comes sweet and lightly salted, has had air beaten into it, making it soft and easy to spread. Reduced-calorie butter, with about half the calories of regular butter, has—in addition to cream—water, fat-free milk, and gelatin.

Ghee: Ghee is butter that has been slowly cooked so that the milk solids settle to the bottom of the pan and after about 45 minutes of cooking turn golden-brown. The transparent butter on top is then strained through several layers of cheesecloth until not a speck of solids remains. The resulting ghee has a rich, nutty flavor. Ghee is generally used in Indian cooking for sautéing and for flavoring desserts.

Lard: Made from rendered and clarified pork fat, processed lard is about the consistency of vegetable shortening and is often used in South American cooking. In the southern United States, lard is sometimes used in biscuits and pie dough, as it is very rich and makes an extremely tender, flaky crust.

Suet: This solid white fat found around the kidneys and loins of beef, sheep, and other animals is often used in British recipes for pastries, puddings, and mincemeat. (In the US we often feed it to birds.)

How to choose the best fats and oils

While many oils are available in local supermarkets, chances are you’ll have to go to a specialty food or health food store to find some of the less common oils. Wherever you shop for them, remember that oils tend to go rancid if not stored properly, so purchase them in a store that keeps them away from direct sunlight and heat.

How to store fats and oils

Check the labels to see what is advised, but most fats should be stored in the refrigerator if you are not going to use them in a short amount of time. Most oils can turn rancid and thus should be stored in the refrigerator and in dark bottles.