Earlier this week I made chocolate cake with 1/2 cup coconut oil (instead of vegetable oil like the recipe called for) AND a full stick of organic butter. I accidentally left out half the sugar, subbed white whole wheat flour for some of the all-purpose and even used some homemade yogurt instead of buttermilk. You may as well call my cake a science experiment, because my ingredient list barely resembles the one in the cookbook. I didn’t even use the same pan as they suggested!
It always boils down to how it tastes though, right? And considering Mr. Crumbs and I ate nearly half the cake in less than 24 hours – without my beloved icing – it’s definitely a winner. I’ll keep experimenting and share the recipe when we start talking about and giving away coconut oil.
In the mean time, nourishing my body with healthy saturated fats – especially via chocolate cake – tastes pretty good!
We’re not limited to just baking though when it comes to eating saturated fats. It’s really all the other times we’re roasting, grilling, broiling, deep-frying, stir-frying and simmering that matter most. Those are the times we’re more inclined to grab whatever oil happens to be nearby and jump in to cooking, without giving much thought to how the cooking method could possibly change the molecular structure of our oil. Kinda scary when we think about it, right?
So let’s talk about these methods and how we can cook with saturated fats to keep us healthy and stop causing us to become sick.
Determining the smoke point of fats and oils is essential to knowing when to use what. The smoke point is the temperature at which the fat or oil begins to smoke, and we can all agree that smoking oil is not a good thing, right? Remember the free-radical issue?
Side note – I just spent thirty minutes researching and writing up the molecular structure of water to better explain the point of free radicals, only to remember that we already talked about it here! I won’t re-hash the topic again, but if anyone needs further explanation, holler at me and I’ll feel better that those 30 minutes weren’t a complete waste.
If we know the smoke point of the fat AND how we’re cooking our food, it becomes a simple matching game. There is one big thing to consider though before I spill all these awesome numbers: the numbers aren’t exact.
Both smoke points and cooking temperatures are approximations. The purity of the fat, time passed since original pressing, the tools used and even the methods used to determine the smoke points can affect the final outcome. This explains why through the many sources I’ve read, some temperatures vary up to 25°F. The temperatures below are an average of the temperatures most agreed upon, but keep the variance in mind when you’re choosing the best fat for your cooking project.
Avocado oil: 520°F*
Ghee (clarified butter): 485° F
Palm Oil: 450° F
Peanut Oil: 450°F
Sesame Oil: 450°F**
Hazelnut Oil: 430°F**
Tallow (rendered beef fat): 420°F
Almond oil: 420°F*
Macadamia oil: 400°F**
Walnut Oil: 400°F**
Coconut oil: 350°F
Extra Virgin Olive Oil: 375°F
Flax Seed Oil: 225°F**
* Avocado oil is expensive (to the tune of $19 per liter!) which is why we don’t hear of it being used in high-temperature cooking often. Its flavor is only moderately strong, but some may not prefer their fried chicken to remind them of guacamole.
** Almond oil, sesame oil, hazelnut oil, macadamia oil and walnut oil are also expensive and each have distinct flavors that are usually not desired in dishes that require high heat (sesame flavored French fries anyone?). These oils are most often used at the end of cooking specifically for their flavors, not their smoke points.
Grilling: 300-600°F, sometimes as high as 800°F
Matching Them Up
Baking: The large range in baking allows us to use a variety of fats, but anyone who has baked a chocolate cake knows that you can’t just always throw in whatever you want and have the end result taste good. I’ve given “baking with fat” a day all to itself, so I’ll skip that one for now.
Roasting: Most roasting recipes call for butter, olive oil or a combination of those. Both of these begin to smoke at the upper limit of the roasting range, so take care when using fats for roasting purposes. If you’re basting for added moisture, consider using broth in place of fat. When roasting vegetables, try to not roast higher than 350°F and allow the food to roast longer.
Grilling: This one is very tricky. Some sources say that olive oil and citrus combat the toxic effects that could occur from charcoal grilling. Other sources stick with the smoke point vs. grilling temperature and advise not to use olive oil. Personally, there are too many questions for me decide completely one way or the other. If olive oil and citrus combat charcoal, what about gas grills? I’m stuck on the fence. I’d rather be safe than sorry, but I don’t know what oil or fat I’d use in its place. I guess there is the option of marinating in olive oil and trying to remove excess oil before grilling. But even then we’re not sure how much olive oil is left and even if it matters? (see final note at the end of the post) What do you guys think about this one?
Deep-Frying: Palm oil, tallow and peanut oil are the most commonly used oil for deep-frying because of their high smoke points. Not everyone has heard of palm oil and tallow requires some work up front (gotta render it from raw beef fat). That leaves peanut oil and it’s readily available in stores for our deep frying pleasures. Peanut oil is mostly monounsaturated, so it’s not the best fat option (remember that saturated fat is the best), but it is suitable for frying purposes. Unless you’re the type to take a spoon to the oil leftover from deep-fried twinkie night.
Stir-Frying: Like grilling, this one is tricky too. We most often stir-fry on stoves that offer temperatures such as low, medium and high. Consider yourself lucky if you’ve got even numbers ranging 0 to 10! Not only do these NOT specifically correlate with certain degree temperatures, but “low” on one oven doesn’t necessarily equate to the same “low” on another. Stir-frys often call for olive oil and cooking over “medium-high” heat just to thin out the oil to coat the pan. My suggestion would be to cook it on medium a minute or two longer to achieve the same affect and use only as much needed. Another option would be to splurge and use one of the nut-flavored oils that are safe beyond 375°F. You would have an excellent tasting dish and greatly reduced (if not eliminated) the chance of creating free-radicals. Need a recipe? Try my vegetarian fried rice. The original recipe is delish without changes, but there’s peanut, cashew and sesame variations too!
Boiling and Simmering: I added these temperatures in just to round out the list, but personally haven’t come across any recipes asking me to boil or simmer oil. Not sure what I would do if I did! Anyway, it’s there in case ya’ll find one. And if you do, let me know!
Final Note: just because we’re using a fat with a certain smoke point IN our cooking, and we cook at a temperature CLOSE to the smoke point, doesn’t necessarily mean that the fat we used is actually getting to that temperature.
Like steak marinating in olive oil and then grilled – we don’t know if that olive oil is actually reaching 375°F. I don’t know if we’ll ever know for certain. But we do what we can, when we can, right? The rest is trusting in God’s greater plan for us!
Does choosing the right fat sound too difficult? Do you think you can give up all those “yellow” polyunsaturated oils and choose saturated fats instead for cooking?
This post is shared at (Sun) The Chicken Chick, Butter Believer (Mon) Natural Living Mamma (Tue) Cooking Traditional Foods, Premeditated Leftovers, Real Food Forager, Like a Mustard Seed (Wed) The Self Sufficient Home Acre, Wild Crafting Wednesday, This Chick Can Cook, Gastronomical Sovereignty, Natural Mother’s Network, Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Day2Day Joys, Frugally Sustainable (Thu) Beyond the Peel, GNOWFGLINS, The Nourishing Gourmet, Thank Your Body (Fri) Green Thickies, Food Renegade, Allergy Free Alaska, Small Footprint Family, My Cultured Palate