Plant-Based Fats & Oils


Plant-Based Fats & Oils

IntroductionOlive OilCoconut Oil / ButterSesame OilGrapeseed OilMacadamia OilPumpkin Seed OilAvocado OilPistachio Oil

The types of fats and oils we consume are vital to our overall health. I learnt a lot by reading Mary Enig and Sally Fallons fantastic book Know Your Fats. It is an illuminating read that has really guided my choices. There is a reason we crave fats and oils -- because they satiate us, insulate our bodies, and taste absolutely delicious. Good quality cold pressed and unrefined fats and oils are necessary for optimum health. But it is extremely important that they be of premium quality. I always buy high quality, organic, cold-pressed or expeller-pressed, unrefined fats and oils. In other words, oils that are as close to their natural source in flavour and aroma as possible, with minimal processing.

I consume a variety of unrefined plant based fats and oils in an attempt to balance my diet. My choice of oil for a given recipe is dependent on two things: the temperature the oil will be exposed to, and the flavour palate of the dish. I want to use an oil that will complement the natural flavour of the bare ingredients, and can withstand the temperature of cooking. There are oils that should never be heated or they become carcinogenic.

Always store oils in dark, light-proof bottles in a cool dark place to prevent oxidation and rancidity. Shelf life varies depending on the oil. Fats and oils are not like fine wines. They do not improve with age. Make sure once you open a fresh bottle of oil, you use it in good time. Don’t save expensive oils for use on special occasions like that outfit you'll never wear that is now out of fashion and still has the tags on. Enjoy them!

I try to heat oils as little as possible when I am cooking. If I am stir-frying, I start with a little bit of water and then stir through the oil at the end, in order to get the and delicious flavour of the oil, without heating it too much. “Your nose knows”! If an oil smells rancid, toss it. Generally, good quality oils can only be heated to moderate temperatures until fragrant, before being compromised. Lower quality oils that have been chemically processed and hydrogenated boast higher smoke points. But this is because they have been stripped of their nutrients, and therefore their health benefits. I steer clear of these “cheap and nasties”.

Coconut oil is the only oil that can withstand extreme temperatures. Olive oil, sesame oil and grapeseed oil can be heated to moderate temperatures, and I very rarely heat anything else. I will bake with grapeseed and rice bran oil. But I never heat pumpkin, avocado, macadamia, pistachio, flax, or hemp oil.

If you purchase good quality organic oils and treat them correctly, you can enjoy the delicious taste of these oils and reap the health benefits.

Olive Oil

Cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil is a staple in my diet. It is incredibly versatile, has a delicious flavour, and has extraordinary health benefits. 

Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat, which is well documented for helping to lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer and asthma. It can lower cholesterol and blood pressure; assists to balance blood sugar levels; has potent anti-inflammatory effects, powerful antioxidants to combat free radical damage, and supports good gastrointestinal health.

Olive oils come in a variety of flavours. They can be rich and fruity, or light and buttery. They also range in colour: from dark green to light gold. Generally, the deeper the colour, the richer the flavour. The colour and flavour are dependent on the variety of the olives; the climate and quality of the soil; cultivation and farming practices; and storage techniques. The labeling of olive oil is important. I am concerned with “first cold-pressed” and “cold-pressed”; and “extra virgin” and “virgin”.The first press yields the richest flavour, and so on. In some places where they use more advanced technology, really powerful presses are used, and there is only one press that yields a uniform top quality product. 

The “virginity” of an olive oil is a measure of the acidity or amount of free oleic acid. Extra virgin olive oil has an acidity of about 1%; and has a deep flavour and colour; and strong aroma. Virgin olive oil is slightly more acidic, at up to 2%, and contains less phytonutrients, and is more fruity in flavour, which is not as strong on the nose or the back of the tongue!

I always reserve my most expensive, decadent, and nutrient-rich olive oil for use in raw recipes - salads, dips, sauces, and dressings, and for drizzling on steamed vegetables etc. These luxurious olive oils are best enjoyed raw. Some of the flavour, and a lot of the nutrients are lost as soon as you heat olive oil. So you are wasting your money if you are going to heat it.

