Healthy Ingredients

Vital oils for cookery and health

Liz says:

I have a long-standing fascination with the ways in which pure plant oils can improve health and wellbeing. With such an amazing array of nut and seed oils to choose from, it’s worth knowing a little more about these golden elixirs of goodness.

All fats are, of course, high in calories, with around 80 kcal per dessertspoon, so you might want to bear this in mind if you’re watching your weight.

Avocado oil

The tribeswomen of Mexico and Arizona softened their skin with applications of avocado oil long before we could explain
 its beautifying properties. Now we’re familiar with its high vitamin E content (which fights skin-damaging free radicals) and ability to permeate the top layers of our skin (helping to quell dryness). Consuming avocado oil also brings advantages – it’s rich in an antioxidant called lutein, which can help protect eyesight. Its neutral flavour makes it ideal for salad dressings or pestos. Avocado oil has a high smoking point, so can do double duty as a cooking oil, too.

Pumpkin seed oil

Highly concentrated, just a few drops of pumpkin seed oil go a long way when it comes to flavour and nutrition. It has a fantastic dark green colour (a sign it contains skin-loving beta-carotene) and is another option for salad dressings as it has a low smoking point. Containing essential fatty acids and antioxidants, pumpkin seed oil is thought to be a powerful healer for arthritis as well as helping to lower bad cholesterol, and even play a part in the prevention of kidney stones.

Walnut oil

A favourite with French chefs, around 2kg of nuts are needed to produce one litre of walnut oil, making it a real delicacy. It’s on the expensive side, but it’s usually sold in small bottles because it oxidises quickly, so you can try it as a special treat. It contains both omega-3 and omega-6, as well as a substance called ellagic acid, which is being researched as a possible anti-carcinogen. A low smoking point means it’s not ideal for high-temperature cooking, but it’s delicious in biscuits, cakes and other bake recipes.

Seasame oil

At home in Asian dishes, sesame is a mono- and polyunsaturated fat, and can be heated to high temperatures, though most recipes call for a sprinkling over food just before serving, rather than use in roasting or frying. To enhance its slightly nutty flavour, the seeds are often toasted, but you’ll want to bear in mind that this risks destroying the seeds’ precious nutrients, which include vitamins E and K. High in a natural anti- fungal antioxidant called sesamol, this oil is also excellent for heart health.