Oil Underdogs: Switch Up Your Staples

Brooke Newberry
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Give the olives and canolas a break and revise your shopping list.  Take a stroll down the oil aisle at the grocery store – see what fancies you.  Passionate about hazelnuts?  Do you crush them up in pasta dishes or process them for romesco sauces?  Buy and try its oil – work in as a pasta dish base or garnish a warm, charred steak.  The best thing to do is to buy a small bottle of each oil of curiosity and conduct a taste test.  If you don’t care for the flavor on its own, you probably wont love it incorporated in a dish. 


Nut Oils:

Walnut Oil

The perfect oil accessory for dishes that need a touch of warm, roasted flavor.  Use this full-bodied oil as a finisher for salads, vegetables, and soups like gazpacho.  Add it to vinaigrettes, to soft cheese spreads, and try substituting a portion of the listed oil in a banana bread recipe.  Always keep walnut oil in the refrigerator as it can go rancid quickly.

Hazelnut Oil

Fairly expensive, hazelnut oil adds a toasted, delicate, and buttery flavor to dishes.  This oil is delicious in salad dressings.  Its buttery, slightly toasted flavors also lend itself to baked goods and will also luxe up grilled meats. Try it as a finisher for thick soups, and drizzle over sweeter winter vegetables like roasted butternut squash.   

Pistachio Oil

Compared to other nut oils, pistachio oil’s flavor is particularly strong.  Gorgeously bright green and faintly sweet, use this oil in homemade pesto, toss with bitter greens for a pungent and hearty side dish, drizzle on chicken or salmon, and combine with acidic or sweet counterparts in dressings to balance out its robustness.  And pour a little over your vanilla ice cream.


Seed Oils:

Sesame Oil

You’ve seen it, you’ve used it.  Sesame oil is sweet, nutty, super aromatic, and is less powerful than the darker, “toasted” variety.  The regular/light and toasted/dark sesame oils are two very different intensities.  Use the lighter in dipping sauces, salad dressings, and stir-frys.   Use the more assertive toasted oil with hearty noodles and meat dishes.

Pumpkin Seed Oil

Pumpkin seed oil has a smoky, earthy flavor, and is best-suited as a finishing oil for protein dishes and veggies. Definitely try this one in a homemade salad dressing – it imparts a unique flavor that people aren’t quick to identify.  Dip crusty bread in a pool of this studded with a quick sprinkle of sea salt.

Grape Seed Oil

Light and neutral, grapeseed is a great olive or vegetable oil alternative for everyday use.  Use this oil to let ingredients in pasta sauces, soups, and salad dressings shine.  Grape seed has a high smoking point, thin viscosity, and such a neutral color and odor that makes it ideal for frying – it leaves no remnant flavors behind.


Fruit Oils:

Avocado Oil

Full-bodied and buttery with a delicate avocado taste (some bottles are stronger than others), with a bright emerald green color.  Suggested for dressings, sautés, pasts, and light meat dishes.  Add to salsas and drizzle over toasted bread slices.  This oil is a stunning finishing product for soups and veggies.  Avo oil is more expensive than olive oil, so it’s best used in moderation or as a finisher versus by the cup-full.

Coconut Oil

Sweetly fragrant, amazingly full-bodied and rich, and absolutely delicious with distinct coconut flavors and aromas.  Bake with this oil and use as a substitute for butter. Add a spoonful to oatmeal and smoothies.  Sauté shrimp with it, roast sweet potatoes with it, pop popcorn in it.  Coconut oil tends to solidify at room temperature, so it’s great for spreading on toast in the mornings.

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