I wanted to share with you today what fats and oils I use in my kitchen on a daily basis. This seems to be a confusing area for a lot of people (it definitely was for me when I first started cooking).
As with most else, I favor the most traditional and pure choices I can find. For me, these are coconut oil, olive oil, almond oil, and butter/ghee. From their names alone, you know their source, which already says something, doesn’t it?
Why no canola oil, no vegetable oil, no sunflower/safflower oil? Because these are highly refined oils that are nowhere near healthy choices. In brief, refined oils are made by highly intensive mechanical and chemical processes that extract the oil from the seeds. The oil is then heated until it goes rancid, then oxidized/deodorized to remove any off-scents. The oxidation factor makes these oils more likely to break down into those nasty things known as free radicals, which wreak havoc on our bodies and health. I’ll pass.
Here’s a little more about the oils I do love and why/where I use them. [There are a few others I use less frequently, such as red palm oil, pastured lard, bacon grease, and schmaltz, but the following five are my daily staples.]
Coconut oil. Great for higher heat cooking (like shallow-frying) and roasting vegetables. The oil itself has antifungal and antimicrobial properties; is uniquely high in medium chain trigylcerides (MCTs), which contribute to brain health; and has been used by traditional, tropical cultures for centuries. It has a slight coconut flavor, so I often use half coconut oil and half butter or ghee when cooking. I also like to use it in baking (like in these cookies). Brand-wise, I either order through the online company Tropical Traditions, or just go with Whole Foods’ 365 brand.
Almond oil. This oil has a very neutral flavor and is great for high-heat cooking, which is what a lot of Indian dishes require (its smoke point, or the highest heat it can sustain without burning, is 420 degrees F). It’s also high in healthy monounsaturated fats. I think this is one of those oils that will only grow in popularity as more people learn about it. [Interestingly, Indians also use it as an all-natural hair and skin moisturizer.] We buy it from the Indian grocery store for about $10/bottle, so it’s similar in price to olive oil.
Olive oil. This is one that will always be one of my favorites. We all know good olive oil is for us; like almond oil, it’s high in monounsaturated fat, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. I like to use it for lighter applications that require no or little heating, such as in salad dressings, as a dip for bread, or for light sauteing. I always look for extra-virgin, cold-pressed when I can find it. For the past year or so, we’ve been ordering direct from a family-run farm in California (Chaffin Family Orchards). Their olive oil is 100% cold pressed and extra virgin, and it’s the best olive oil I’ve ever had. We actually bought 10 gallons this year to split with family and friends. Our gallons arrive in March, so in the meantime, we use the brand pictured below, which has been reviewed as one of the best-tasting, most affordable store-bought choices (Real Simple magazine).
Butter. I’ve always been on Team Butter (heck, one my favorite books to edit was called Back to Butter—I highly recommend it). Butter, grassfed especially, is rich in vitamins A, E, and K2. It is a healthy saturated fat in moderation. I use it mostly for making eggs and for toast, of course. I like Kerrygold brand, which is grassfed and rich in both flavor and color (and those aforementioned vitamins). I also like Trader Joe’s organic butter, which is what I use in the recipe for ghee below.
Ghee. Ghee is butter that has been cooked down to remove all of its milk solids, lactose, and proteins. This process raises the overall smoke point, meaning that you can cook with ghee at a higher temperature than you can with butter, without it burning. Ghee is also easier to digest—many people with dairy allergies can even tolerate it—and it is more concentrated in nutrients than regular butter.
Ghee is a traditional cooking fat; it’s a staple of Indian cooking. We use it there, as well as for pan-frying fish and meat, and sauteing and roasting vegetables. We also eat it on its own, alongside Indian flatbreads like paratha. There’s really no place it doesn’t belong. The taste is phenomenal. Like concentrated butter with a hint of nuttiness.
I make ghee at home rather than buying it from the store because 1) it tastes even better, and 2) it’s more affordable, at about 1/3 the price of store-bought. You can use it just as you would any other oil or cooking fat. One pound of butter makes one large jar, which can be stored at room temperature for weeks or even months, though ours never really lasts that long…
I’ve used all sorts of butter to make ghee, and both unsalted and salted varieties, but my very favorite is Trader Joe’s brand organic salted butter. It makes the most beautiful ghee (pictured above) and tastes so.damn.good. Salted butter, for me at least, seems to froth up a bit less when cooking down and I think it brings out the flavor of the ghee more. Either salted or unsalted, in any brand, will work though.
1 lb (4 sticks) butter, preferably organic and/or grassfed
Place butter in a saucepan over low to medium heat. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, reducing the heat as needed. During this time, the butter will be simmering and bubbling gently, and may pop occasionally. It will foam up at first as well, which you can scrap off and discard, or just leave it until it cooks off.
You can tell the ghee is done in a few different ways—it will begin to smell wonderfully nutty; it will turn golden in color, with perhaps a few brown bits at the bottom; and the burbling will have quieted down to just an occasional pop/sizzle here and there. Keep in mind that you don’t want browned butter, however, so don’t let it go too far.
Let cool then strain into a jar through a very fine-mesh strainer or a larger strainer lined with a piece of cheese cloth. You don’t want any foam or other bits to get through or they will burn when you go to heat the ghee for cooking (these bits lower its smoke point), so strain carefully.
The ghee will solidify as it cools. Store in the fridge or cupboard.