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Enhancing Flavors with Oils and Vinegars

October 14, 2020

Host: Dr. Jennifer Hunter, Assistant Director for Family and Consumer Sciences Extension, University of Kentucky 

Guest: Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf, Extension Specialist for Nutrition and Health

Episode 12, Season 3

0:02 Welcome to Talking FACS; what you need to know about family, food, finance and fitness. Hosted by the University of Kentucky Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Program. Our educators share research knowledge with individuals, families and communities to improve quality of life.

0:21 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Hello and welcome to Talking FACS. This is your host, Dr. Jennifer Hunter, Assistant Director for Family and Consumer Sciences Extension for the University of Kentucky.

Today, I'm pleased to be joined by Dr. Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf, our Extension Specialist for Food and Nutrition. Welcome, Heather.

00:36 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: It's great to be back, Jennifer

00:38 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Heather, today's topic is one that, I am certain, I can learn from. We are going to talk about cooking with oils and vinegar, which I just think sounds fun.

I know that there's so much to know about different types of oils, different types of flavored vinegar, and how you use them in cooking. That's not something that I am necessarily good at, so I am super excited to learn from you today.

01:04 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: Yes, many people may actually have these in their homes, and they're not necessarily sure what to do with them.

I am still constantly learning about new flavored vinegars and oils. There's a lot of interest in them because they're shelf stable, they're versatile, and there's a lot of ways that we can use them.

They're great for adding flavor and potentially (adding) health benefits to any dish that you may be preparing in the kitchen. There's several different types of each of them. I understand it can be confusing to know which ones to use when, and to understand the best ways to get started with them in the kitchen.

1:37 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: I know that they're very popular for gifts. I've received different oils and flavored vinegars for gifts, and I've had to do my research to figure out exactly the best way to use them.

Let's get started with cooking oils; what is it that we need to know?

1:51 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: There are many different types (of oils). They all have different properties, tastes, and even uses; these are the same properties that will determine when, and how, they should each be used.

Each oil has a different level of unsaturated and saturated fats, which affects the oil’s impact on our overall health.

Oils with higher levels of unsaturated fats are considered healthier choices. A good clue that these are healthier choices is that they are liquid at room temperature.

You can use cooking oils just like you would any other cooking fats, like butter or margarine. You can use them to make salad dressings, marinades, dips; in any type of food preparation (such as) when roasting or sautéing; you can coat pans to keep food from sticking; you can use it in spreads; drizzle for flavor; to season cast iron; and even use as a substitute in some recipes. That's pretty overwhelming when you see how versatile they actually are.

2:45 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: When I think about common oils, in my pantry at home I have olive oil, vegetable oil, and some canola oil. What are some of the most common oils, and how do I determine when I should use olive oil versus vegetable oil, or vice versa.

3:03 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: That is a great question. I think that's probably what everybody wants to know.

You hit the nail on the head because really I would say the most popular are the ones that are most commonly seen in the grocery store: olive oils, vegetable (oils) and canola oils.

Many people have started using olive oil in place of butter and margarine, but there are different types.

You may have seen virgin olive oil, or extra virgin olive oil. This simply refers to the amount of processing that the oil has gone through; these have minimal processing and they will have the strongest flavor.

These are going to be best if they're used in a way that doesn't actually require heat or cooking; that's how you're going to get the full flavor profile. A great use for (extra virgin olive oil) would be a salad dressing, or simply a drizzling at the end of the cooking process.

Olive oils that aren't virgin or extra virgin are better (when used) with higher heat, like (when) sautéing or roasting vegetables. They're not going to have that really full flavor profile because they've been processed a little bit more. For those that are familiar with the heart healthy Mediterranean Diet, olive oil is a staple and is commonly used in preparing meals and dishes that are associated with that eating pattern.

Canola oil actually comes from crushed canola seeds. It is very common in the kitchen, and it's very economical. It has a very subtle flavor, so it's much more versatile in how you can actually use it in the kitchen. It has a higher smoke point than olive oil; that means that we can use a higher temperature and not damage or burn that oil. Think about (using canola oil when) sautéing, roasting, frying, baking, and even sometimes using it to grill.

Vegetable oil is very similar to canola. It's actually a combination of several different plant based oils.

The amount of the unsaturated fats in (the vegetable oil) is actually going to depend on the brand, and what oils are combined to make it. Just like canola (oil), it's multifunctional and very affordable. It has a mild flavor, and is incredibly versatile in its uses.

