budget talk

The Budget Smart Cook’s Guide to Cooking Oils

If you’re the grocery shopper in the family, I probably don’t have to tell you that food prices have skyrocketed in the last 12-18 months. A report just in from the USDA says that US retail food prices jumped 4% in 2007…the biggest gain in 17 years. An economist for the USDA thinks that we’re likely to see another 3.5 – 4% climb in prices again this year. And something that really surprised me in this report was that oils and fats are expected to have the largest price hikes. So let’s use those oils and fats wisely and make the most of our money.

How Much Fat Do We Need?
While we should avoid too much fat in our diets, some are actually essential to our health. Our bodies need fat to provide energy to help absorb fat-soluble vitamins. However, our fat intake should be between 20-35% our daily calorie intake, and 10% or less should be from foods containing saturated fats. Nutritionists also suggest that we consume less than 300 mg. of cholesterol and try to avoid any foods containing trans fats. To give you an idea of how many calories and fat you get from one tablespoon of oil, it’s 120 calories and 14 grams of fat.

Best Picks
One simple rule to remember when you’re buying fat is solid fats like butter and margarine are most likely to contain the most saturated fat and sometimes trans fat. And if the fat comes from an animal source, it will also contain cholesterol Oils from sources like nuts, seeds and vegetables are liquid at room temperature and contain more of the ‘good for you; monounsaturated fats. They’ll probably contain fatty acids like Omega-3 as well.
So with prices set to rise, look for the more good for your variety. Here’s a quick comparison of saturated fat content of three different types of fat. Canola oil, 7 grams. Olive oil, 15 grams. Butter 68 grams.

The Making of Oil
The price you pay for oil almost always reflects the way the oil is processed. Some oils are extracted by using the cold pressed method or mechanical method. For example, squeezing olives in a press to extract their oil. These usually cost more but are better for you. Another method manufacturers use to extract oil is by using a heat or chemical process. As it’s not such a time consuming process, it means a cheaper price for the consumer. However, if you can, go with the cold pressed method. Sometimes stores will have sales going on with even top quality oils. And I’ve found some really good buys with organic oils in places like my local co-op and warehouse stores.

What Oils Are Best
Some of my favorites to keep on hand are canola and olive oils. If you haven’t used olive oil before you might have to taste test a few before you find one you like. And don’t add it to food until you’ve given it a taste test. Some can be heavy and overwhelm other flavors. I like to keep the more expensive ones for salad dressings. A favorite treat of mine is French or Italian bread, some olive oil for dipping and a sprinkling of cheese. This makes a great snack too. For a little boost, I’ll store cloves of garlic in the olive oil. It’s a great way to preserve the garlic, especially if I buy it in bulk, and it gives the oil a wonderful flavor when you cook with it or use it for a dressing. I keep a bottle of canola oil for general cooking, sautéing, and using in cakes and other recipes. And I also keep some sesame seed oil in the pantry for Asian style dishes and some salad dressings.

How to Store It
I keep all my oils in the pantry, but any cool dark place is ideal. And if an oil, especially an olive oil turns cloudy, don’t worry, it’s still good to use and doesn’t ruin the taste.

How to Use Less
One trick I have for saving money and calories/fat is when I’m sautéing with oil and feel like I’m going to have to add even more, I’ll often switch to vegetable/chicken broth or even just a splash of water.

Budget Smart Cook’s Tip
You may have heard that oil has what’s known as a smoking point. This is the highest temperature it can be heated at before it starts to smoke. But never let it get to this point. Experts say it can release chemicals that are suspected carcinogens. And it also makes any food that’s cooked in it taste bitter.

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