Olive oil boasts a high heat tolerance. But this is more as a measure of exposure to toxic carcinogens. I recommend heating olive oil as little as possible, to reap the most nutritional rewards and taste sensations. I still use cold pressed extra virgin olive oil for stir-frying. But I usually start frying with filtered water, and then stir through the olive oil at the end after removing from the flame. Then I get the best of both worlds – the raw oil, and the satiation of the cooked food wrapped in oil. If you are using olive oil in gluten free baked goods, try a standard cold pressed olive oil blend, that has a lighter flavour. The extra virgin cold pressed varieties tend to over power baked treats. I tend to choose other vegetable oils like grapeseed or rice bran oil for baked treats. But olive oil is delicious in some savoury cakes. 

Try to purchase your olive oil as fresh as possible. Olive oils are not like fine wines. They don’t age well! Purchase in dark, tinted or opague bottles; and always store in a cool dark place as they can go rancid really quickly from exposure to light and heat, which will compromise the nutrtitional profile. As a general rule, once you open a bottle of olive oil, it has a shelf life of six to eight weeks. After a few months, the phytonutrient and antioxidant profile begins to drop. In other words, use it or lose it! It is so sad when people try and save their beautiful olive oils for use on special occasions, only to open it and find it has gone rancid. It is kind of like opening your prize bottle of wine to find it has been corked!

A good tip if you purchase large quantities of olive oil like I do, is to decanter into a smaller bottle and keep at room temperature, to mimimize the oxidation factor. Leave the rest in the fridge. Don’t be alarmed if it turns cloudy and slightly solidifies. Just leave at room temperature and it will return to its original consistency. I see a lot of people storing their olive oil beside in gorgeous decanters beside the stove top for greater convenience. Whilst this looks gorgeous, the constant exposure to heat compromises the integrity of the oil. Keep it in a dark pantry.

Coconut Oil / Butter

I use coconut oil every day. It has a deep rich flavour, and the health benefits are extraordinary. I like to add a tablespoon to my green smoothie every day to take advantage of the healthy fats and oils. 

The reason why it is called a butter and an oil is that it has more of a butter consistency at cold temperatures, and turns into an oil when heated. Coconut Oil is naturally stable, and is the only oil that is not adversely altered by heat – it can be heated to extreme temperatures and does not go rancid. I always roast my vegetables in coconut oil. It also does not raise cholesterol levels. The really good organic coconut oil or butter is produced within an hour or two after opening the coconut. The oil is extracted using Direct Micro Expelling (DME) equipment and preserves the natural flavour and aroma of the coconut.

Make sure you buy fresh unrefined coconut oil. Any product that smells toasted or rancid needs to be discarded. Coconut Oil has both short and medium chain fatty acids. Coconut butter is absolutely loaded with antibacterial and antiviral properties. It has lauric acid which has a powerful antiviral effect on the body, and caprylic acid which is a potent anti-fungal. Coconut oil is fantastic for boosting immunity and staving off illness. If I am around anyone who is sick, I hop into the coconut. Check out the wealth of information about the health benefits at Note: some of the natural skin care recipes use refined coconut oil. But I never use that for cooking.

Coconut oil has a very strong assertive flavour that might not be appropriate for certain dishes. If you are substituting butter in recipes, start with half the amount, as coconut butter is highly concentrated and contains less water. There are some fantastic coconut frosting recipes that rival any cream dream creations; and coconut chocolate sauce is absolutely sensational.

I also use coconut oil to moisturize my skin, condition my hair, and will use it in place of sesame oil sometimes to complete my oil pulling

Sesame Oil

Sesame oil is to Asian cuisine, what olive oil is to Mediterranean cuisine -- being popular in Indian and Chinese cooking, as well as other South East Asian dishes. The rich nutty aroma, and gorgeous distinctive flavour of sesame oil is great for accenting and seasoning dishes. In my general cooking, I tend to use sesame oil as a highlight ingredient, rather than a key player; unless I am aiming for that distinctive “Asian’ flavour.

