Comparing Cooking Oils

cooking oilsIt seems that the more we learn about the properties of different foods, the more complicated cooking seems. While studying at an culinary school, you may have noticed that different recipes will call for several varieties of cooking oil. Two of the most widely used oils are olive and canola, but on the shelf they seem like the same thing. Here are some of the differences between the two:

Olive oil
The most common kind of cooking oil that chefs use is olive oil. According to a recent report, olive oil is one of the fastest growing segments of the food market, with Americans being the third-largest consumer base. Part of the appeal of olive oil, besides the flavoring it adds to food, is its health benefits.

Olive oil, despite its fat content, is an extremely healthy cooking oil to use while preparing meals. The fats found in it are monounsaturated fatty acids, which are considered to be an important part of your diet. These “good” fats may lower your risk of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular-related disease by lowering cholesterol and normalizing your body’s ability to form blood clots. In addition to heart health, olive oil is believed to be good for people with type 2 diabetes because it helps control blood sugar levels. Its anti-inflammatory properties also may help people with arthritis and osteoporosis. On top of all these benefits, researchers are also looking at antioxidants called polyphenols in olive oil that protect cells from damage. These properties may have potential connections with preventing cancer, supporting bone and digestive health, and improving cognitive function and memory.

Canola oil
Canola oil is actually derived from a hybrid of the rapeseed plant and, like olive oil, is considered to be a monounsaturated fat that reduces the risk of heart diseases by lowering cholesterol. Unlike olive oil, though, canola varieties are not rich in antioxidants or other anti-inflammatory agents, so they don’t carry those additional health benefits. While there hasn’t been any conclusive evidence that canola oil may be harmful, many people are concerned about its effect on human health because it is processed with the use of toxic chemicals and derived from a genetically engineered plant.

Many people choose canola as their base for baking & pastry arts because it has a milder flavor than olive oil, making it harder to taste in the finished product. Canola oil also has a medium-high smoke point, making it useful for sauteing because it doesn’t burn as easily as other kinds of cooking oils.

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