It is hard to cook food without fat and it is even less enjoyable from a taste perspective. Not all fats/oils are the same. They each have their own unique qualities, and if understood and applied appropriately they will not only add to the taste of the food, but make the cooking process go more smoothly and help build health. Click on the image and better understand what oils/fats should be in your kitchen and when to use them.
Fats fall into three categories, saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
Saturated Fat: All available carbon bonds are occupied by a hydrogen atom. This makes them saturated and very stable. They do not normally go rancid unless heated at very high temperatures. Being saturated they pack together easily and are solid or semisolid at room temperature. Saturated fats are found mostly in animals and tropical oils.
Monounsaturated: This fat is missing two hydrogen atoms because two carbon atoms being double bonded together. This double bonding produces a kink at the area of the double bond. They still pack together, though not as easily as saturated fats so they send to be a liquid at room temperature. Like saturated fat, they are relatively stable. Monounsaturated fats are most commonly found as oleic acid, the main component of olive oil as well as oils from many nuts including almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts and avocados. They don’t go rancid easily and can be used in cooking at lower temperatures and/or for shorter duration. These oils tend to go rancid due to exposure to high heat, oxygen and sunlight. This is why high quality olive oil is found in dark glass bottles or metal. Most people enjoy posted nuts. Consider that they have been heated often to high enough temperatures to damage the fat. There is no need to consume large quantities of monounsaturated fats as the body can make monounsaturated fat from saturated fat and uses them in many ways.
Polyunsaturated: This fat has two or more pairs of double bonds. These additional bonds results in a chain with many kinks so that they do not pack tightly and are always a liquid even when refrigerated. Polyunsaturated fats with two double bonds are called omega-6 (linoleic) and with three double bonds called omega-3s (linolenic). Your body can’t make these fatty acids, so they are referred to as “essential.” Essential fatty acids must be obtained from the food we eat. The multiple double bonds make these fats highly reactive. They go rancid easily, especially omega-3s and must be treated with care. These should never be heated or used in cooking.
Hydrogenated: While not technically a fat category, we do have to mention it. Hydrogenated oils are polyunsaturates that have gone through a highly destructive, harmful and unhealthy process in order to make them solid or act as a saturated fat. From a cooking perspective, hydrogenated oils are mostly commonly found in margarine and shortening. To be honest, use butter or lard respectively. Not only are they better for you, they taste better and result in a much more enjoyable end product, especially when baking. I will follow this blog with one that compares butter to margarine, not only in how they are made but also the nutritional content.
Regardless of origin, all fats and oils are some combination of saturated fat, monounsaturated fat or polyunsaturated linoleic or linolenic acid (fat). In general, animal fats such as butter, lard and tallow contain about 40-60% saturated fat. Vegetable oils from northern climates are mostly polyunsaturated. Vegetable oils from the tropics are highly saturated. Coconut oil for instance is 92% saturated and while it is a liquid at room temperature, it is as hard as butter when refrigerated. Tropical oils need to be more saturated to help maintain plant leaf stiffness.
In the politically correct word in which we live we have been told for most of our lives that polyunsaturated oils are good for us and that saturated fats cause cancer and heart disease. This dis-information has had a profound impact on western eating habits and not for the better. In the early 1900’s most of the fats consumed were either saturated or monounsaturated, primarily butter, lard, tallow and some coconut with a very small amount coming from olive oil. Today, most fats are polyunsaturated, primarily from vegetable oils derived from GMO crops including soy, corn, cottonseed and canola.
This overconsumption of polyunsaturated oils has not only created a significant imbalance in the omega-6:omega-3 ratio but also contributes to a large number of diseases including cancer, heart disease, immune system dysfunction, damage to the liver, lungs, reproductive organs, digestive system, weight gain and even cognitive learning/function.
I hope it is obvious that while fat is often lumped into good versus bad, the truth is much deeper than that but not really very complex.