Changing the way you eat can be overwhelming and frustrating. Unlike organizing your closet, you can’t just shut the door, walk away, and take a break. You have to keep eating, even when you’re not sure what to eat. Taking it one step at a time is easier and more likely to produce results for the long haul. Today we’re talking about fats, what kind to use, and how to use them in both baking and cooking.
I use butter, olive oil, and coconut oil on a regular basis. We’ve raised our own hogs in the past, and so I also occasionally use lard, mostly for pie crusts. I’ve rendered my own before, and also have had the butcher prepare it for us. We save bacon grease, but I usually add a spoonful to a dish to add flavor, rather than cook the whole dish in it. (Although stovetop popcorn popped in bacon grease is the best thing ever).
Butter is made by churning cream, usually from cow’s milk (it can also be made from milk of other animals, such as sheep or goats). It can be used to saute or pan fry meat or vegetables, but should only be used with moderate heat, not high heat. Butter is a good source of fat soluble vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids.
Why is there salted and unsalted butter? Salt is a preservative, so it’s added to butter to make it last longer. Therefore, when you buy salted butter at the grocery store, it’s likely older than it’s unsalted counterpart. For that reason, I always buy unsalted butter.
Many people prefer the taste of salted butter on bread. Two in our family are gluten intolerant, so we rarely keep bread in the house, so this really isn’t an issue for us. You can sprinkle a bit of salt on your buttered toast, or you can buy both kinds of butter, if you’re hardcore about your butter.
If you’re even somewhat serious about baking, it’s important to use unsalted butter in your recipe. The amount of salt that goes into salted butter isn’t regulated, so different brands of butter may use very different amounts of salt in their salted butter. By using unsalted butter, you have complete control over the exact amount of salt in the recipe.
How should you store butter? For long term storage, butter needs to be refrigerated. However, butter can also be stored at room temperature for shorter periods of time. A butter dish, or butter bell, is a covered dish that keeps out light, air and foreign particles, which makes spoilage more likely. Butter shouldn’t spoil if kept at 70 degrees F or lower, for 2-3 days.
I believe the jadite piece third from the left is a butter bell. Typically, butter that would be kept in a butter dish or bell would be salted butter. Salted butter is what most people prefer on bread, and one of the main goals of room temperature butter is so that it’s soft enough to spread easily. Remember, salt is a preservative, so it inhibits spoilage as well.
Olive oil is obtained by pressing olives, which are technically fruit, and grow on trees. Olive oil has been produced for thousands of years.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is the highest grade of olive oil. It’s rich in antioxidants, and has an acidity level of less than 1%. Cold-pressed EVOO refers to the method used to extract the oils from the olives. When foods are heated, nutrients break down. No heat is used in the process of cold pressing EVOO, so more nutrients and antioxidants remain in the oil.
Because EVOO has the highest level of nutrients, flavor, and antioxidants than other forms of olive oil, it’s typically used in salad dressings, dips, or cold dishes. One of my absolute favorite things in the world to eat is bread dipped in a mixture of EVOO and balsamic vinegar. However, I can easily eat several loaves of fresh baked bread this way, so I’m not sure if the health benefits of EVOO quite counterbalances so much bread…
Regular Olive Oil is made from a lower grade of olives, and is basically colorless and tasteless. Usually a chemical or heat process (or both) is used in preparing this form of olive oil. Olive oil is generally considered a good all purpose cooking oil, and can be used to grill, saute or fry.
You can also use olive oil to bake with. Before we realized we had boys with gluten issues, I baked bread pretty regularly, and often used olive oil in bread and pita recipes. I typically don’t use olive oil in cakes or cookies, but that’s just my family’s taste preference.
Olive oil should be stored in a cool, dark place, and has a shelf life of about 24 months. Olive oil has a high smoke point, so it’s a good option to use when cooking at higher temperatures.
Coconut Oil is the relative newcomer to our tables. While the various parts of the coconut have been used for thousands of years in tropical climates, it has gained much worldwide popularity and accessibility in the last 15 years. Coconut oil is the oil extracted from the meat, or kernel, of the coconut, and has many uses.
I use organic, unrefined, cold-pressed virgin coconut oil. Cold pressed means the same thing it does for olive oil. The method used for extracting the oil uses no (or very low) heat, and thereby preserves more nutrients in the finished oil. Extra virgin or virgin refers to the oil being made from fresh, mature coconuts.
Refined coconut oil is also sometimes called ‘expeller pressed’. This type of coconut oil doesn’t smell or taste like coconuts, and loses some of the nutritional benefits in the refining process.
Coconut oil contains a very high amount of fatty acids, most of which are easy for our bodies to burn off, rather than store. It also contains a small amount of vitamin E, and has a high smoke point, so it can be used to cook food at higher temperatures. Coconut oil can also be used in baking.
There are a lot of incredible claims of health and beauty benefits to using coconut oil. It is supposed to have anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, and can be used as a moisturizer on your skin and hair. It is also supposed to help decrease sugar cravings, aid in weight loss, and boost immunity and the metabolism. Time will tell whether it really is an incredible super food, but I do find it beneficial to use in moderation on a regular basis.
It’s hard to separate nutrition fact from fiction. I feel that using a variety of nature-derived fats is the best strategy for keeping my family healthy. It’s important to do your own research, and realize that what works for one family may not work for another. Hopefully this information will help you make the best choices for your own family, and make some delicious food while you’re at it.