Kitchen Guides

The Best Oils/Fats to use in your CSA Kitchen

by Kim Manning

As I'm sure you are all aware, there are so many different oils on the market it can make your head spin! I have been doing some research on the topic and want to bring what I have learned to the CSA table! Certainly, I suggest that you do your own research as well, as there are many opinions on which are the safest, healthiest oils for different applications.

Oils (or some type of fat) are the base of practically everything we make in the kitchen. Whether we're drizzling it over a salad or using it in a pan to saute vegetables, we need to be sure that we're using the healthiest, safest and best tasting oils for each recipe.

It's important to get a mix of fat types from whole, unprocessed, high-quality foods. These include nuts, seeds (hemp, flax, and chia are especially nutritious), fish, seaweed, pasture-raised/grass-fed animals/eggs, olives, avocado, coconut, and cacao nibs.  Avoid industrially processed, artificially created, and factory farmed foods, which contain unhealthy fats.

Your body needs two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids -- omega-3s and omega-6s -- from your diet, because your cells cannot make these fatty acids themselves. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids contribute to brain function. Omega-3 fatty acids also reduce inflammation and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.

There are different terms associated with oils such as the following:

Refined: After oil extraction, particles are filtered out. Refined oils may also be bleached and deodorized to create a neutral flavor and color.
Unrefined: Tiny particles remain in the oil, enhancing flavor, aroma, and nutritional value. Use unheated or for low-heat applications.
Chemical extraction: Solvents like hexane are used to break down plant walls and allow oils to be more easily extracted. Not preferred.
Expeller-pressed:  Oil is mechanically extracted by squeezing nuts, seeds, fruits, legumes, or grains under very high pressure, without using solvents
Cold pressed: Oil is expeller-pressed, but friction is reduced so the temperature is kept below 120 degrees during processing.
Heat extraction: Pressed oils may also be heated during the extraction process to break down the source and allow greater quantities of oil to be extracted.


The following is a breakdown of some of the many oils on the market and it is important to note which ones are better for high heat, moderate heat and low heat. 

*Indicates our recommendations

*ALMOND OIL: Made by expeller pressing the oil in ground almonds: available refined and unrefined.
Benefits: increased healthy HDL cholesterol while lowering harmful LDL, supports immune function and liver health, alleviates irritable bowel syndrome, and may reduce colon cancer risk.
Smoke point: 420 degrees
Flavor: light, clean, and mildly sweet; unrefined has a nutty, toasty flavor with buttery undertones.
Uses: Refined's high smoke point makes it best for stir-frying, roasting, grilling, and other high-heat applications. Use unrefined fro salad dressings, in dips and to drizzle on cooked dishes.

*AVOCADO OIL: Made by grinding and then expeller pressing avocado flesh; available refined and unrefined.
Benefits: decreases inflammation and improves cholesterol balance; may increase absorption of antioxidant carotenoids.
Smoke point: 520 degrees
Flavor: rich, clean taste and lush mouthfeel. Unrefined is emerald green, with a buttery flavor and grassy undertones. Refined has a mild, neutral flavor with the slightest hint of avocado taste.
Uses: Refined is best for high-heat grilling, frying, or roasting. Use unrefined for unheated uses including salad dressing, in pesto, or as a dip for bread. Refrigerate.

CANOLA OIL: Made from rapeseed, a mustard-family plant; usually chemically extracted using solvents but also expeller-pressed. TO AVOID GMO's, BUY ORGANIC, AS 80% OF CANOLA OIL IS GENETICALLY MODIFIED.
Benefits: lowers total and LDL cholesterol and triglycerides; improves insulin sensitivity.
Smoke point: 400 degrees
Flavor: extremely neutral but provides a dense mouthfeel; pale color.
Uses: Good for high-heat roasting, broiling, baking, and stir-frying, or as a blank canvas for creating mayonnaise or salad dressings.

*COCONUT OIL: white and solid at room temperature; clear and liquid when warmed. Virgin is expeller-pressed; also available refined.
Benefits: antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral; may reduce total and LDL cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol.
Smoke point; : 350 degrees (unrefined); 400 degrees (refined)
Flavor: Unrefined has a creamy, oily texture, caramel-buttery flavor, and rich scent and tast. Refined is more neutral.
Uses: Refined works great for sauteing, stir-frying, roasting, and grilling. Use unrefined in baked goods, Asian-inspired dishes, or as a spread.

