What is it made of?
Olive oil is produced by pressing the fruit of the Olea europae (olive tree), which originally came from the Mediterranean region. To keep up with demand, however, it is now grown worldwide.
At the supermarket, you will likely find two main varieties: Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), which is derived from the first press of the olives and is known for its distinct robust flavour and deep green hue, and Virgin Olive Oil. The latter comes from the second press and is usually much lighter on the palette and yellow or champagne in colour.
Is it considered a vegetable oil?
Theoretically, olive oil is a type of vegetable oil as it is plant-based. That said, it’s very different to the bottle of ‘vegetable oil’ you may have in your pantry already. Reason being: the term is often used to describe a blend such as palm, canola, corn and soybean oils (usually when the oils aren’t very well-known or popular.)
Is it healthy?
As EVOO is natural and not refined or extracted using chemicals or heat, it is high in both antioxidants and fats that are beneficial to our health. This isn’t a blanket rule for all varieties though: some refined blends and light olive oils are extracted in this manner and as a result, aren’t so good for us.
- Consumption of olive oil may reduce cardiovascular risk factors by decreasing plasma triglycerides, total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, platelet activation, inflammation and oxidative damage and increase high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and antioxidant status.
- Olive oil consumption may have a protective role on breast, colon, lung, ovarian and skin cancer development. Compounds specific to olive oil, known as phenolics, seem to possess free radical-scavenging properties and so may be able to reduce oxidative damage to DNA.
- Olive oil may have additional beneficial effects on blood pressure, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis and immune function.
Little wonder then, that people tend to live longer and healthier lives in the regions where olive oil is a daily staple.
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What are the best substitutes for olive oil?
- Peanut oil
- Walnut oil
- Sunflower oil
- Canola Oil
- Vegetable oil
- Coconut oil
1. Peanut oil
Peanut oil is a light-yellow oil with a pleasant sweet aroma and taste. It’s mostly made up of ‘good’ monounsaturated fats, with just one tablespoon boasting 11 per cent of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin E.
Because of its high smoke point (227°C) and the fact that it doesn’t absorb the flavours of the food it cooks, peanut oil is an excellent choice for sautéing and deep-frying.
Best for: stir-fried vegetables and Asian meals.
High in fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K, butter has a delicious flavour and rich, creamy texture.
It enhances the flavours of the food that’s being cooked in it and adds complexity to dishes and baked goods. However, due to its relatively low smoke point (177°C), it does tend to burn easily when heated to high temperatures.
Best for: cookies and cakes.
Ghee is a clarified butter made from the milk of cows that is commonly used in Indian and Ayurvedic cooking. It has a nutty flavour and a deep golden colour.
Much like butter, it melts quickly and adds a certain complexity to the taste of food. In addition, ghee is lactose and casein-free, contains short-chain fatty acids, no preservatives and is high in dietary fats.
It has a smoke point of 250°C, and is suitable for pan-frying and baking.
Best for: curries and flavouring rice.
4. Walnut oil
Walnut oil is derived from walnuts that have been dried and cold-pressed. The result is a light-coloured oil with a thick texture and delicate nutty flavour that’s high in polyunsaturated fats, antioxidants and omega 3’s.
Walnut oil is best used uncooked or in cold sauces or dressings, as it can become slightly bitter when heated.
Best for: tossed through pasta or drizzled on top of grilled fish before serving.
5. Sunflower oil
Sunflower oil is a nutrient-dense, light amber oil that has been extracted from sunflower seeds. It has a nutty flavour and loaded with oleic acid, vitamin K & E, phytosterols and monounsaturated fatty acids.
Sunflower oil is also low in cholesterol and can withstand high temperatures due to its smoke point of 230°C.
Best for: steaks and muffins.
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6. Canola Oil
Canola oil (also known as rapeseed oil) is made from pressed canola seeds. It has a mild flavour, smooth texture and is light yellow in colour. It also contains very high levels of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids and is the richest cooking oil source of the omega 3 fat alpha-linolenic acid.
It’s an ideal oil for deep fat frying and cooking in large quantities as it has a moderately-high smoke point (204°C) and low-price tag.
Best for: barbecuing and fried food.
7. Vegetable oil
As previously mentioned above, vegetable oil generally contains a combination of oils (e.g. canola and soybean oil.)
It’s inexpensive and a good source of vitamin E, although it is comparatively high in saturated fat. Vegetable oil’s neutral flavour and smoke point of 220°C mean it’s best for high temperature cooking.
Best for: roast vegetables.
8. Coconut oil
Containing just 117 calories per tablespoon, coconut oil is the perfect low-calorie alternative to olive oil. It’s also a medium-chain saturated fat, meaning it’s metabolised faster than other forms of saturated fat, and is loaded with anti-oxidants.
It comes in two varieties: refined and unrefined (or virgin coconut oil).
Refined coconut oil has a smoke point of 177°C and is best used in sautéing and baking. The unrefined version is much less processed and has a higher smoke point of 200°C, making it more suitable for frying. Both kinds have a slightly nutty flavour that works well in savoury and sweet dishes.
Best for: vegan desserts and slices.