Let’s Talk About Cooking Oils

When I started to cook, I used to wonder how many cooking oils I should have in my pantry on a regular basis? Cooking oils can be tricky because if their flavour is too prominent in a dish where it’s not required, it can mess up the taste, or a dish might need the nuttiness of an oil, but because a different oil was used, it lacks flavour. There are ways to avoid that such as following the recipe closely, or by experimenting with cooking oils like I did. I experimented with different cooking oils for a few months, and narrowed down my list to 5 I use most often. 

Ghee: If asked to pick just one oil, being from South Asia, I would pick ghee. I think it’s the most versatile, and can be used in any dish from any part of the world. It can also be used for deep frying and baking because of its high smoke point. Ghee is also a very healthy fat and suitable for vegans. Although I use ghee in almost every dish, it is most suitable for South Asian dishes, pan-frying a protein and grilling. This is a must-have in every kitchen. It is important to pick a good quality ghee. The trick to knowing one from the other is by looking at the texture of the ghee. It has to be smooth and thick like a lush face cream, not grainy.  My favorite ghee brands are this and this.

Olive oil: The only drawback to ghee is you can’t drizzle it on anything like olive oil. Olive oil is always present in my kitchen. I use it just as much as I use ghee, and I often mix the two together. Mixed together, they make the most glorious base for any dish. It is also important to pick a good quality olive oil. There are a number of ways you can test an olive oil for quality but the easiest way is to buy from a reputed shop. My favorite place for olive oil is this.

Sesame seed oil: This is another great option to have in your kitchen especially if you love to cook food from basically all over Asia. It has a distinctive nutty aroma and taste making it great in marinades, salad dressing and when used as a flavor enhancer. The best type of sesame seed oil is the unrefined cold pressed one.

Sunflower seed oil: This is my go-to oil for deep frying. Anything deep fried is already very delicious but when fried in this, it gives it that extra nutty deliciousness. My favorite brand is this.

Red palm oil: Palm oil gets a lot of negative press nowadays but what is important to know is that not all of them are bad. Sustainably grown unrefined and unprocessed one is not only great but also has many health benefits. To make sure the oil I buy is sustainably grown, I exclusively buy West African red palm oil. Palm oil is great for making slow-cooked dishes such as stews because it gives the dish rich colour and taste. The longer you cook food with palm oil in it, the more delicious and aromatic it becomes. For example, if you’re making beef stew, you would want the colour to be a deep red and palm oil is perfect for that. Generally, the best place to buy it is from your local African shop. 

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