Food Opinion

Getting to know your oils

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One example of how oils can bring out the flavour (coconut chilli mussels, coriander oil, coriander, chilli and finger lime — image supplied)

With so many different types of cooking oils on the market, it's hard to know the difference or which ones to use for particular dishes. Megan Jane de Paulo explains oil varieties and offers a recipe for a delicious herb oil.

HISTORIANS HAVE generally held the belief that olive oil was popular and produced from 4000 BC, although at a dig ten years ago in Israel, it seems pottery shards showing evidence of olive oil could date its usage at around 8000 BC. Olive tree cultivation and olive oil production amped up in the Mediterranean in Ancient Greece and Rome, and the Homeresque description of it as “liquid gold” held true in its price and usage.

In the Ancient East, soybean oil was produced in Japan and China, and sesame, safflower and grapeseed oils, and oils from wild nuts were also consumed.

Today we have access to a wide range of oils, but generally in making a choice, you need to consider factors such as smoke point, taste and cost.

Smoke point is the temperature at which the heated oil starts to smoke. This becomes important when you want to use a high-temperature cooking method such as frying and not set off all of your smoke alarms.

You can go deep into the well of oil knowledge and types but a simple set of guidelines are:

  • EVOO means extra virgin olive oil — save this as a finishing oil for drizzling or for making vinaigrettes;
  • use peanut oil for Asian cuisine dishes, olive oil for Mediterranean, European and Middle Eastern dishes;
  • sesame oil is delicious but potent — use as a finishing or dipping oil;
  • for tempura, use canola or peanut oil;
  • for deep frying use canola or vegetable oil which are available in bulk and often cheaper options;
  • you can substitute avocado oil for olive oil, it has a milder buttery flavour but relatively the same properties;
  • walnut, hemp and coconut oils all have unique flavour profiles to experiment with in cooking savoury dishes, baking and creating salad dressings; and
  • rice bran oil is a versatile, neutral-tasting oil with a high smoke point, increasing in popularity and availability — use as a substitute for peanut oil.

Storing oil

Many oils are sold in dark glass bottles for good reason — once the seal on a bottle is broken the oil will degrade within three months to a year if not used up, depending on the type of oil. Even faster if you store your oil near your stove where it’s exposed to heat and light.

The best practice is to get and label 250-500ml pourable glass bottles and pour oils in them to be used up within one to two weeks. Keep the original larger-sized bottles or cans in a cool, dark place for longer storage.

Protection from light and heat is why many producers use dark green bottles for their oil.

How to tell if oil is off

The smell will probably remove your nose hairs first and the colour and texture will be different. Discard immediately.


Disposing of oil at home: Flushing oil down the dunny or pouring it down the sink are the best ways to create fatbergs within your city’s sewage system. While the idea might amuse you, the largest fatberg found so far was near Whitechapel in London which weighed about 130 tonnes and was 250 metres long.

Small amounts of used oil can be put into your garden compost (but don’t chuck it into your green garden bin), sealed into a non-recyclable container and thrown away in your regular rubbish bin, or saved up and taken to an oil recycling centre.

Recipe: Herb oil

A herb oil is a good way to add a flavour boost to a dish without adding an extra texture. Also fun to experiment with when plating. Works in soups, sauces and stews very well.

Soft green leafy herbs work best with this method — parsley, dill, coriander, shiso. Parsley stems are more bitter than the leaf, so remove the leaves first. With dill, the stems may be too thick to process well. Coriander is fine to use the thin stems. With shiso, snip the stem off the leaf. Wilted herbs are fine to use but the flavour might not be as strong as freshly harvested.


Hands-on preparation time is short, but time for the oil to filter through will take a while.


  • 50-60 grams soft leaf herb
  • 100 ml olive oil OR neutral oil such as grapeseed, peanut, sunflower
  • salt
  • water
  • ice cubes


  • saucepan
  • sieve
  • blender
  • coffee filter
  • squeeze bottle
  • bowls
  • paper towels


Place a saucepan with water and a pinch of salt on medium heat, bring to a boil then simmer.

Prepare an ice bath by placing water and ice cubes in a bowl.

Put herbs in a sieve, which should be big enough to hold the herbs, but small enough to place in the pot with water so the herbs are submerged.

(You can put the herbs directly into the pan, then drain, then place in ice bath, but it’s so much quicker and easier to do it with a sieve.)

Dip the sieve with herbs into the simmering water to blanch for 15 seconds. Remove, shake and submerge into the ice bath. Leave to cool for five minutes.

Drain well. Spread herb out on paper towels, place more on top and press to remove as much moisture as possible.

Add herbs and oil to blender. Blend to a purée.

Put a coffee filter either in a filter cup or rig it over the rim of a glass and put the purée inside. Leave to drain. You can poke around at the purée a little during this time, but be careful of ripping the filter or pushing herb residue through.

When drained, pour into a squeeze bottle and keep in fridge. Should keep for a few days.

Megan Jane de Paulo is a Melbourne-based, inner-city latte sipper and social media provocateur. You can follow Megan on Twitter @gomichild.

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