There are no hard, fast rules in the kitchen. When you are following any recipe, there are always ways to make it your own—add a dash of your favorite seasoning, double the amount of ingredients to make two batches, or even swap out oils and creams to make the dish healthier (or more indulgent).
After all, part of the fun of cooking is the endless discovery and trying new things to please both your tastebuds and health goals. Recipes simply provide you with a roadmap that can lead to a tasty destination, but you can always take a few sideroads to end up with something just as delicious.
Of course, there are always exceptions to this general rule—swapping ingredients can sometimes result in significantly different textures and tastes, and no more is this the case than with olive oil and vegetable oil. Though they might seem interchangeable, these two popular cooking oils have specific, distinct properties that make them each appropriate for certain applications—and not so great for others.
Cooking oils of all types each have their own unique smoke point that is reflective of their chemical makeup and how it reacts to added heat. This is a term for the temperature at which an oil will start to smoke, producing toxic fumes and harmful free radicals—which you obviously want to avoid. So if you’re needing to cook something at a rather high temperature (say, 500 degrees Fahrenheit), it’s good to know that something like coconut oil will start to smoke at around 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and in this case it might be better to cook with avocado oil, which has a smoke point of 520 degrees.
In this same comparison, vegetable oil has one of the highest smoke points for things like frying foods while olive oil has a lower smoke point that makes it appropriate for low-temperature cooking and even eating straight, such as on salads or as a dip for bread.
You might think that with a name like vegetable oil, it would be a pretty healthy choice for cooking and preparing foods. Unfortunately, while it may be appropriate for higher temp cooking, it’s also incredibly unhealthy. A manufactured “vegetable oil” is actually made from various grains, seeds, and beans, in which the oils are extracted from the solid material using hexane, a poisonous solvent. In so doing, it strips the nutrients native to the food and turns a large portion of their healthy polyunsaturated fats into inflammatory and damaging trans fats.
A recent study also found that cooking with vegetable oils releases high concentrations of chemicals called aldehydes. These have been linked to illnesses including cancer, heart disease, and dementia. Because of this, scientists often recommend olive oil, butter, and even lard before ever grabbing vegetable oil.
As if the toxic chemicals weren’t enough reason to avoid it, vegetable oil isn’t a very versatile oil, either. It’s mostly used to deep fry foods, and it won’t taste particularly good just on its own, such as drizzled over some fresh arugula or paired with a fresh loaf of foccacia bread like you might enjoy with a good olive oil.
With all that news you might be scared to even try cooking with an oil at all, but know that olive oil is still an incredibly healthy (and completely delicious) option that can be quite handy in the kitchen for a variety of purposes, from making salad dressings to even baking.
It’s made by cold-pressing fresh olives to extract the liquid. Less processed varieties are referred to as extra virgin olive oil while those that are more refined and filtered don’t carry the “extra virgin” label. The thing to know about olive oil is that it is an industry with a lot of fraud (in fact, experts estimate that nearly 80 percent of bottles bearing the extra virgin title are actually cut with things like soybean oil or carry dyes and artificial flavorings). This is why it’s incredibly important to ensure your bottle is single sourced (farmed, harvested and bottled in the same spot), and in a metal tin or dark glass container that protect it from light. While this may make the product more expensive, it’s worth it when it comes to your health.
When you use olive oil, you’ll be reaping a ton of health benefits that regular vegetable oil doesn’t provide, including:
But that’s not all olive oil is good for. It’s actually a centuries-old beauty tool (Cleopatra even swore by it). The amount of healthy fats and concentration of moisturizing vitamins A and E make it a great body lotion, especially for the dry parts like elbows, cracked feet, and under the eyes. As well, it makes a great natural eye makeup remover, deep conditioner and shine serum for hair, shaving tool, and even nail strengthener.
Olive oil can be used in a variety of cooking applications. Here are just a few ideas:
However, olive oil is not the best for high temperature cooking, based on its lower smoke point. So if you want to make stir-fry, opt for a healthy option like coconut oil that can heat up a greater degree.
Itching to start using olive oil in the kitchen in more creative ways? Here are a few delectable ideas that can harness the power of this oil and please the entire family.
Ditch the alfredo or bolognese sauce and go for something hearty and veggie-centric the next time you are craving pasta. This recipe is richer and heartier than traditional basil pesto, and its mild flavor will work beautifully on everything from noodles to roasted vegetables. The hemp seeds are packed with omega-3 fatty acids and the kale is full of antioxidants, too, so it’s ultra healthy. Bonus: You can make this pesto sauce vegan by swapping out parmesan for nutritional yeast.
Mashed potatoes have a reputation for being the gluttonous side at Sunday dinners and holiday meals, but there’s no need for dairy to weigh it down. Instead, these mashed potatoes are made with olive oil so they remain creamy with just the right texture, without the heavy cream. There’s also lots of flavor from the added garlic. Pair with some steamed carrots and a chicken roast for a fully satisfying meal.
Tagine is a fancy name for slow-simmered Moroccan stew. In this case, tangy lemon chicken is spiced with turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, and onion and garlic powder. Some olives, olive oil, and lemons complete the full-bodied flavor. To complete the meal, finish with a side of couscous, cauliflower rice, or quinoa.
For a dish where olive oil is the star ingredient, try this Mediterranean-inspired recipe. It only takes a few minutes to cook and makes an incredibly memorable lunch. Olive oil is used to fry the flatbread and also doused on the zucchini salad (with watermelon radish and crumbled feta). Experiment with any toppings you desire to customize the dish even further.
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