*FLAXSEED OIL: Made by pressing crushed brown flaxseeds, a process that removes healthy lignans. Some brands add lignans back to make "high-lignan" flaxseed oil.
Benefits: high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA); may reduce risk of diabetes, cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, and autoimmune and neurological disorders.
Smoke point: do not heat
Flavor: warm and nutty with bitter undertones and an aggressive, but not unpleasant, aroma.
Uses: Drizzle on oatmeal or cooked vegetables, use in salad dressing, and toss with quinoa or other grains. Refrigerate.

GRAPESEED OIL: extracted from grape seeds, generally from wine grapes, typically via chemical solvents; to avoid solvents, choose expeller-pressed.
Benefits; high in vitamin E; however, contains high levels of omega-6s and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a result of the extraction process.
Smoke point: do not heat
Flavor: neutral in flavor and aroma, with a rich, heavy texture.
Uses: Good for moisture-rich baking, dressings, and mayonnaise, where a neutral flavor is needed.

*HEMP OIL: made by cold-pressing Cannabis sativa seeds (part of the marijuana family but with not THC, the psychoactive component).
Benefits: contains chlorophyll and tocopherols, antioxidants that support immune function and protect the heart.
Smoke point: do not heat
Flavor: earthy, grassy flavor with mushroom undertones; deep green color.
Uses: Use in dips, dressings, and pesto, or drizzle on steamed kale or sweet potatoes. Refrigerate.

*OLIVE OIL: Extra-virgin is cold-pressed from the first olive pressing; "virgin" or "pure" is heat-extracted. Organic or California Olive Oil Council (COOC) labels signal no adulteration with cheap oils.
Benefits: increases heart-protective HDL cholesterol; polyphenol antioxidants promote bone growth and reduce cancer risk; rich in vitamin K.
Smoke point: 420 degrees
Flavor: Extra-virgin, from the first pressing, has leafy, herbal, peppery undertones. All varieties offer robust flavor, rich texture, and a green-gold hue.
Uses: grilling, baking, and sauteing, Drizzle extra-virgin on tomatoes and steamed greens. Use any kind in salad dressings

RICE BRAN OIL: Extracted from germ and inner husk of rice grains; most kinds are chemically extracted. Look for cold-pressed varieties, which are not heated during extraction.
Benefits: contains vitamin E tocotrienols that lower LDL cholesterol, stem inflammation, and reduce cancer risk; rich in vitamin K.
Smoke point 490 degrees
Flavor: light and clean, with a fresh, neutral flavor and delicate aroma.
Uses: high-heat stir-frying, grilling, roasting or sauteing, or in dressings or mayonnaise when a neutral flavor is desired.

*SESAME OIL: made by expeller pressing or chemically extracting oil form sesame seeds; available refined or unrefined. Seeds roasted before pressing yield fragrant, toasted sesame oil.
Benefits: rich in antioxidants and abundant in lignans and phenols, which may ease diabetes symptoms.
Smoke point 410 degrees
Flavor: light and nutty; toasted sesame oil is dark brown, with a distinctive roasted scent.
Uses: Ideal for broiling and high-temperature stir-frying. Unrefined works well for light sautes, tossed with grains, or in salad dressings. Lightly drizzle toasted oil over finished dishes.

*WALNUT OIL: made from dried and expeller-pressed walnuts; available refined and unrefined.
Benefits: contains omega-3 fats that protect against prostate cancer and diabetes, reduce inflammation, promote heart health, and stave off bone loss.
Smoke point: 400 degrees
Flavor: bold and pleasantly heavy, with a decadent nut flavor and earthy notes.
Uses: Refined is good for moderate-heat sauteing and baking. Use unrefined as a finishing oil: Toss with cooked beets, add to salad dressing, and drizzle over cream soups. Refrigerate.

Some oils to avoid:

COTTONSEED OIL: It's a byproduct of the cotton crop that's inundated with pesticides and chemicals because it's regulated as a textile crop--not food.

SOYBEAN OIL: Most products that just say "Vegetable Oil" are made from soybeans. It is very common in processed foods and is typically made from GMOs.

CORN OIL: It is highly refined, hexane-extracted from GMO corn and loaded with omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids that are unstable when exposed to heat. This instability causes oxidation, a process that generates free radicals. Free radicals are renegade molecules in the body that damage cells, triggering a host of diseases from liver damage to cancer.

Source: Lisa Turner, Delicious Living