Friday, January 1, 2021
The Culinary Cook Condiments Complete Guide to Cooking Oils and Vinegars

Complete Guide to Cooking Oils and Vinegars


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Oil and Vinegar: Opposites Attract

Cooking oils and vinegars are an essential component in the culinary arts and occupy a close position to many chefs hearts. The frequency that they are used makes them an important area of focus for aspiring chefs.

Becoming familiar with the various types of oils, their limited range of uses, flavors and smoke points make selection easier when deciding on recipes and substitutes. We discuss the various oils and kinds of vinegar in this article.

Tools and Resources

As a matter of fact, there are actually some very vital tools and equipment that every cook should have in their kitchen. I make it a point of ensuring that any products that I recommend are those that you would find beneficial in your own kitchen.

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substitutes for oils

Sauce Bottles

Super inexpensive and incredibly versatile, sauce bottles are an essential part of any kitchen. When you use as much oil as I do, pouring from a 2-quart oil jug just does not cut it. I encourage you to use less plastic and go glass. Glass has the added benefit of not imparting harmful BPAs or microplastics into your food. For my recommendation on environmentally safe sauce bottles, click here.

Dark Sauce Bottles

If you are going to be using infused oils or if you are wanting to maximize the life of your oils, it is important to pick up a dark sauce bottle or two. Light can affect rancidity, and any oil can be susceptible to it. Check out my recommendation by clicking here.

Guide to Cooking Oils

Oil is a type of fat that remains liquid at room temperature. Cooking oils are refined from various seeds, plants, and vegetables. When purchasing oils you should always consider their usage, smoke point, flavor and cost. Fats, including oils and shortenings, are manufactured for specific purposes such as deep-frying, cake baking, salad dressings, and sauteing. Most professional kitchens purchase different oils and fats for each of these needs. As a home cook, you may want to consider diversifying your selection if you have a single type.

Smoke Point

Fats and oils break down at different temperatures. The temperature at which a given fat begins to break down and smoke is known as its smoke point. When cooking, choose fats and oils with higher smoke points for high-temperature cooking like deep frying or sauteing. If a fat with a low smoke point is used for high-temp cooking, it may break down, burn and impart undesirable flavors.

The Smoke Points of Common Oils

Type of Oil Smoke Point
Olive Oil 225°C / 437°F
Peanut Oil 218°C / 425°F
Lard 188°C / 370°F
Canola Oil 218°C / 425°F
Walnut Oil 163 to 204°C / 325 to 400°F
Butter, clarified (Ghee) 204°C / 400°F
Whole Butter 127°C / 260°F

The flavor and cost of oil used must be considered. Corn and walnut oil may both be used for salad dressing, however the choice must be balanced between the cost and the flavor.

Rancid Oil

When fats spoil, they are said to go rancid. Rancidity is a chemical change caused by exposure to air, light, or heat. It results in objectionable flavors and odors. Different fats turn rancid at different rates, but all fats benefit from refrigerated storage away from moisture, light, and air. Oils may become thick and cloudy under refrigeration. This is not because the oils have gone bad, and they will return to being clear when they reach room temperature again.

caprese salad with balsamic vinegar
Caprese salad is a popular Mediterranean salad that uses balsamic vinegar

The Types of Oils

Vegetable Oils are extracted from a variety of plants, including corn, cottonseed, peanuts, and soybeans, by pressure or chemical solvents. The oil is then refined and cleaned to remove unwanted colors, odors, or flavors. Vegetable oils are almost odorless and have a neutral flavor. Because they contain no animal products, they are also cholesterol-free. If a commercial product contains only one type of oil it is labeled “pure”. Products labeled “vegetable oil” are blended from different sources. Products labeled “salad oil” are highly refined blends of vegetable oil.

Canola Oil is processed from the canola seed (Rapeseed). It is quite popular because it contains no cholesterol and has a high percentage of monounsaturated fat. Canola oil is useful for frying and general cooking because it has no flavor and a high smoke point.

Nut Oils are extracted from a variety of nuts and are almost always packaged as a “pure” product, never blended. A nut oil should have the strong flavor and aroma of the nut it was made from. Good examples are hazelnut and walnut oils. These oils are used to give flavor to salad dressings, marinades, and other dishes. The heat will diminish its flavor, so nut oils are not recommended for frying or baking. Nut oils will tend to go rancid quite quickly and is therefore sold in smaller packages.

Olive Oil is the only oil that is extracted from fruit rather than a seed, nut or grain. Olive oil is produced primarily in Spain, Italy, France, Greece, and North Africa. Like wine, olive oils vary in color and flavor according to the variety of tree, the ripeness of the olives, the type of soil, climate and the producer’s preferences. Colors range from dark green to almost clear, depending on the ripeness of the olives at the time of pressing and the amount of subsequent refining.

