Your Reading List

Is it time for an oil change in your recipes?

Prairie Fare: Personalized Homemade Salad Dressing and Crunchy Munchy Cookies

canola oil bottles

Whew!” I thought to myself when I opened the can of solid shortening. It looked OK, but the aroma almost took my breath away.

I have one recipe where I use this particular type of fat, and I hadn’t made it in at least six months, based on the date I had listed on the container. Along with the passage of time, the warm conditions in our cupboard promoted rancidity.

Food science principles were haunting me in my kitchen. During the process of rancidity, “peroxides” are produced when fat is exposed to oxygen in the presence of warm conditions and/or light. In the short term, rancid fat will not make you sick, but it will affect the flavour and aroma of the food.

My family would have turned up their noses or covered their noses if I served them a smelly dessert on a holiday. I tossed the canister of shortening in the trash.

I altered my recipe and used butter, which tasted much better, but it turned my frosting yellow. Next time I will purchase a very small can of solid shortening and keep it in the fridge or freezer. Cold temperatures delay rancidity.

Using oils in cooking and baking is a healthier choice. However, liquid fats are even more susceptible to becoming rancid than solids. Be sure to buy what you will use within a few months. In many recipes, you can substitute three-quarters cup of oil for one cup of solid fat but you may need to experiment a little.

We have many oil choices in the grocery store, and some of them are more healthful than others. Oils often are described as being high in “monounsaturated” fat or “polyunsaturated” fat. These terms refer to the chemical structure of the fatty acids that make up fat.

You may remember learning about fat and oils in a chemistry class. If not, here’s a quick lesson about some fat terminology.

Fats are chains of carbon atoms. If a fat has many double bonds within its chemical structure, the fat is considered polyunsaturated. If the fatty acid has one double bond, the fatty acid is monounsaturated. Monounsaturated fats are considered heart healthy.

Oleic acid is a type of monounsaturated fatty acid that has been shown to reduce serum cholesterol levels and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol without affecting “good” (HDL) cholesterol.

For example, canola oil is low in saturated fat and a good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, including heart-healthy (and quite famous) omega-3 fats. Canola oil is made up of 61 per cent oleic acid, 21 per cent linoleic acid (a polyunsaturated fat), 11 per cent alpha-linolenic acid (a polyunsaturated fat and also an omega-3 fat) and seven per cent saturated fat.

Canola oil has a light flavour, which makes it versatile in cooking. Canola oil works well for sautéing and stir-frying because it has a high smoke point of 460°.

The smoke point is the temperature where oil begins to break down and release smoky fumes. Any type of oil can catch on fire if you overheat it, so always stay vigilant in the kitchen when you are frying food.

Olive oil is made by pressing olives, and the colour varies from greenish to golden. Olive oil also is high in monounsaturated fats. Olive oil is sold as “virgin” or “extra virgin.” Extra-virgin olive oil has less acid, a fruitier flavour and a stronger aroma than virgin olive oil.

Olive oil, on average, is 75 per cent monounsaturated fat, 11 per cent polyunsaturated fat and 15 per cent saturated fat.

Olive oil imparts a characteristic flavour to your foods. Using olive oil in frying may cause your food to brown quickly because it will begin to break down and smoke at 374°.

Vegetable oil is listed in many recipes. Is it made of vegetables? No, there’s no broccoli or carrots in it. Vegetable oil is a plant-based oil that may include canola, corn, olive, safflower, soybean, sesame, sunflower or any combination of these oils.

Here’s one note of caution regarding oils. If you choose to make your own “flavoured oils,” be aware that homemade flavoured oils, such as mixing cloves of garlic in oil, have been linked to botulism, which is a potentially deadly form of foodborne illness.

If you decide to make a flavoured oil, store it in the refrigerator and use it right away. Do not store homemade flavoured oils on your countertop. Commercially produced flavoured oils have an added acid or a preservative, which keeps them safe, so enjoy those in moderation.

If you are feeling a little creative, try making some homemade salad dressing with your favourite oil and acid. It’s perfect with some delicious, tender mixed greens.

Personalized Homemade Salad Dressing

  • 1 c. oil (canola, sunflower, olive oil, etc.)
  • 1/3 c. acid (red wine vinegar, balsamicvinegar, etc.)
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • Optional ingredients (sugar, mustard, chopped peaches, minced onions, chopped red, green or orange peppers)

Whisk together all ingredients or place in a covered glass jar and shake. Serve over mixed greens and chopped vegetables. Store unused salad dressing in the refrigerator.

Crunchy Munchy Cookies

These chewy cookies were a runner-up in the Ontario Home Ec. Association Canola Cookie Contest 2012, submitted by home economist and cookbook author Emily Richards. Made with cereal and dried fruit, they are a play on breakfast. The cereal adds a unique texture, extra crunch and added fibre.

  • 1 c. packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 c. canola oil
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c. dried cranberries or raisins
  • 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 c. bran flake or frosted flake cereal
  • 2 tbsp. ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom or cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, canola oil and vanilla until well combined. Stir in cranberries or raisins. In another bowl, mix together flours, cereal, flaxseed, baking soda and cardamom or cinnamon. Add all of the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix until well combined. Drop by tablespoons about two inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 12 minutes or until almost set. Let cool on pan on racks for about five minutes. Transfer to rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining batter.
Makes 30 cookies.

About the author


Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

Julie Garden-Robinson's recent articles



Stories from our other publications