My food guru, Brother Pete, has shown me the way once again. On our most recent trip to the home of The Great One, Peter was shocked that I had not yet discovered the wonders of grapeseed oil. Of course, Pete watches cooking shows like other men watch sports. Not wishing to add any more rancid oil into that overflowing toxic wasteland I call a pantry, I thought that I should do a bit of research on the lovely green elixir before investing in my own bottle.
Grapeseed has been popular for years in countries where the grape is grown; predominately Italy and France. It is a good way to recycle pomace, the left-overs from wine production. Not only is the oil used in cooking, but because of its high vitamin E and linoleic acid content it is used in the cosmetic industry for hair and skin products. It is also used as massage oil. Well, at least if I couldn’t use up the bottle in the kitchen, I knew that I could retire it to the bathroom!
The oil has a very light, somewhat nutty or grape-like flavour. Because of its rather neutral flavour, it makes a wonderful dressing for delicately flavoured fresh foods. This is one reason that it is preferred by many of those TV chefs. It also does not gel in the fridge like olive oil does, so it can be use for marinades and make-ahead salad dressings.
But the best characteristic of grapeseed oil, which makes it almost indispensable in the kitchen, especially if you are fond of the wok, is its extremely high smoke point, 480F. I was never too concerned when my oil smoked and splattered, other than to curse the mess. I also didn’t appreciate the nasty smell and bad flavours it gave to my dishes. I now realize that by using the wrong oils for high-temperature cooking, you are creating trans- fatty acids and free-radicals which are both damaging to the body tissues. Grapeseed oil is ideal for high temperature cooking (over 350F) such as stir frying, while olive oil with its smoke point of 250F should never be used for anything other than light sautéing. Heating oil will also destroy any benefit of the important Essential Fatty Acids content.
Because I am a bit lipo-phobic, I like to know about the kinds of fats in any oil I use. Grapeseed has a very low level of saturated fat, and one of the highest levels of the polyunsaturated fat omega -6, an EFA essential for maintenance of good cell membrane health, regulation of inflammation and blood pressure as well as for proper heart and kidney function. Grapeseed does not contain the other important EFA, omega-3, which is found in fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, wild game, canola oil, flaxseed oil, walnuts and certain green leafy vegetables. Our western diet is considered by most health experts to be too high in omega-6, while being deficient in omega-3. We easily get more than enough “6" from cereals, eggs, poultry, most vegetable oils, whole grains, margarine and baked goods, while we seem to find getting enough “3" difficult. Because we require a proper balance between the EFAs, we should be looking for ways to add omega-3 into our diet. With this said, it would seem that the reason for using grapeseed oil rests on its importance in safe high-temperature cooking. I have switched to grapeseed oil for frying, and have noticed an improvement in flavour over olive oil and even canola oil.
The information on good and bad fats is extremely confusing, and depending upon your source, it can also be biased and misleading. After scads of reading, I think that grapeseed oil is definitely one of the better oils. But don’t quote me on that! Wouldn’t it be great if this body of ours came with a comprehensive owner’s manual?
The best overall oil, containing the right ratio of the four
types of fats: saturated, mono-unsaturated, polyunsaturated,
and super-unsaturated omega-3 is canola oil. It also has a
very high smoke point, and best yet, is a product of Canada
and reasonably priced.