There is a good reason why oils only make up a teeny tiny part of the food pyramid diagram. We are advised by doctors and nutritionists to use them sparingly, or not at all if possible, but the reality is, it has become a part of our cooking regime for many cultures. Especially for Latinos! It could very well be considered a staple ingredient in many households as well.
There are also thousands upon thousands of recipes worldwide that call for the use of some form of oil. And let’s not forget how many of our favorite foods require being fried in oil. Chicken, fries, fish, taco shells, doughnuts, corndogs, empanadas. We’ve gone as far as frying fruits, vegetables, and ice cream! I think there is an underlying obsession with needing to have our food cooked in oil in order for us to feel that sense of ultimate gratification from food.
While I would like to tell you what I think of all this, my message today is not about lecturing or judging how anyone cooks. We all share a love for guilty pleasures that we cannot fathom the thought of living without. Mine, for instance, are chocolate cake, crème brûlée, and basically anything that is baked with chocolate. Those are my weaknesses, and I will never fully give them up.
Recently however, I watched an episode of How It’s Made about canola oil, and learned that after the seeds have gone through their second extraction, the resulting oil is bleached to produce a lighter color. This got me thinking. How are other oils made? Are all the light colored oils bleached? So I did some research and found that, YES, many of them are! There are also different extraction methods. I’ll give you a quick rundown.
Cold pressed oils are made by grinding the seeds in a temperature controlled environment. During the extraction, the temperature rises naturally. In order to preserve the structure and nutritional value of the oil coming out of the seed, the temperature needs to be controlled so that it never rises above 120 degrees. Oils made this way are the good oils. Why? Because they retain all the flavor, aroma, and nutrients from the seed. They also haven’t been altered or treated with any chemicals. Oils in this category should be kept refrigerated or in a cool dark place like the pantry or cupboard. They typically come in flax, walnut, olive, and sunflower oils.
Expeller pressed oils are also ground by heavy machinery, except through a much longer process without a temperature controlled environment. They are also typically treated with a chemical called hexane to extract every drop of oil out of those seeds. After that, it’s bleached. By the time they are packaged, you’re left with a highly processed product.
That word alone – HEXANE – is enough to make me cringe at the thought of what baked and fried foods are made of outside of my home. After having learned just this little bit of information, I most likely will still continue to enjoy the same desserts and food I love, but with more caution going forward. And that is my point here – To bring awareness and question to how manufactured food is being made before we consume it.
This is just a small snapshot of one ingredient that could use a little more diving into, and I encourage you to do so! In the meantime, I’m going to give you a little bit of homework. Go through your pantry and cupboards and take inventory of the oils you have on hand. Read the labels front to back, paying special attention to fats and colors. Do your research if you don’t know what the labels mean.
Food is the only fuel that keeps our bodies going. Without it, we cannot survive! Shouldn’t we be more mindful of what we put into our bodies if we want good health? What we eat is what makes the difference between a long life of health problems as an adult, and a long life of good health. Personally, I want good health. So let’s go do some research!
Feel free to let me know your thoughts, questions, insights, etc. We all can learn from each other!
Take care of yourselves.