Canola and vegetable oils don't have as many heart healthy fats as olive oil, but they are still a great choice if you're trying to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet overall.

5:14 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: I'm going to have to go home today, Heather, and check my olive oil because I'm not certain if I have regular olive oil or extra virgin olive oil, or what I have. I sauté with it a lot, so I probably should check that, and maybe I can improve the flavors (of my recipes) as well.

5:33 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: Yes. Another thing to consider is that some of those extra virgin or virgin olive oils may be more expensive. If you want a cheaper option, then you might want to look for one that is just a regular olive oil that is more versatile to use for your food dollar that you're spending.

5:50 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Excellent. Okay, now let's talk about cooking with flavored vinegars.

5:54 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: Yes. At first, I was really intimidated by them because I thought they had a strong flavor, but they're really easy to use, and easy to store in your home. (However) they aren’t thought about a lot as a way to add flavor to your meals or dishes.

(Vinegars) do have that tangy taste, which comes from the acetic acid that is in it, but they are great for adding a lot of flavor without a lot of calories, saturated fat, or salt.

Several different types of vinegar have unique flavors. Some of the most popular ones that you may have seen are balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, and apple cider vinegar.

6:30 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Those are definitely the ones in my pantry at home. When should we be using these flavored vinegars?

6:39 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: I love to use balsamic vinegar when cooking. You may see some really expensive versions of these in the grocery store, but there are some condiment and commercial grade varieties that are much more affordable.

(Balsamic vinegar) is often used to add flavor to salad dressings, vegetables, and meat. It could simply be drizzled over a hot pan of freshly roasted vegetables that has just come out of the oven: like Brussels sprouts, which sounds amazing to me. You could also add it as a drizzling on top of a salad. Balsamic vinegar is going to have a sweet, tart, and kind of woodsy flavor. I'm actually getting very hungry.

Red wine vinegar, as the name suggests, actually does come from red wine, but it’s not considered an alcoholic drink or product. It has a much brighter tart flavor, which makes it great for salad dressings and even a pickling brine, where you may see it commonly used. It can really stand up to heartier foods like beef, pork, and vegetables.  So we can use these (red wine vinegars) not necessarily just (with) vegetables, we can also use these with meat and meat products as well; in marinades and things like that.

The last type, apple cider vinegar, is a product of fermentation when sugars from apples are broken down. It has a slightly sweet flavor with just a hint of apple. You may think it's going to have a strong apple flavor, but it really doesn't. It's versatile (and can be used) in sauces, soups, dressings, and marinades.

You may have actually heard about Apple Cider Vinegar online or in social media as a health supplement for weight loss. I think that's where a lot of people see (apple cider vinegar), but there really just isn't enough science to support a conclusive statement about the effects of apple cider vinegar as a supplement for weight loss.

However, cooking with any of these vinegars is a great way to add a lot of flavor with a few calories, as I mentioned. If you're using them, that means you're cooking more, and we know that people who are cooking more at home are getting a lot more of the vegetables, fruits and whole grains they need in a balanced diet.

8:33 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Heather, as you're talking, I am thinking how I'm intimidated especially by the flavored vinegars, but (also how) they really can enhance flavor.

I'm thinking specifically that we tried a new chicken taco recipe recently that had apple cider vinegar in it. I really weighed whether I was going to put that in or not, because I just couldn't see how that was going to fit with the rest of the flavorings. I finally decided that the people that wrote the recipe probably knew a lot more about cooking than what I know, so I followed the recipe. You really could tell how much it enhanced the flavor of the entire recipe. That, alone, made me a little bit braver to step out and maybe try some of the other flavored vinegars as well.

9:18 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: I am so proud of you for doing that.

9:25 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: You know me, so you know that's a stretch for me, but I did it.

9:26 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: That's great.

This is just a short podcast, but for a lot more information and some specific examples of how to use both oils and vinegars, there's a great publication at the County Cooperative Extension Office about how to build flavor when cooking with oils and vinegars. If we could link that in the show notes, that would be great.

9:47 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: We will definitely do that. Thank you so much, Heather.

9:50 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: Thank you.

9:52 Thank you for listening to Talking FACS. We deliver programs focusing on nutrition, health, resource management, family development and civic engagement.

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Visit us online at fcs.uky.edu to learn more about the University of Kentucky Family and Consumer Sciences Extension program or contact your local extension agent for Family and Consumer Sciences. We build strong families. It starts with us.