With the holiday of Chanukah upon us, it seems timely to talk oil. As we know, oil is central to our holiday’s theme.
Traditional treats for Chanukah are typically of the deep-fried, oily variety: latkes and sufganiyot. Chanukah is the one time of year when you get a no-questions-asked pass on the “no fried foods” rule, as both are typically fried in oil. But what’s the best oil to use?
I find that there is so much confusion about what is healthy, especially when it comes to oils and fat. Most of us probably turn to olive oil, canola oil or other vegetable oils to make our latkes.
Both olive oil and canola oils are classified as “monounsaturated fats,” but they are not created equal. Olive oil is my preference over canola oil because it is less processed and therefore more nutrient dense. Cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil is the healthiest because it is the first extraction from the olive and doesn’t lose its rich mineral, vitamin, essential fatty acid and antioxidant properties. And it has great flavor!
Here’s the tricky thing—olive oil is not a high-heat oil. When you put it in your frying pan, and turn the heat up high, it destroys the beneficial properties and alters its chemical composition. Olive oil is best for low- to medium-heat cooking. Eating it in its raw state is ideal so it’s great for salad dressings, pesto and dips.
Canola oil is made with a highly unnatural processing method that involves high heat, deodorization and the chemical solvent hexane. Like most highly refined oils, canola oil is low in essential nutrients, plus 90 percent of the world’s canola crop is genetically modified. There is definitely controversy about the usage and nutritional value of canola oil among health care practitioners.
Other vegetable oils, such as soybean, peanut, corn, cottonseed, vegetable and so on, are controversial as well. Most of these oils go through a hydrogenation process that makes them last longer on the shelf, which creates free-radical damage, and they don’t provide any relevant source of nutrition or fat the body can metabolize.
When it comes to high-heat cooking (and baking), I believe coconut oil is your best choice. Coconut oil has many health benefits and is extremely nutrient dense. It is a stable oil that doesn’t break down easily at high temperatures like other oils do.
You may remember when coconut oil was demonized in the past because it contains saturated fat. In fact, coconut oil is one of the richest sources of saturated fat known, with almost 90 percent of the fatty acids in it being saturated. But is saturated fat bad? And, if so, are all saturated fats created equal?
The answer is no. Coconut oil contains different fatty acids than other saturated fats do, which are metabolized differently in the body.
About half of coconut oil’s saturated fat is lauric acid, a medium-chain triglyceride that turns out to have a number of health-promoting properties, including the ability to improve levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and increasing immunity, fighting viruses and disease.
According to the Wall Street Journal, coconut oil can boost thyroid function, therefore helping to increase metabolism, energy and endurance. It also creates a feeling of satiety and can assist in weight loss. It increases bone strength by allowing better absorption of calcium, vitamin D and other minerals.
The list could go on and on… The bottom line is by frying your latkes in coconut oil, you will capitalize on all of the wonderful health benefits it provides. It may not be what the Maccabees used, but if you haven’t yet embraced coconut oil, I encourage you to try some. You might just discover a great miracle of your own.