Though not highlighted much in detail, the right cooking oil for your dish can make a difference in the final taste of your cooking efforts.

For instance, using olive oil enhances the taste of your salads. In the same way, the type of cooking oil you use in Asian stir-fry recipes, deep-fried recipes, dipping sauces and in even in desserts, determines the flavors, authentic aromas and ultimately the taste of your dish.

In olden days in China and other countries where cattle and poultry were consumed plentifully, it was common for pork, lamb, duck and chicken fats to be used for cooking. The fatty parts of were steamed, boiled or heated into a semi-soft white paste called lard.

Lard was and is used around the world for cooking and baking, especially in Chinese and Vietnamese cooking, though its popularity has waned in many places due to the availability of healthier alternatives. However, lard is still a household favorite due to its unique flavor.

Being a healthier alternative, vegetable oil has replaced lard. The early Chinese and Japanese learned how to produce soya oil as early as 2000 BC, while the Italians began to produce olive oil by 3000 BC.

This was followed by peanut, sunflower in the American continent, and Africans boiled coconut meat and palm kernels to get coconut oil and palm oil. Corn oil came onto the market in the 1960s.

Two key factors to consider on the type of oil to use: saturated fat content and smoke point.

Saturated fat is labelled as unhealthy fat and oils with heavy levels of saturated fat are most often solid at room temperature, egg, lard and coconut oil.

Smoke point refers to the temperature at which oil starts to smoke and burn. Different cooking oils have different smoke points, and when you cook with an oil heated over its smoke point, harmful free radicals are created.

In general, the more refined (or processed) an oil is, the higher the smoke point, as the refining process removes substances that cause the oil to smoke, and removes its colours and strongest flavors.

Here are some popular oils using for Asian cooking:

Peanut oil

This oil is ideal for stir-fry or deep-fry dishes, especially meat-based dishes, as it has a nutty flavor and a high smoke point, and has less saturated fat. There are four types of peanut oil.

Refined (processed) peanut oil is a neutral cooking oil as most of its flavors and colours have been removed.

Virgin peanut oil has a light nutty flavor which enhances the properties of the main ingredients in a dish.

Roasted peanut oil has a deep nutty flavor and a golden-brown color. It is normally used as a dressing over cooked dishes, in sauces and marinades.

Peanut oil blended with cheaper vegetable oils like soya bean, are slightly less flavorful but still have a high smoke point for frying.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil contains medium chain fatty acids which are easily converted into energy rather than stored in your body. However, coconut oil is high in saturated fats, and is best used in moderation.

Virgin coconut oil with its distinct aroma is good for curries and desserts and as a substitute for butter in baking.

Refined coconut oil has a more neutral flavor and is more suited for cooking.

Both types of coconut oil have high smoke points.

Sesame oil

A dark gold oil with a rich earthy aroma, sesame oil is used in limited quantities in noodles, soups and salad dressings. It is commonly used in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cooking, especially in pan-fried dishes.

Sunflower oil

Sunflower oil is high in vitamin E and low in saturated fat. This oil has a light nutty flavor and a high smoke point, making it very good for stir-fries and deep-frying. It is a great substitute for olive oil in salads or noodles.

Corn oil

Corn oil has the advantage over other cooking oils in that it has plant sterols that block cholesterol oils. It is also low in saturated fat. It is good for all kinds of cooking – stir-frying, baking, grilling.

Canola oil

This oil has a clear light-yellow color with a neutral taste, making it very versatile for a wide range of cooking applications from frying, grilling, baking, dressings, sauces and marinades. It is low in saturated fat.

Olive oil

Olive oil is low in saturated fat, and can be broken down into two types.

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is one of the healthiest oils to cook with as its antioxidants resist oxidation even though this oil doesn’t have the highest smoke point. Olive oil is good for roasting or stewing, but not for high heat cooking.

Regular olive oil is refined, which raises its smoke point. It is less expensive than EVOO and is good for high-heat cooking like pan-fried dishes.

The following chart will help you with smoke points of the oils mentioned above:

Oil Smoke Point ~°C
Peanut oil refined 232
Coconut oil unrefined 177
Sesame oil refined 210
Sunflower oil 227
Corn oil 232
Canola oil 204
Olive oil EVOO 177
Regular Olive Oil 240

By Aaron
27th July 18:30 2020

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