Monday, January 25, 2010

Cooking with Fat: Butter vs Margarine vs Oils

There are several different types of fats on the market today. Knowing which to use and why can be a little confusing. Plus which is really better for you? This post, hopefully, will be one of my most imformative and shed a little light on the subject of fat!!!

Margarine: Just to forewarn every reading this: I AM ANTI-MARGARINE!!! I feel that this chemical substance (because that's what it really is) should be banned from the earth! There are several articles on why margarine is so bad and even some describing how it actually increases the risk of heart disease depending on which type of fat that is used in the spread. However the most compelling thing that made me stop consuming margarine all together was this experiment: Take a tub of margarine and a stick of butter. Set them both outside on a normal day or even a hot a day. The butter will completely melt if it's warm enough outside, if it doesn't melt, bugs will attracted to it before it eventually goes rancid. The tub of margarine, while it will melt, will not go rancid. Bugs will not touch it. Animals will not touch it. Why? Because it's made of chemicals and contains hydrogenated oil which in simplest terms = bad for you health. When something is hydrogenated, it means that hydrogen was added to it, making the chemical compound that much closer to plastic. If that isn't bad enough these hydrogenated oils are very high in trans fatty acids which as we all know now, are very bad for our bodies and especially our hearts.
Now if you still insist using margarine knowing all this then really just keep in mind that it contains a lot of water. When baking, this water makes your cookies spread out more and not always brown the way they should. When cooking, the water can make things soggy instead letting them brown nicely.

Butter: Yes, butter is an animal product which means it's going to contain cholesterol, about 30 mg per tablespoon or roughly 10% of the USDA daily allowance. However butter also contains nutrients which margarine does not unless it's added to it. Something else to keep in mind is that butter and margarine contain the same about of calories and in most cases the same amount of fat as well.
When baking, butter gives a flavor and flakiness that margarine just can't compete with. When cooking the smoke point of butter is relatively low when compared to most oils and is generally combined with a touch of olive oil to raise the smoke point. It has great non stick properties when baking or cooking. I use butter when cooking and a mixture or butter and oil when cooking depending on the dish.

Oils: An oil is nothing more then purified fats of plant origins. There are several types of  oils available on the market, but only three that should be kept on hand. Those are canola oil, a good olive oil and peanut oil.

Canola oil is an all purpose oil. I use it in most of my recipe that call for oil, unless a specific oil is called for. Canola is light and is good for making salad dressing and used in baked goods. You can fry with it but it has a lower smoke point, about 300 degrees, which makes this oil the last I would choose to fry with.
Olive oil ranges from extra virgin to just regular olive oil and each can be used for different things. I stick with a light olive oil which is great for several things. Combine oilive with some butter to sautee onions, use it by itself for flavor and to prevent foods from sticking when pan searing. It is great for salad dressings as well as marinades. Olive oil is also great to just drizzle over things like nice crusty hard bread. You can use it for frying as it has a smoke point of around 400 degree however olive oil can be a little expensive to use for frying.
Which brings us to Peanut oil. Peanut oil has a high smoke point of around 500 degrees which makes this the perfect for frying. Fried foods won't absorb as much oil when fried at higher temperatures. To me this is a strictly frying oil and I wouldn't use it for anything else. It's also one that I don't keep on hand for the simple fact that I don't do much deep frying. However I will pick up a small bottle if I know I'm going to make fried chicken during the week.

H A P P Y  C O O K I N G !!

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