Continuing from where Diane left off in last month's article on Olive Oils (link to her article at the bottom of this article), I thought it'd be good to go into some detail this month on the choosing of which fats and oils you use. Then next month I'll follow this with an article on the specifics of how to use them. Although it will be briefly mentioned a couple of times, these articles are not about the nutritional aspects of fats and oils. They are about how to choose and use the best fats and oils for your specific needs.
All fats basically break down into three categories; those being saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. Saturated fats usually come from animal sources and are solid enough to hold at room temperature. A couple of exceptions to this are tropical oils such as coconut oil and palm oil, which are also semisolid at room temperature and are highly saturated. Aside from these oils, saturated fats include such items as butter, lard, margarine, and vegetable shortening. Nutritionally speaking, these fats and oils are considered the "bad guys" of the bunch, because they're attributed to some forms of cancer and are known to increase cholesterol levels, which leads to heart disease. Monounsaturated fats include such fats as olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil, and help reduce the levels of LDL (the bad) cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fats include safflower oil, soybean oil, corn oil, and sesame oil (listed from most, to the least amount of polyunsaturates). These fats, just like the monounsaturated ones, are also considered relatively healthy.
When purchasing butter, it's generally best for everyone to buy unsalted, grade "A" or "AA" butter. In my opinion, salted butter is never recommended, since nobody knows just how much salt is in it (although it does have a maximum of 2% salt), and in most desserts made, salt really should not be one of the many flavors you taste. The reason companies add salt to butter is to slightly extend the butter's shelf life, in which it might mask a slightly "old" flavor and aroma. With as much butter as we use in the kitchens we work in, I doubt anybody's going to have problems with butter going bad. The general rule is to keep butter refrigerated and try to use it within 2 weeks of its purchase. Another note along the lines of salted butter is that most everybody here is probably confident adding salt to the food themselves, making the flavoring aspects of salted butter just about useless. The one and only way to purchase butter that is salt free is with the "Unsalted" designation on the label. The designation of "Sweet Butter" on the label only means the butter was made from sweet cream (in contrast to sour cream), and does not mean the butter is salt-free. Grades "A" and "AA" on butter should be chosen over the grade "B" butter, for the grade "B" butter often has an acidic taste, as it is always made from sour cream.
In addition to butter, numerous other types of oils and shortenings are required in every professional kitchen. For your reference, below we've included a link to a couple of charts on our website. One chart matches numerous oils with their descriptions and uses; the other tells of certain fats' and oils' smoking points. Basically, you're going to want the fresher and more flavorful oils in such things as marinades, salad dressings, and other cold dishes. Fine olive oils, nut oils, and other similar oils are generally used for that purpose because of their special flavors. Oils you use for cooking, on the other hand, should have a more neutral flavor, and should have a higher smoking point. You'd want a neutral flavor because all the flavor of the oil you use in cooking will be lost in most of these cooking processes. The exceptions to this would be when doing a last minute saute on vegetables to be immediately served to the customer and when cooking mild-flavored fish, in which you might want to consider cooking with a decent-flavored olive oil. The higher smoking point is desired for cooking so the oil doesn't smoke while you're cooking, making your food come out with a nasty burnt flavor.
Just like mentioned above with butter, if not properly stored, ANY oil will become rancid, take on an unpleasant odor, and/or make it smoke when heated. Oils are best kept in glass or metal containers (not aluminum), out of contact with heat, light, air, and salts. Flavorful oils are more prone to loss of their flavors if they've been carelessly handled. Although I personally prefer to keep these oils rotated properly so they don't spend too much time on the shelf, some chefs prefer to keep them refrigerated when not in use. Most oils can be stored up to two months on the shelf, but that amount of time is shorter for the more flavorful oils, such as dark sesame oil, hazelnut oil, and extra virgin olive oils.
Other cooking fats and oils that have benefits to you include bacon and aerosol fats. Bacon, salt pork, and the like may be extremely unhealthy, but there's no substitute for their special flavor in some dishes. On the other hand, aerosol fats can apply an extremely thin and even coating of fat to the pan, benefiting those who are watching their fat and cholesterol intakes.
Basically, it all comes down to one very well known saying, that being "Fat = Flavor", but to achieve the proper flavors, you must know what fats to use and how to use them. Next month, we will go into more detail in using these specific fats and oils, but for now, you can go to the charts on our website (that are linked to below) to view some of the popular uses for each different kind of oil. God bless and happy cooking!!!