Unless you are really healthy and cook without oil (more on that below), most people choose to use a little fat in food. In fact, cooking oil is not really needed (your ‘good fats’ should ideally come from real food – say olives over olive oil – not so long ago, olive oil was only sold in chemists, not for cooking). All cooking oils are refined, so use them sparingly. But when you do use them, try to choose homegrown sustainable oils, which are better for your health and the planet. Crush (Norfolk) makes good cold-pressed rapeseed oils.
Avoid Palm Oil Completely
One oil to avoid is palm oil. This is made with saturated fat and its unsustainable use is harming the habitats of orangutans and other endangered creatures, due to their forest homes being torn apart and burned, to make way for cheap plantations in Indonesia and Borneo, to fuel the market for foods made with it (a cheap oil that is then shipped thousands of miles to be put into junk food and soaps – labelled as ‘sodium palmate’ – find better bars of soap instead).
Greenpeace says the promise of ‘sustainable palm oil’ is as useful as a chocolate teaport, as this is a term used by self-policed organisations, as there is not enough land to grow ‘certified organic palm oil’ (the only way you can guarantee sourcing) with the amount consumed in the western world. Some ‘sustainable palm oil’ has been found to be from plantations where orangutans have literally been burned to death, defending the forest homes of themselves and their babies (one orangutan was recently shot several times and her baby killed). We don’t need palm oil in food (it’s only used to save money in junk food) and it’s unbelievable that some major vegan brands use it, considering the ethics of not harming animals to eat.
A Quick Guide to the Main Cooking Oils
There are a few cooking oils, but for this post we’ll just use the main ones that most people use:
- Vegan butters without palm oil are one option. Naturli Block Butter is sold in most supermarkets and can be used like-for-like for cooking, tossing on pasta, melting over sweetcorn, adding to sauces and veggies, or simply spreading on your morning toast.
- Rapeseed oil is top choice for cooking. Made from local farmers (responsible for the bright yellow flowers you see in summer), it has a high smoke point, and good flavour (ideal for roast spuds, no goose fat needed).
- Sesame seed oil is popular for Asian recipes. It has a strong taste, so you only need a little of it, and it’s high in vitamin E.
- Sunflower oil is popular as it’s cheap with a mild taste, and often used for deep-frying foods. However many people today prefer to use safer and healthier air-fryers (chip fat fryers are the biggest cause of house fires).
- Olive oil is popular, but it’s not the best for cooking due to the smoke point (though Italians and Spaniards would likely disagree). Good for making salad dressings and dipping bread, the best quality is extra virgin olive oil, which simply means that no chemicals were used to extract the oil from the olives.
- Flaxseed oil comes from the same plant that makes linen (a natural fabric). It has a mild nutty taste and is high in omega 3 acids, but these disappear when cooked. So is best used raw in salads (mix 1 tablespoon of freshly ground flaxseeds with 3 tablespoons of water to make a good egg substitute).
- Coconut oil has become a popular alternative to butter these days, but ensure brands are not harvested by monkey slaves. This (flammable) oil has its fans (full of lauric acid, loved by raw foodists). But some doctors say high saturated fat means it’s off the menu.
The Best Homegrown Cooking Oils
Crush (Norfolk) makes good cold-pressed rapeseed oil, including in tins for bulk use. This has half the saturated fat (and 10 times the omega 3 with vitamin E) of extra virgin olive oil and a very high burn point, so good for baking, roasting, marinades and sauces.
ORganic (Aberdeenshire) is presently the only organic rapeseed oil grown in the UK. Loved by chefs, it has a rich nutty taste and is perfect for dipping and drizzling, and use in dressings, marinades and salsa.
Mr Hugh’s Infused Oils are flavoured with lemon, vanilla and hazelnut, so ideal to replace butter or oil in baking, still retaining moistures for your cakes and bakes.
Consider Cooking Without Oil
Most people use cooking oil for their food, although some doctors say it’s best to cook without oil (especially if you are healing from heart disease or cancer). Pop over to The Vegan 8 (all recipes have 8 or less ingredients, bar salt, pepper and water). Brandi has tips on her blog on how to cook and bake without oil. She eats nuts & olives in whole form to get fat, though is not a fan of applesauce. She prefers nut butters & almond flour (negates the need for oil).
The author also wrote a cookbook (all recipes are free from oil and gluten, which she developed to help her husband’s gout). Unlike most oil-free cookbooks, her recipes are super-tasty, she’s a cooking genius! Recipes in the book include:
- Hungarian Red Lentil Soup
- Smoky White Bean Potato Stew
- Bakery-Style Blueberry Muffins
- Teriyaki Patties
- Thai Red Curry Sweet Potato Dip
- Spinach-Artichoke ‘Cream Cheese’ Dip
- Cajun Veggie & Potato Chowder
- Skillet Baked Mac n Cheese
- No-Bake Espresso Fudge Cake
PlantYou is another good book of oil-free plant-based recipes including tips for meal planning and grocery shopping. Each recipe has a visual infographic to make it easy to shop, and determine portion sizes. The author grew up on a farm eating meat and dairy everyday, and switched her diet after watching a documentary on the health issues of red meat (following her father’s diagnosis of colon cancer). He survived, and his recipe for Big Boss Burritos is in the book! Other recipes include Choc Chip Banana Bread Breakfast Cookies and Best Ever Cauli Wings.
Don’t Pour Cooking Oil Don’t Drains
Pouring cooking oil down drains is what causes so-called ‘fatbergs’ (one in London was so big it was affectionately named Fatty McFatBerg and was a mammoth effort to break down). Wrap and bin used cooking oil, and if you use a lot of it, invest in an oil bin.
Never give birds leftover foods with oil (or fat, buttered sandwiches, roasts etc) as the grease smears on feathers, affecting waterproofing and insulation (birds could freeze or drown). See how to help our garden birds for tips on what to safely (occasionally) feed our feathered friends, in colder weather.