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The Myriad Cooking Oils Differ in Flavor and Quality


Question: Please tell me about the many different types of cooking oils I see in the markets. Are some more healthy? Can you buy one type of oil and use it for everything? What about olive oil--is it better and how is it best used?

Answer: There are indeed numerous cooking oils available, expressed from seeds, legumes, plants, fruits and nuts. Each differs in both flavor and cooking qualities, according to "Cooking A to Z" (Ortho Books: $32.95, 1988), edited by Jane Horn.

The following information is excerpted from the book's listing of common edible oils:

Almond Oil: toasty almond flavor; best used in salads and cold dishes; flavor destroyed by heat

Avocado Oil: mild, buttery, delicate flavor; good for salad dressings and baked goods; may be used for sauteing, stir-frying and deep-frying

Coconut Oil: coconut flavor; may be used for frying

Corn Oil: bland flavor; excellent for frying

Hazelnut Oil: strong toasted hazelnut flavor; use in combination with other oil for cold dishes; flavor destroyed by heat

Olive Oil: available in several different grades; in increasing level of acidity, olive oil is classified as extra-virgin, superfine, fine and virgin or pure; excellent for salad dressings, marinades, sauces and sauteing; not suited for deep-frying

Peanut Oil: subtle peanut flavor; use for salad dressings, sauteing and stir-frying

Safflower Oil: flavorless; excellent for deep-frying; less suitable for salad dressings

Sesame Oil: toasty, nutty flavor; Chinese is stronger in flavor than Japanese; heat alters flavor

Soybean Oil: bland flavor; excellent for salad dressings; may be used for frying

Walnut Oil: rich, nutty flavor; use sparingly; heat destroys flavor

Oils are composed of three types of fatty acids: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Oils with more than one-third saturated fatty acids are termed saturated; those with less are unsaturated. Unsaturated oils are further classified into polyunsaturated and monounsaturated.

Oils low in saturated fat are considered more healthful. The American Heart Assn. and the American Cancer Society recommend no more than 30% of the calories Americans consume come from fat. Of that 30%, less than 10% should be saturated fat, with the remaining divided equally between polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat.

Coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil are all saturated fats. Safflower, sunflower, corn, soybean and cottonseed oils are polyunsaturated. Olive, peanut and canola oils are monounsaturated.

Q: I tried your recipe for Rancho Bernardo Inn's walnut bread and it came out very well except for a burnt top and really dark crust all around and on the bottom. My loaf pans are glass, 8 1/2x4 1/2-inches. I baked the bread on the middle rack in my electric oven, set at 350 degrees. Do you have any suggestions?

A: When baking in glass reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees.

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