Lots of Paleo recipes use coconut oil for cooking. If you haven’t been around Paleo cooking for long, you might wonder why this is. You might also be a bit confused which oil you should use in a recipe for cooking.
One of the big reasons why we use coconut oil so much for cooking is because it is so healthy. If you thought you knew about healthy eating, you may wonder why something like olive oil isn’t used instead. I bet you thought olive oil was the ultimate healthy oil! Actually, olive oil isn’t so bad at all in some situations. I like quality olive oil on salad sometimes, for example. It adds a lovely flavor to salads and raw vegetables. I vary quite a lot and it is one choice among several (such as nut oil for example) and not something I use every day.
There are two things to consider when choosing which oil to use for Paleo cooking.
First, the smoke point and secondly the composition of the oil itself. You might not know exactly what smoke point is and why it is so important, here are the key points. The smoke point is basically the temperature at which an oil breaks down into potentially harmful compounds. Even ‘healthy’ oils like extra virgin olive oil, can become nasty when overheated. This is because of the various natural compounds present.
So looking at the smoke point is the first thing to check if you are doing any Paleo cooking. Extra virgin olive oil’s smoke point is 160°C, for example. Coconut oil is around 180°C. If you have ever experienced smoke that stings your eyes and food with an unpleasant, bitter taste, you have heated your oil or butter too high.
This doesn’t make one oil good and another bad. It just depends on what you are making. For most medium temperature cooking, coconut is a good choice because it won’t break down and release free radicals and a harmful substance called acrolein. Olive should be ok if you are working at lower temperatures. if you are flash frying or making things really hot, something like avocado oil is a much better choice with its smoke point of over 270°C
However, you need to be careful with a smoke point. It is a useful tool for comparing but it isn’t the whole story. Natural, raw oils often have a lower smoke point than over-refined, mass-produced versions. This is because they are industrially treated to remove things that cause smoking. These things include most of the stuff that makes them good for you in the first place!
So the second thing to look at is the actual composition. Everyone talks about omega 3s and this is another thing you should look at. In fact, it is one reason that people do so well on Paleo, which is a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids. When you look at some of these high smoke point industrial oils, you realize that all these healthy fats have gone! Ok, it might not break down when being heated, but there isn’t any other good reason for eating them!
Here is where coconut oil comes into its own. It resists well in cooking and has a great nutritional profile. I also find that it really adds flavour to lots of foods, from meat to fruit.
The important thing is to have variety in your food and the same thing is true for oil. Whilst I have nothing against olive oil, over recent years they have told us that it is healthy in all situations and there really isn’t anything better. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Whilst coconut oil is perhaps the best all-around choice because it is great for cooking but also as an ingredient in many recipes, don’t be scared to look at hemp, avocado or any of the other nutritionally excellent and tasty alternatives that work so well with Paleo cooking.