A question of cooking oil…

Gone are the days when I could have told you to get some high-quality lard and start cooking! This fat has become one of the “big bad boys” of healthful cooking and eating, but it’s also one of the most commonly used fats in rural China, where many farmers raise their own pigs and render their own lard. Camellia oil is also falling out of favor and is probably not even available here. In China, inexpensive soybean oil is making huge inroads.

In American, peanut oil is probably the best choice for cooking Chinese food, both for health reasons (the types of fats it contains) and because it has a very high smoke point (important for stirfrying!). Contrary to conventional wisdom, I don’t find it imparts any flavor to a dish. I did find a peanut/sesame oil mix that was interesting and had a very high smoke point, but did give some of its own flavor to the food. If you have peanut allergies, this certainly out, and you might want to consider refined soybean oil. [ETA: High heat safflower oil is an excellent, neutral-flavored choice.]

There are enormous environmental issues surrounding the monoculture of soybeans, corn, and other crops here in the States and, more and more frequently, abroad. Canola oil has also acquired a bad name for various reasons – if you Google the words canola oil, you’ll see it’s still being hotly debated. I haven’t seen much about the environmental impact of producing peanut oil – any comments here?

There is a bonanza of information available on the question of which cooking oil is the best choice for health and environmental reasons: On the topic of fats and oils, I have found EatingWell to be very informative (their nutritional information is backed up the by Nutrition Department at the University of Vermont). Care2 takes on the subject from the slightly different angle of green living. dLife approaches the topic from the perspective of the diabetic and is vetted by an impressive advisory board of MDs, RDs, and more. WebMD is also useful, although I do have an aversion to adhering exclusively to what medical doctors preach – somehow the conventional medical establishment reminds me a bit too much of the agribusiness giants! Certainly some of the information out there is more suspect than other – if you research on the internet, try to stick to sites that are not affiliated with a particular producer of the product you’re looking at, and look carefully at the “About” page, which will often disclose who makes up the advisory board, etc.

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