Fat makes you fat? Not anymore, say most experts. In fact, oils like olive and canola are now thought to boost heart health because they are high in unsaturated fats. No wonder they’re becoming the lipids of choice in homes and restaurants. Here’s how non-commercial operators are successfully incorporating more healthy oils into their recipes.
Thanks to studies touting the health benefits of Mediterranean diets, olive oil has become a true culinary darling. But since it tends to be pricey, blending olive oil with other healthy oils helps non-commercial operators achieve the right balance of flavor without going over budget. Noodle Works, the Italian pasta station at Appalachian State University, in Boone, N.C., combines olive oil with canola for dishes like pasta with vegetables, garlic and marinara sauce. “We chose a blend because of the nutritional value and authentic Italian taste that the olive oil would add to the completed product,” says Food Service Director Art Kessler.
Oil blends can also be an ideal choice for healthier frying. At The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, N.J., Executive Chef Manager John Graziano uses a combo of olive and soybean oils to fry french fries, falafel, shrimp, chicken, dumplings, oysters and more. “We know that it isn’t necessarily the most healthy method of cooking, so we try to limit the amount of frying that we do. But the olive-soy blend is a healthier choice that still keeps the flavor as neutral as possible,” he says.
Olive oil isn’t just a prime choice for heart health, though. Many non-commercial operators also value the oil for its unique flavor. “I’ve swapped out vegetable oil for extra-virgin olive oil in our pizza sauce and in the whole-grain pizza dough,” says Tracie Wilson, executive chef at Bend-LaPine School District, in Bend, Ore. The results have been positive: “I’ve found the olive oil works better with the high-gluten dough, and the students love the full flavor in the pizza sauce,” she says.
It’s a similar story at Valley Hospital. “When we sauté, we tend to use oils that will impart flavor into a dish,” says Graziano, who uses olive oil to sauté chicken, beef and even thicker cuts of fish such as barramundi.
Vegetables, too, get a boost from olive and canola oils. “Both are noted by the Harvard School of Public Health as being healthy,” says David Davidson, Harvard University’s managing director of dining services. Students participating in Harvard’s residential dining program are offered two cooked vegetables at every meal, one of which is usually sautéed in olive oil. “I never imagined a day when students would clamor for spinach, but our sautéed spinach with garlic, as well as our sautéed kale and sautéed chard are all huge hits,” he says.
Lesser known oils also occasionally make an appearance when their flavor complements a dish. Graziano likes avocado oil for its high smoke point, as well as its buttery flavor and rich mouthfeel. In addition to using avocado oil on the stovetop, he sometimes employs it as a finishing oil, like in his salad with Manchego, heirloom tomato, roasted asparagus and avocado over microgreens. “It blends well with the avocado, and the bright green color really makes it pop out,” he says.