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Quinn on Nutrition: Smoke point determines use of cooking oils

September 29, 2014

My horseshoer, Jordan, is a real cowboy. He knows a lot about horses and cows and all that other cowboy stuff. So when he told me he had a part in a television series, "Gunslingers," I had to watch.

Sure enough, there he was; a real cowboy playing the part of a real cowboy — sidekick to the legendary Texas outlaw, John Wesley Hardin. His character managed to avoid numerous smoking guns…only to meet his demise in another unpalatable way. (You’ll have to watch to find out.)

Which brings us to the topic of smoke points. Not from guns but from oils we use in cooking. Smoke point is the temperature at which a cooking fat, when heated, begins to smoke. Besides setting off alarms and stinking up your house, oil heated past its smoke point degrades rapidly and releases substances that harm the flavor and the healthfulness of our food.

Various fats — from animal sources such as butter and lard or vegetable oils extracted from seeds, fruit and nuts — have varying smoke points. And it’s important, say food scientists, that we match the fat to its intended cooking purpose. Here are some guidelines adapted from various sources, including Supermarket Savvy — a publication for nutrition professionals and consumers:

High heat oils (smoke points from 445 to 510 degrees F) for sauteeing or frying: refined sesame, peanut, olive, sunflower, soybean, canola, or avocado; clarified butter (ghee).

Medium-high heat oils (smoke point from 360 to 430 degrees F.) for baking or sauteeing over medium-high heat: refined coconut, unrefined safflower, walnut, grapeseed, hazelnut, macadamia oils, lard:

Medium-low heat oils (smoke point from 250 to 350 degrees F.) for sauces, salad dressings or sauteeing over medium heat: unrefined coconut, corn, extra virgin olive, peanut, or sesame, butter;

No Direct heat oils (smoke point 225 degrees F.) for blending into dressings, dipping sauces, or taken as a supplement: flax, wheat germ.

Notice that high heat oils tend to be "refined" — meaning their natural impurities such as resins, gums and free fatty acids have been removed. Clarified butter (aka "ghee"), for example, is "refined" because its milk solids have been removed. Thus, it has a higher smoke point than regular butter.

"Unrefined" oils are better suited for low heat uses. They tend to impart more flavor to a food but can easily become rancid at high temperatures.

And, remember, say experts, no matter what the smoking point, do not store any fat over your stove or other hot area. Just like gunslingers who ask for trouble usually get it, extra heat leads to the rapid deterioration and rancidity of your precious oils. Great job, Jordan!

 

 





 



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