Why Quality Matters When It Comes to Cooking Oil
No, you shouldn’t use the best stuff you have in that vinaigrette.
In this era of The New Healthy, marked by double-digit annual growth in the global health and wellness industry, savvy cooks are spending more time reading labels to check for the quality and provenance of everything from meat and seafood to dairy and produce. We now know our kosher salt from our flaky fleur de sel and how the acid from a teaspoon of cider vinegar will enliven a pot of soup. So why are oils, something used almost daily, still an afterthought for so many home cooks?
After all, it’s oil that serves as the first building block of flavor when swirled into a hot pan, and it’s oil that is often the final flourish in a sauce spooned over proteins and grains or in a dressing for salad. Oil can make or break both the flavor and nutritional profile of a recipe.
I learned my first lesson about quality the hard way around 12 years ago as a professional cook, when my chef walked by my station while I was whisking a Spanish extra-virgin olive oil into a lemon vinaigrette. “Don’t use the Nuñez!” he shouted as I mindlessly poured cups of Nuñez de Prado, at around $1 an ounce, into quart containers with minced shallots and lemon juice. “Don’t use the best stuff in the house for vinaigrettes.”
From that point on, I tasted my way through every oil in the kitchen and thought more critically about their utility—from the low-cost, high-smoke point soybean oil blend sold in 5-gallon jugs for the deep fryer and the neutral-flavored grapeseed oil used for emulsifying into mayonnaise, to the olive oil blends used for sautéing and that rich, sharp, peppery Nuñez de Prado meant for drizzling over grilled slices of rustic bread or serving alongside crudités.
Like every other ingredient in your kitchen, quality matters when it comes to oil, especially with more options on the supermarket shelf now. A Healthy Cook’s Guide to Oils will help you learn more about everyday workhorses like canola oil and corn oil and trending specialty oils like avocado and coconut, plus some of our top brand-name picks. Fat has a rightful (and righteous) place in every healthy cook’s kitchen. Use it wisely.