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Olive oil and statins in the headlines.

Smoke point cooking smoke pointBut rapeseed oil is better? And it is locally produced – and as unprocessed as possible.

The Mediterranean diet has hit the headlines again, this time looking at folk with established heart disease – better than statins at preventing further health scares.  No surprise there.  Olive oil is mentioned as a healthy fat – which got me wondering about smoke point.

But what is a smoke point, and why does it matter?

Ever put oil in a pan over high heat, only to turn around and find it billowing with smoke? That’s because every cooking fat, be it butter, lard or oil, has a smoke point: a temperature at which it stops shimmering and starts sending out some serious smoke signals. Heated past its smoke point, fat starts to degrade, releasing free radicals and a substance called acrolein, the toxic chemical that gives burnt foods their acrid flavour and aroma. Think watering eyes, a smelly kitchen and burnt food.

To understand how smoke points affect food we have to look to where our fats come from and how they’ve been processed. Traditionally, oils are extracted from nuts and seeds through mechanical crushing and pressing. If bottled immediately thereafter you have a cold-pressed raw, or “virgin” oil, which tends to retain its natural flavour and colour. Many unrefined oils are packed with minerals, enzymes, and other compounds that don’t play well with heat and tend to be especially susceptible to rancidity. So these are the oils best-suited to drizzling, dressings, and lower temperature cooking.

To produce an oil with a high smoke point, manufacturers use industrial-level refinement processes like bleaching, filtering, and high-temperature heating to extract and eliminate those extraneous compounds.

The higher a fat’s smoke point, the more cooking methods you can use it for. Keep your oils tightly sealed in a cool, dark place and if they come in a translucent bottle consider wrapping them in tin foil to extend their shelf life.

You’ll want to make sure you’re using fats with smoke points at or above 205°C when you’re cooking.

And rapeseed oil makes the grade whereas virgin olive oil does not. It is also lower in the saturated fat content (half as much) and has more omega 3 fatty acids – a good point.   But like all oils it has 125 calories per tablespoon.

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