Harold McGee, who I believe hates food, also would dethrone olive oilPosted: November 17, 2010
As in I would also. Or have, in my own kitchen. I am referring to this new article in the New York Times, in which McGee shows that for the most part, different cooking oils subjected to heat largely taste the same. No point cooking with expensive olive oils, I agree. He says something vague about possible health benefits of polyphenols in olive oil, and something vague about people valuing “provenance,” and something telling about how the label ‘extra virgin’ “doesn’t signify much at all.” This may be true in terms of (raw) flavor, but it does signify that neither heat nor chemicals were used in its extractionâ€”perhaps a factor he lumps under provenance. McGee himself uses Canola as his standard cooking fat, a word better rendered as CANOLA because it is in fact an acronym: CANadian Oil, Low Acid. Derived from inedible rapeseed oil, which makes a fine machine grease, highly invested Canadian farmers found demand plummeting after World War Two and needed a new marketâ€”so they bred the egregiously toxic bits out, renamed it something vague and more palatable, and sold it as cheap cooking fat. Incidentally, according to wikipedia, 80% of the crop is now genetically engineered. So much for provenance.
So, if we are in sympathy, you and I, CANOLA is out, and good olive relegated to raw use. And even cheap olive oilâ€”coming, here on the east coast, from a minimum of three thousand miles awayâ€”if you value provenancial factors like organicity and cold-pressedness, is not a terribly cheap thing. So, what are the temperate climate cooking oils? The non industrial ones? Off the top of my head, I’m thinking butter, animal fat, walnut and sunflower. Butterworks Farm in Vermont puts out a fine unrefined sunflower, is why I mention the last; probably there are other viable seed oils as well. Generally speaking, though, walnut and sunflower are not currently available, not locally nor cheaply. Butter is fairly expensive, for those of us without cows, and too rich for many usesâ€”so I use it only where it shines. This leaves animal fat. Dirt cheap, versatile, deeply traditional, comes in many flavorsâ€”even from different parts of the same animalâ€”it’s shameful how much just about everyone is throwing away.
Here I am again hammering away on one of my favorite topics. I wrote more practically on the subject last year, here. I’ll write more in the future, I’m sure.