Color is not a good indication of flavor. The flavor is ultimately a matter of preference. A stronger-flavored oil may be desired for some foods, while a milder oil is better for others. Good olive oil should be thicker than refined vegetable oils, but not so thick that it has a fatty texture.

The label designations (Extra Virgin, Virgin, Pure) refer to the acidity of the oil and the extent of the processing. Lower acid is preferable. The first cold-pressing of the olives results in virgin oil. Virgin oil may still vary in quality depending on acidity. Extra virgin oil is virgin oil with an acidity level of not more than 1%. Virgin oil may have an acidity of up to 3%. Pure olive oil is processed from the pulp left after the first pressing using heat and chemicals. Pure oil is lighter in flavor and less expensive than virgin oil.

Flavored Oils, also known as infused oils, are an interesting and popular condiment. These oils may be used as a cooking medium or flavoring accent in marinades, dressings, sauces, and other dishes. Flavorings include basil, other herbs, garlic, citrus, and spice. Flavored oils are prepared with olive oil for additional flavor or canola oil. Top-quality commercially flavored oils are prepared by extracting aromatic oils from the flavoring ingredients and then emulsifying them with a high-grade oil. Impurities are removed by placing the oil in a centrifuge. Using the aromatic oils of the flavoring ingredients gives a much more intense flavor than just steeping the same ingredients in oil.

Types of Vinegars

Vinegar is a thin, sour liquid used for thousands of years as a preservative, cooking ingredient, condiment, and cleaning solution. Vinegar is obtained through the fermentation of wine or other alcoholic liquid. Bacteria eat the alcohol, turning it into acetic acid. No alcohol will remain when the transformation is complete. The quality of vinegar depends on the quality of wine or liquid used. Vinegar flavors are varied as the liquids from which they are made.

balsamic vinegar
Balsamic vinegar reduction

Vinegars should be clear and clean looking, never cloudy or muddy. Commercial vinegar is pasteurized and unopened should last indefinitely. Opened vinegars can last up to three months if tightly capped. Any sediment that develops can be strained out and if mold develops, discard the vinegar.

Wine Vinegar is as old as wine itself. They can be made from red wine, white wine, sherry, or champagne. They should have the color and flavor of the wine that it was made from. Wine vinegars are preferred in French and Mediterranean cuisines.

Malt Vinegar is produced from malted barley. It has a slightly sweet, mild flavor and is used as a condiment, especially with fried foods.

Distilled Vinegar is made from grain alcohol, is completely clear, with a stronger vinegary flavor and higher acid content than other vinegars. It is preferred for pickling and preserving.

Cider Vinegar is produced from unpasteurized apple juice or cider. It is pale brown in color with mild acidity and fruity aroma. Cider vinegar is particularly popular in North America.

Rice Vinegar is a clear, slightly sweet product brewed from rice wine. Its flavor is clean and elegant, making it useful in a variety of dishes.

Flavored Vinegars are simply traditionally vinegars in which herbs, spice, fruits or other foods are steeped to infuse their flavors. They are produced quite easily from commercial wine or distilled vinegars, using any herb, spice or fruit desired. The use of flavored vinegars is extremely popular but not new. Clove, raspberry, and fennel vinegars were sold on the streets of Paris in the 13th century. Making fruit-flavored vinegars was also the responsibilities of housewives in the 18th and 19th century.

Balsamic Vinegar is newly popular in North America though it has been made in Italy for more than 800 years. To produce balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar is aged in a succession of wooden barrels made from a variety of woods such as Oak, Cherry, Locust, Ash, Mulberry, and Juniper for at least 4 but sometimes up to 50, years. The resulting liquid is dark reddish-brown and sweet. Balsamic has a high acidic level, but the sweetness covers the tart flavor making it a very mellow flavor. True balsamic vinegar is extremely expensive due to the long aging process and the small quantities available. Most of the commercial products imported from Italy are not made by a quick caramelization and flavoring process. Balsamic is excellent as a condiment and has a remarkable affinity for tomatoes and strawberries.

Verjus is the unfermented juice from unripened grapes and has a very high acidic content and is sometimes used as a substitute for vinegar. Vinegar sometimes creates off-taste in the wines that accompany a meal. Verjus does not, so it is a good substitute. Both red and white verjus is available and found in gourmet specialty shops.

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The Culinary Cook

Professional Chef & Blogger

With 15 years of experience working in restaurants, resorts, and a fully Red Seal Certified chef, The Culinary Cook shares tips, tricks, and recipes for everyone to enjoy.

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