Sesame oil is a great source of polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega 3, 6 and 9. We all know their link to preventing and treating heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and for lowering cholesterol, and combating free radical damage. However, sesame oil should be consumed in moderation, as it is high in calories at 120 calories per tablespoon.

Just like olive oil, the oil of sesame seeds varies in colour, flavour and aroma, depending on where the oil is produced; the ripening time; and the production techniques. The cold pressed raw sesame oil that is sold at most health food stores is pale yellow and mild in flavour. This is the variety that I use. It is great tossed through steamed or raw vegetables when you want a little richness. For a quick, refreshing raw salad, just toss raw sesame oil with lemon juice, chili, garlic and Celtic sea salt. YUM!

As with olive oil, sesame oil boasts a high heat tolerance. But I recommend heating it as little as possible to preserve the valuable phytonutrients and fatty acids. I usually at it end at the end to stir-fries to get that satiated oily flavour without having to heat the precious raw oil. Indian sesame oil is more golden in colour and has a stronger flavour. I will occasionally use this variety for use in Ayurvedic and Indian dishes. The Chinese and Korean sesame oils are a much darker, brown colour. They are made with roasted sesame seeds. This yields an oil with a much richer flavour. I really try and stear clear of this oil. But as with all nuts and seeds, they are highly susceptible to rancidity, and are best consumed raw. Having said that, sesame oil can be heated to a medium temperature. I try to heat it as little as possible, preferring to add it in towards the end of a dish.

For Asian dressings and salads, I always use the raw press. There is also an “unroasted” sesame oil which is not cold pressed. This oil is used in a lot of Middle Eastern dishes. Be sure to read the labels carefully. As with all other oils – you really do get what you pay for with sesame oil. There is quite a lot of manual work involved in “oiling” a sesame seed. Sesame seeds are protected by capsules that only burst upon ripening, complicating the processing time.

Sesame oil contains natural antioxidants; and is easily absorbed by the skin, making it a fantastic moisturizer, if you don’t mind smelling like an Asian takeway joint!

Grapeseed Oil

Cold pressed grapeseed oil is high in bioflavanoids, and antioxidants; and is a rich source of Vitamin E. It is one of the best sources of linoleic acid -- one of the essential fatty acids the body cannot produce. Grapeseed oil contains powerful antioxidants to protect against heart disease and free radical damage, and can assist in lowerering cholesterol.

Grapeseed oil has a mild, clean, neutral flavour that is slightly nutty. It has the lowest saturated fat content of any oil and emulsifies really well, making it deal for use in salad dressings and condiements such as mayonnaise and aoli. I also like to use it stir-fry vegetables.

Grapeseed oil is a fantastic substitute for butter in vegan baked goods. But please note that it will change the personality of the dish. it has been my experience that grapeseed oil alters the cooking time, with the tops of cakes browning a lot quicker. The final product tastes a lot milder too. Often, you will need to add more sweetener, and possibly a little more of the other flavourings, in order to balance out the flavour blend. You will also need to lower the temperature of the oven slightly.

Grapseed oil is also fantastic for natural moisturizer for your skin. With its high Vitamin E content, it is a great carrier oil for use in aromatherapy blends. Please be careful when purchasing grapeseed oil. The wine grapes yield a small amount of oil; and so a lot of oil is chemically extracted, with added stabilizers. Look for cold pressed pure grapeseed oil at the health food store. A note to people with allergies to canola, soy, and sunflower oil: you may also be allergic to grapeseed oil. If you have severe food allergies, please consult your allergist before indulging in grapeseed oil.

