Barely a day goes by without another scare story about the food we eat appearing in the press. When it comes to the use of cooking oil, you just can’t seem to win.
Not only does oil contain 120 calories a teaspoon, it is comprised entirely of fat. Recent research has found that vegetable oils commonly used for cooking, such as sunflower or corn oil, when heated to high temperatures during frying, release chemicals called aldehydes into the air which have been linked to a range of health conditions, including cancers, cardio-vascular disease and raised blood-pressure.
Vegetable oil when heated becomes oxidised, affecting cholesterol in the arteries and effectively turning good cholesterol into bad. Olive oil is also subject to oxidisation as it contains high levels of oleic acid which, when heated, alters the chemical structure of the oil, increasing the risk of breast cancer and heart disease.
Vegetable oils contain large amounts of Omega 6 which floods the brain, replacing Omega 3. There is evidence to suggest that low levels of Omega 3 may affect mental health.
Butter and lard, both of which are high in calories, can be used for cooking but these contain saturated fat, which, although no longer considered to be as damaging to health as it once was, is still something Public Health England cautions should only be used occasionally, with the recommendation to use polyunsaturated oils instead.
In the face of contradictory advice and developing scientific evidence the health benefits of reducing our consumption of oil or ditching it completely include better weight control, reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease, maintaining a good balance between good and bad cholesterol and ensuring optimum levels of Omega 3.
Sautéing Vegetables Without Oil
The key to successfully sautéing vegetables without oil is to buy the best non-stick pan, wok or ceramic pan you can afford. You will be able to use your new pan, over a medium heat, to sweat off onions and garlic. Keep the food moving around the pan with a plastic spatula or wooden spoon and remember not to use metal on non-stick surfaces. If you are cooking other vegetables, slice them thinly or make sure they are in small enough pieces to cook quickly. If the food does start to catch the bottom of the pan, add a small amount of water, stock, soy sauce or wine, this should have a de-glazing effect. By sautéing food in this way, the natural flavours, untainted by oil will surprise your palate.
Baking Without Oil
Anyone familiar with the art of baking will know that oil is both used in recipes to keep food moist and to coat cake and bun tins, pie dishes and flan trays. It is possible to replace oil in recipes with other food stuffs, such as mashed banana, apple sauce, tomato sauce. Alternatively, use an oil free substitute, such as, Sunsweet Lighter Bake. It helps too to use carbonated water instead of tap water, this will result in a light finish for your baked goods. You can also make greasing baking utensils a thing of the past by using parchment paper coated with silicon, your baked goods will slide off without sticking. If you are a fan of roast vegetables, these will roast in your oven without oil. As with sautéing you could add a little water or stock, although it isn’t essential.
Salad Dressing Without Oil
There is a range of options for dressing your salads without using oil. You want your dressing to taste exciting, so experiment. One way to do this is to omit the oil from the recipe and instead add water, fruit or vegetable juice; the juice of limes, lemons, apple, carrot and celery are particularly good. Enhance the flavour of your dressings by using good vinegars, such as Madeira and Sherry varieties. Mustard and horseradish can add an interesting twist, or should you want something creamy, why not try adding avocado or tofu. Don’t forget your favourite herbs for that finishing touch.
Appliances That Help With Oil Free Cooking
Non-stick pans are essential if you are going to cook without oil. Or, why not try a ceramic pan, made from a compound of ceramic and titanium. These come without added worries about some non-stick surfaces being carcinogenic. You can even cook scrambled eggs in them without adding fat.
Bakeware ranges in a variety of metals and glass are now readily available, or why not try silicone bakeware? Although care must be taken because of its floppy nature, it gives excellent results, your food won’t stick and a quick wipe over with a warm cloth is all that is needed for cleaning.
Air fryers have been on the scene for a few years now. These are free-standing machines that plug into an electric socket. They cook food by using the oil that is already in it. Chicken will come out of the air fryer with a crispy skin and it is even possible to make chips that taste as though they have been deep-fried, although, to be fair, you are advised to drip a little oil onto the potato pieces first.
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Non-stick omelette makers are very popular and don’t require oil. Heat them to the required temperature and simply pour your egg mixture together with any cheese, ham, peppers etc. into the two compartments and close the lid. Your omelette will be ready within minutes. Because the cooking plates are non-stick they are easy to clean.
Pancake makers are very similar to omelette makers, you can cook perfect pancakes every time without worrying about having to flip them. You don’t even need to use oil on some pancake maker models.
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Popcorn makers – if you are fond of buying expensive popcorn in cinema foyers why not buy your own popcorn maker. These can be purchased for as little as £15. Pop in your corn kernels, wait a little while and take out your delicious popcorn; there is no need to use oil.
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Cutting down on the amount of oil you use in cooking takes practice, but with a little research you will soon find excellent ways to produce the foods you love. Your taste buds might get a shock at first because the things you prepare will no longer carry the taste that oil imparts. I am not suggesting you never use oil again, just limit the way you use it and reap the health benefits.