Two types of oil get the jobs done

BURNING QUESTIONS

September 13, 2006|By Erica Marcus | Erica Marcus,NEWSDAY

How many different kinds of oil do I need in my kitchen?

You can get by with as few as two - a good extra-virgin olive oil and an inexpensive unflavored oil such as canola or corn.

Oil essentially serves three roles in the kitchen. As a texture provider, it creates moistness in baked goods and lends sauces and soups a silky quality. When you saute or fry in oil, you are using it as a cooking medium. Aromatic oils - olive oil and unrefined nut oils among them - enhance flavor when drizzled raw over a finished dish or used in a salad dressing or mayonnaise.

Different oils have different smoking points - the temperature at which they begin to smoke and degrade. The higher an oil's smoking point, the better the oil is for frying at high temperatures.

Safflower oil's smoking point is about 510 degrees; soybean, corn, sunflower and refined peanut oils, 450 degrees; refined (i.e., pure) olive, grapeseed and canola oil, 400 degrees. As for unrefined (virgin or extra-virgin) olive oil, there is some dispute: The Olive Oil Source, a Web site supported by California Olive Oil producers, says that the smoking point ranges from 375 to 400 degrees. Other sources put it at anywhere from 320 to 375 degrees.

Most deep-frying is done at 350 to 375 degrees. And the majority of frying that most people do at home isn't deep-frying at all. Searing chicken breasts or meatballs, sauteing broccoli rape with garlic or scrambling an egg - any oil can handle these jobs.

For most kitchen tasks, I use extra-virgin olive oil. I love the flavor it lends to almost every food. If I need a flavorless oil, I use a small bottle of whatever store-brand canola, peanut or corn oil happened to be on sale.

Erica Marcus writes for Newsday. E-mail your queries to burningquestions@newsday.com, or send them to Erica Marcus, Food/Part 2, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Road, Melville, NY 11747-4250.

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