Macadamia Oil

Macadamia oil is produced by extracting the meat of the raw macadamia nut. I know 

Macadamia oil is largely monounsaturated, and has a similar composition to olive oil, and is widely used as a substitute. Macadamia oil has a light amber colour, with a slight nutty fragrance. It is touted as having a higher smoke point than olive oil, and good for frying. But the incredibly nutritious oils and acids in this gorgeous oil are fragile. As with olive oil and sesame oil, I do not recommend heating it. But rather, stirring through raw, before serving. I always buy cold pressed organic macadamia oil, store it in a dark place, and only use it raw recipes, as an accent, drizzled on cooked soups and vegetables, and is fantastic added to smoothies. 

Cold pressed macadamia oil is also a great natural moisturizer for your skin as it is an incredibly rich source of palmitoleic acid, which is close to the natural oil in our skin. The high monounsaturated fat and antioxidant content helps prevent oxidation; giving it a longer shelf life than a lot of other oils. But always store in dark, tinted bottles in a cool, dark pantry to preserve this precious beauty.

Pumpkin Seed Oil

Pumpkin seed oil has traditionally been used in Eastern European cuisines; and is a large export product of Styria (a geographical region of Austria). It is a thick viscous oil, with a light green or amber colour; and a rich nutty flavour. It is produced by pressing the raw, or roasted pumpkin seeds or pepitas. Both varieties are delicious, and fantastic in salad dressings, drizzled on soups and vegetable dishes, and is fantastic added to smoothies. 

Pumpkin seed oil is rich in zinc; Vitamins A, C and E; and is also rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids; which are fragile, and destroyed when heated. The cooked oil has a bitter taste, which is not very palatable anyway. To get the most bang for your buck with this decadent oil, always use it raw. I got some fantastic recipe ideas on a trip to Eastern Europe many years ago. I had some delectable dressings and sauces made out of pumpkin seed oil and honey; as well as oil and apple cider vinegar.

Top tip from the Eastern Europeans: pumpkin seed oil is absolutely delicious as a nutty accent, drizzled on ice creams, yoghurts, creams, puddings, and desserts! Oh my! Here’s the kicker! The Styrian pumpkin variety has been exported to Australia, and it thrives. So Australia is now producing some phenomenal pumpkin seed oils. I enjoy it when I go home to visit. 

Avocado Oil

Decadent avocado oil is made by pressing the flesh of the avocado fruit, and has a similar composition to olive oil. It is rich in monounsaturated fat, and low in saturated fat. It also contains no cholesterol. Cold pressed avocado oil is just a brilliant oil. The divine flesh yields a huge amount of oil, with a very low acidity and oxidation. It is rich in Vitamin E and chlorophyll; as well as Vitamins A and D; and lecithin and potassium.

Always purchase cold pressed avocado oil stored in dark amber or green bottles. Even though this oil is touted as having a very high smoke point of 255 C/491 F, I only ever use it raw! It makes a fantastic base for salad dressings and as an accent in raw desserts, and is fantastic added to smoothies. 

I also lather cold pressed avocado oil on my skin or place it in my bath. Avocado oil is also a fantastic carrier oil for aromatherapy massage. Avocado oil is known to be a wonderful natural moisturizer for dry and mature skins; and for soothing itchiness associated with psoriasis and eczema. A lot of people in my family suffer from eczema, and we can personally testify to the wonderful healing properties of avocado oil!

Pistachio Oil

Pistachio oil has a very intense, powerful flavour that does not go with everything. As with all nut oils, it tastes very similar to the flesh from which it was extracted. So if you don’t want a pistachio flavour in your dish look elsewhere! Having said that, it is a fantastic accent oil perfect for finishing off that special dessert, salad, or veggie dish. It also works really well in Middle Eastern pastries and cookies.

I always use pistachio oil raw; and will often drizzle a tiny bit on my steamed vegetables, which is divine! Pistachio oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids like oleic acid, and an excellent source of antioxidants such as Vitamin E.

Once again, pistachio oil is also a great natural moisturizer for your skin, and makes a fantastic carrier oil for massage and aromatherapy. I mix it up and will lather any cold pressed oil on my body!