It’s on everyone’s lips: the price of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is skyrocketing. And the worst thing is that the forecasts are that it will continue to increase. Never before has the term “liquid gold” been more precise. Do we have to resign ourselves to paying exorbitant prices if we want to consume the best quality product? Unfortunately yes. But that does not mean that we cannot use other oils available on the market for different culinary applications.
The four categories of olive oils
EVOO is the jewel in the crown. But within the oils from the olive grove, there are other possibilities that we can consider. In the market we can find four categories of oils made from olives: EVOO, virgin olive (VOO), olive (common) and olive pomace. Each of them has its own characteristics and can be used for different uses.
For example, if we want to take better advantage of the characteristics of EVOO, it is advisable to use it raw, such as in salads, dressings and toasts. On the other hand, pomace oil is a fantastic option for frying, as our colleagues at the Fat Institute-CSIC demonstrated, and much cheaper than its other three brothers.
But in addition to olive oils, there are other alternatives that we can consider in our kitchen. Among them are sunflower, high-oleic sunflower, rapeseed, corn, flax, soy, palm, avocado, walnut, coconut, hazelnut, etc. oils. Some are better known and easier to get. Although it is also true that some are healthier than others.
What to look for to know if an oil is healthy
The chemical composition of the oils is the key. Its content of saturated, mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, as well as the presence of minor components with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering activity, tell us which oil is most beneficial for health. However, food legislation does not require the declaration of the presence of these compounds (except saturated fatty acids), making it very difficult for the consumer to differentiate based on nutritional quality.
For this reason, at the Fat Institute we have developed a scoring system in order to classify edible oils and fats according to their nutritional value. To do this, we took into account the recommendations of international organizations such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for the intake of some of the components that contribute to the nutritional properties of oils, such as fatty acids, tocopherols (vitamin E), sterols and polyphenols.
From this qualification, we develop a ranking classification of oils and fats. It was no surprise to find that VOO scored first with 100 points, while coconut oil came in last place. The rest of the oils and fats were among them. We think that using this scoring system makes it easier for consumers to know which oils are healthier and make decisions about purchasing them. They just have to go to the table that we show them and see the score of the oil they want to buy.
What oils are the healthiest beyond VOO
If we look at the table, the next best rated oils after VOO are linseed oil and common olive and olive pomace oils, with 86 points. The one obtained from flax is in such a high position because, although it is not rich in oleic acid (the fatty acid characteristic of olive oil), it is rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the omega-3 of plant origin. .
Further down, we find high-oleic sunflower, sesame, avocado and chia oils, all of which are rich in oleic acid or ALA. The rest of the options are still healthy but not as healthy as those mentioned above. The only ones we would not recommend would be those with scores lower than 50, as they are animal and vegetable fats with a high content of saturated fatty acids and very few minor components that contribute to their nutritional value.
By the way, if you were wondering, from a health point of view, EVOO and VOO are equivalent. This is because the surname “extra” refers only to its sensory characteristics, such as aroma and flavor, and acidity. None of these attributes contribute to its nutritional quality.
The fatty preparations
Probably due to the high price of EVOO, fatty preparations, which were traditionally used in hospitality, are appearing in supermarkets. These are mixtures of oils in different proportions that achieve good nutritional quality, have a very reasonable temperature resistance and are quite efficient.
They usually contain the additive E-900 (dimethylpolysiloxane), which acts as an antifoam. This ingredient, very useful for frying, has recently been investigated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), without finding any health problems at the authorized concentrations.
In conclusion, EVOO is very expensive for some families and it could be a waste to use it for depending on what culinary applications in which its virtues are not taken advantage of. Although there are other alternatives, in many cases it is difficult for consumers to make decisions because they do not have enough information. That’s where our nutritional value scoring of dietary oils and fats can be of great help in finding a compromise between quality, taste and price.