Like peanut and canola, palm oil is ideal for deep frying since it’s made of saturated and monosaturated fats. Similar to peanut oil, it’s neutral in taste and has a high smoke point, 230°C making it suitable for cooking with high heat.
A product of the oil palm tree, palm oil is the most widely consumed vegetable oil on the planet, with as much as half of all packaged products – from ice cream to lipstick – containing it, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Palm oil is associated with massive land clearing and loss of habitat for wildlife, such as the orangutan. If buying palm oil, the WWF encourages to only purchase products containing Certified Sustainable Palm Oil, including cooking oil.
Vegetable oil generally refers to any plant-based oil. It’s called ‘vegetable’ so that manufacturers can use any plant-sourced oil they want – palm, soybean, corn, cottonseed, canola, or a blend of two – without having to specify on the label. Therefore, it’s hard to know what you are cooking with, and how ethical it is.
Cooking oil tips
There are dozens of other oils just waiting for a space in your kitchen cabinet. Which ones should you steer away from? The answer is complicated.
“I don’t like to say there’s anything we should always avoid, except perhaps trans fats in the food supply,” says Maya Vadiveloo, an assistant professor in the department of nutrition and food sciences at the University of Rhode Island. “There might be a recipe that calls for coconut oil and it will enhance the flavour of that recipe, even though it is higher in saturated fat and not as health-promoting as other oils. I don’t advocate a complete restriction of anything from people’s diets for the most part, aside from trans fats.”
Vadiveloo is less concerned about which oils you’re using and more concerned about how much is being used and why. “It’s a concern when people think something is particularly health-promoting and use it in whatever quantity they want,” she says. “Even if it is beneficial to preferentially use oils high in unsaturated fats, you still need to keep energy balance in mind and not over consume them.”
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