My mother hates canola oil, something about the taste. Her oil intuition is good. She may be tasting leftovers from the chemical refining process it undergoes.

Many oils contain essential fatty acids, omega 3’s and 6’s, that are good for your health. Essential fatty acids help lower inflammation, cholesterol, and blood pressure.

What are some of the healthiest oils to use for cooking? You want an oil that doesn’t break down over high heat. That breakdown results in the release of harmful compounds.

Good oils

Olive oil is a top contender for the healthiest. It’s suited for sauteing, baking, and making dressings. It contains lots of Vitamin E, oleic acid, an anti-inflammatory fatty acid, and other wholesome compounds.

Olive oil is my favorite cooking oil, although I’m not fond of the taste for baking and dressings. A healthy choice for cooking and a taste more suited for salad dressings is sesame oil. Sesame oil contains compounds good for your heart, brain, and a small study indicated it may help type 2 diabetics control blood sugar levels.

Do you prefer an all-purpose oil that doesn’t add flavor to dishes or baked goods? Safflower oil stands up to high temperatures. It contains vitamin E and other heart-healthy fats.

Unhealthy oils

Lots of popular vegetable oils are not so great for you. Corn oil tops the list since it’s inexpensive and doesn’t break down under high heat. However, it’s primarily omega-6 fatty acids, and that’s too much of a good thing.

Soybean oil, like canola oil, goes through a chemical-based refining process. The process may leave tiny residual amounts of dangerous chemicals in the oil. Yuck.

Fun with flavored oils

In July, we volunteered at a wine tasting event in Kirkland. At the event, we discovered the joys of flavored oils and vinegar at the Oil and Vinegar booth. I’d heard friends talk about flavored oils but never tried them.

After tasting a few at the booth, we settled on jalapeno-flavored grapeseed oil, garlic-flavored grapeseed oil, and balsamic fig vinegar. Grapeseed oil is another healthy oil. It doesn’t add unwanted flavor to baked goods like an olive oil can.

The garlic-flavored oil added an astounding hint of garlic to a shrimp scampi dish. We went wild with the jalapeno-flavored oil.

We love spicy, and the jalapeno-flavored oil fits our palate. It’s fantastic to add subtle heat to salads or cooked dishes. It’s potent, so adding a little goes a long way.

You can get crazy by adding a spicy zing to food not generally associated with a kick, like pancakes. Yes, we cooked our pancakes in a little jalapeno-flavored oil. If you’re a baker looking to add a bit of fun to your cakes or sweet bread, this will work.

The joys of balsamic vinegar

For me, vinegar used to be a tangy liquid you mixed with oil to make a salad dressing I hated. Then, I spent three weeks in Italy at an opera workshop. My partner came along, so we had a small basement apartment in a cozy medieval town called Spoleto.

A TV came with the partially furnished apartment. Watching Italian TV was an excellent way to learn the language. I also found out how many foods you could mix with balsamic vinegar.

Balsamic vinegar in Italy is like ketchup here in the US. People put it on everything. My favorite refrain when watching was, “you’ll never guess what they just put vinegar on.”

That was twenty years ago, and I remain hooked on balsamic vinegar and its many uses. I still refuse to eat a salad with oil and vinegar dressing. Why spoil the balsamic vinegar by adding oil?

Balsamic vinegar is good for you, too. Used for centuries to add a unique taste to foods, and its anti-bacterial properties made it an excellent cleaning agent. It’s nutritious but low in calories, sodium, and fat.

Other health benefits may include lowering blood sugar, aiding digestion, and weight loss. Studies confirming the benefits are limited. For centuries, healers have used vinegar in their practice, and you don’t keep using something that doesn’t work.

A few suggestions on using balsamic vinegar

The biggest surprise for me was how well it goes with fruit. My jaw dropped at an Italian commercial pouring balsamic vinegar over strawberries. That couldn’t taste good, could it?

I had to find out. I mixed mandarin orange slices, cucumber, and a few other vegetables to make a summer salad and poured balsamic vinegar over the lot. Wow, it makes a summer fruit and vegetable salad pop.

When I ran across a recipe that used balsamic reduction, I thought, why not? That sounds good. My pantry is now never without a little bottle of balsamic reduction, often called a balsamic glaze, ever.

Yes, I know you can make a glaze by boiling balsamic vinegar and sugar. I’ve missed something in my cooking experience, or I have a crappy stove. Reducing a liquid or a sauce never works well for me.

Standing over a stove, convincing a liquid to reduce, is tedious. Watching a YouTube video about it is too time-consuming. Its possible climate change may change my mind.

As long as I can buy balsamic glaze off the shelf, I will. You see, I gave up regular salad dressing for greens. My dressing is low-calorie, snappy, and a little sweet.

Mix your favorite greens with fruit and other vegetables. Squirt a generous amount of balsamic glaze on top, and sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar over that. Mix.

Use just enough balsamic vinegar to moisten the salad. Don’t soak it. It’s a beautiful salad dressing, doesn’t take up fridge space, and adds no oily calories.



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