Olive oil is still the mainstay in pantries everywhere. There’s not a cupboard in sight that’s not stocked with one, two, or even three types of the stuff. Olive oil gets all the glory these days. And the thing is, olive oil is just plain wrong for many types of cooking and salads.
Chef David Forestell (Canadians know this TV chef as the Gaslight Gourmet!) once told me it’s a simple matter of understanding things like flash-point (the point at which oils break down during heating) and remembering to correctly combine flavours and textures.
For example, the dark, plummy tomatoes and salty olives and cheeses coming from the Mediterranean countries go beautifully with olive oil. Mediterranean cuisine is delicious, popular and is to olive oil as gravy is to poutine – just plain not right without it. Forestell figures that’s one reason we use so much these days.
But the fact is, we should be using a whole lot less of the oil for dishes and applications it wasn’t designed for.
Forestell recounted to me the horrors of olive oil’s ubiquity,
“I’ve seen people try and deep fry in it an that’s not great. It’s not a good replacement for hydrogenated oil such as certain types of canola or safflower oil. It’s not great for baking unless it’s a bread-like product – a savory bread from a bread machine. And I wouldn’t confit in it, though I have seen people confit in it.”
There seems, also, to be a general misconception that expensive, extra-virgin olive oil should be used for everything. Fact is, it’s got a very strong flavor and delicate constitution – a low flash-point makes it bad for cooking and intense flavour means it’s not great for dressing very delicate greens or milder veggies
What to do? Well, for starters, live it up a little! There are plenty of tasty oil alternatives to Italy’s finest.
One of Forestell’s favorites is cold-pressed grapeseed oil.
It’s made by cold-pressing grapeseeds after they’ve been used to make wine. The pale green, lightly nutty oil has long been a favorite in Italy, where it’s the third most commonly used fat – behind olive oil and butter.
Grapeseed oil’s got a lot going for it. It has a high “flash-point” (the point at which oils break down during heating) which makes it better than olive oil for cooking. It assimilates flavor well (good for infusions or taming stronger oils) and a mild taste that doesn’t overwhelm food. At about $8.00 for 500 ml it costs about the same as good supermarket extra virgin olive oils. It’s also thought to have some anti-oxidant properties.
Forestell describes it as nutty, earthy and fresh and thinks it’s the cat’s pajamas.
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