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Whether you are roasting, baking, deep frying or making a salad – cooking oils and fats are important helpers in the kitchen. They impart flavours which really affect the taste of your dishes. They also help to transfer heat when frying and deep frying. They provide the human body with energy and contain important fat-soluble vitamins. But what are the differences between them and which fats are suitable for doing what?

Cooking oils extracted by pressing, with no heat, are called virgin oils. Oils of this type have the distinctive smell and taste of the seed or fruit from which they were extracted and are primarily suited for cold meals. They frequently state “cold pressed” or “first press” on the label.

Virgin oils that have been steam treated to improve their longevity are called “unrefined cooking oils”. Refined cooking oils, by contrast, have unwanted impurities inherent in the plant, such as suspended solids and free fatty acids, removed, along with any environmental contaminants.

Refined fats and oils taste more neutral, usually have a longer shelf life and normally cope with heat better than comparable virgin products. Cooking fats or oils with a high proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids are the best choice from a nutritional point of view. They contain not only fat-soluble vitamins, but also fatty acids which are vital for survival and which the body cannot produce itself. However, unsaturated fatty acids are not thermally stable: they degrade at high temperatures. You can recognise a fat or an oil which has been broken down by heat because it will start to smoke, it will turn darker in colour, it will begin to foam and/or it will have an intense and unpleasant smell.

If smoke is rising from the pan, this indicates that the “smoke point” of your fat or oil has been exceeded. When searing meat in a frying pan, the temperature on the surface of the meat can reach 130 to 180°C and the surface of the pan can even exceed 200°C. Only specially tested frying fats and mixed oils can stand these kinds of temperature, along with other types of oil such as groundnut, olive, rapeseed and refined sunflower oil, plus what are known as high oleic oils.

The latter are oils from specific types of sunflower and thistle which contain a higher proportion of oleic acid as a result of the way in which they are cultivated. They are extremely thermally stable and can cope with temperatures of up to 210°C. Specially tested mixed oils and solid vegetable fats derived from coconut oil and palm oil are also particularly well suited to deep frying, because they remain thermally stable over the long term. Most cooking oils, vegetable margarine and clarified butter can be used to gently roast food at lower temperatures of around 140°C (a medium heat), which is usually the heat setting used to cook breaded meat or fish, roast potatoes, potato dumplings, etc.

Due to their low smoke point and high proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids, thistle and linseed oils, on the other hand, should not be used for roasting, nor should diet margarine or butter. Special vegetable creams available for baking, roasting and frying must not be heated too high either.

Source:, Silke Hoffmann, Ute Gomm