What is canola oil?
Canola oil is type of vegetable oil that’s commonly used as a moisturising agent in baking due to its light, neutral flavour and moderately-high smoke point. It is also relatively cheap to buy, making it a popular choice for a variety of cooking methods including grilling and sautéing.
What is it made from?
Canola oil is extracted from the crushed seeds of the rapeseed plant (a member of the turnip family.) The oil is then refined and bottled and the leftover meal is used as a protein source in animal feed.
Is it healthy?
Canola oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and help control blood glucose. Out of all of the vegetable oils on the market, it has the lowest levels of the fats that are considered detrimental to our health. These include saturated fats (those that raise LDL in the body and have been linked to coronary heart disease) and trans fats. Trans fats also raise LDL and lower good cholesterol (HDL.)
In addition, one serving of canola oil delivers a quarter of our daily requirements of vitamin E – an antioxidant that protects the body’s fats and proteins from free radical damage and may help reduce the risk of cancer and memory loss.
These benefits aside, canola oil tends to be highly processed and therefore has fewer nutrients. Cold-pressed canola oil is available, but can be tricky to find. It is deep yellow in colour and is much more robust in taste. This variety of canola oil can be useful when making a salad dressing or roasting vegetables.
What are the best canola oil substitutes?
- Olive oil
- Sunflower oil
- Safflower oil
- Peanut oil
- Coconut oil
- Avocado oil
1. Olive oil
There are two types of olive oil to be aware of: Extra Virgin (EVOO) and Virgin Olive Oil. EVOO is made from the first press of the fruit and is robust in flavour and green in colour, while Virgin Olive Oil comes from the second press and is much lighter on the palette.
Both varieties are rich in good monounsaturated fats and antioxidants and have a smoke point of 210 °C. This makes olive oil one of the most versatile oils to cook with – it’s great for roasting veg, grilling meats and consuming cold in salads and soups.
Best for: salad dressings, dipped in bread.
2. Sunflower oil
Sunflower oil is derived from the pressed seeds of sunflowers. It can withstand high heat (up to 230°C) and is neutral-tasting, making it an excellent choice when frying foods as well as baking and roasting.
Sunflower oil is dense in nutrients, including vitamin E and phytochemicals like choline and phenolic acid. It is also free from trans fats and is effective at lowering LDL cholesterol levels.
Best for: roasting meats and vegetables, deep and shallow frying.
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3. Safflower oil
Safflower oil is a flavourless, light yellow oil that comes from the seeds of the safflower plant (a relative of the sunflower.) It’s a good source of both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as well as linolenic acid, which may help to prevent hardening of the arteries.
Safflower oil has a high smoke point (266°C) and doesn’t solidify when stored in cool temperatures.
Best for: salad dressings and as a garnish.
4. Peanut oil
Peanut oil is a sweet tasting nutty oil that’s mostly made up of good monounsaturated fats. It’s also packed with vitamin E, in fact, just one tablespoon contains 11 per cent of our recommended daily intake.
Because of its high smoke point of (227°C) and the fact that it doesn’t absorb the taste of the food you cook in it; peanut oil is most suitable for sautéing and deep-frying.
Best for: curries and stir-fries.
5. Coconut oil
Coconut oil typically has the lowest calories of all the cooking oils. It comes in two varieties: refined and unrefined (or virgin coconut oil.) Unrefined coconut oil has a strong tropical taste and a smoke point of 200°C – it’s perfect for baking or used as a substitute for butter in vegan treats. Refined coconut oil has a much more subtle flavour and can be heated to 177°C – it's most commonly used in sautéed dishes, although it’s not suitable for frying.
Both types have been found to raise the good HDL cholesterol in our blood and boast plenty of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Best for: raw treats, Asian food.
6. Avocado oil
Avocado oil is pressed from the pulp of the avocado fruit. It has a mild, grassy flavour which reduces in intensity when heated. It’s high in high levels of carotenoids, lutein, vitamin E and phytosterols and is made up of almost 70 per cent oleic acid – a monounsaturated fatty acid that may be beneficial in reducing high cholesterol levels.
Avocado oil has a smoke point of 271°C and is ideal for grilling and baking or used as a garnish.
Best for: vegetable marinades and grilling meat and fish.
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