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Ask Dr. Gourmet

When should I use oils other than olive oil?

I have a question I'm having a hard time getting answers to. I use olive oil for almost everything, having been raised Italian. But I'm trying to diversify (assuming that this is a good thing, as with other food groups) and also, there are times when olive oil just isn't the right choice, such as with stir fries. As someone who knows nutrition AND good taste, what are some oils that you think would be good to use AND still be great for cooking?

Also, a side question on this, I have heard that cooking with olive oil is actually NOT good and that it should really only be added after cooking. Is there any truth to this?

Dr. Gourmet Says...

A glass vial of olive oil

My first choice is generally olive oil. I use the best quality extra virgin olive oil for those dishes that I am not going to cook. The main reason for this is that I want the rich, fruity flavor to come through in my dressings and the like. There's no reason to waste that expensive extra virgin olive oil. Save it and use virgin olive oil that's less expensive for your cooking.

When I don't want much flavor I use canola oil. This makes it a good choice for baking and sautéing. It has been highly refined and has a higher smoke point than most olive oils, but even so I don't use it for very high temperature cooking. For that I keep grapeseed oil on hand, because it has a very high smoke point and not as strong a fruity flavor as olive oil.

There is some evidence that heating oils to very high temperatures might be harmful, but there's no conclusive evidence of this in human studies. I am pretty cautious about using too much oil to begin with, and as I said, when I know I will be cooking at a very high temperature I will use an oil with a higher smoke point.

So, for recipes where you won't be cooking and want the flavor, use extra virgin olive oil. For just a little flavor in your salads and such, and for lower temperature cooking, use virgin olive oil or canola oil. For those occasions where you might cook at higher temps, use grapeseed oil.

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Timothy S. Harlan M.D.
Dr. Gourmet