Fats and oils are an essential part of our diets but many people don’t realize that the way we use these oils and the way we store them means the difference between nourishing our body and doing more harm than good.
If you read my article, “The Healthy Eater’s Guide to Fats and Omega 3“, you already know about the difference between saturated, unsaturated and polyunsatured fatty acids and how to prepare food with them. (If this is new to you, check out this post).
And as for their storage and maintenance…
Protecting our good fats….
How do we protect our good fats and oils? The enemy of oils are: light, heat and oxygen. Store your oils in a cool, dark place, preferably in the fridge. Throw out and replace oils that are old and rancid. This also applies to nuts & seeds which are rich in oils: if they smell “old”, or taste more bitter than they should, they’re probably rancid. Throw them out!
When oils go rancid…..
You don’t want to eat rancid oils–they form free radicals in the body which cause damage and predispose us to disease! I store my fresh nuts and seeds in the freezer, to protect the oils from damage. Some would also say that we should do the same for flours….after all, they are made of ground nuts and grains, which contain oils that are released after grinding. Flour can go rancid as well! Given that oils are so vulnerable to damage, it’s understandable that we should avoid cooking with our unstable, unsaturated fats!
All oils will go rancid eventually, if not from heat, from the open bottle being exposed to light and oxygen over time. Given this inevitable reality, I recommend buying the size of bottle that you know you can use up within a few weeks and keep buying fresh ones rather than buying a humongous bottle that takes years to finish…..that last third of oil left in the bottle will likely be rancid by the time you get to it.
“Cold-pressed” is an industry term which doesn’t mean a lot when the pressing machinery used heats up significantly during manufacturing of the oils. Despite not adding additional heat to the manufacturing process, the oil extraction process may still occur at damagingly high temperatures. It’s a good idea to find out what pressing methods a company uses in order to find the best quality oil. For example, since flax oil is one of the most vulnerable oils to heat, light and oxygen damage, there are some manufacturers of flax oil that use special machinery designed to not “heat up” while in operation, allowing the oil to be pressed with minimal to no heat exposure.
Refrigeration: Very unstable oils such as flax oil should always be refrigerated, so don’t buy it if it’s not found in a refrigerated shelf in the store. As for whether the oil was shipped in a refrigerated container, particularly in the summer months when outdoor temperatures are enough to really heat the oil, that’s another matter. NEVER BUY unrefrigerated ground flax seeds, packaged or in bulk, they are surely rancid! If you must buy pre-ground seeds, make sure it is properly vacuum-sealed and stored in a refrigerator or freezer at all times.
Virgin & unrefined: The term “virgin” is synonymous with unrefined, so if you see either of these terms on the label, it’s a good indicator that the oil has been manufactured at lower temperatures in order to retain its inherent nutrients and prevent damage.
- store your oils in a cool and dark place (away from heat and light)
- flax oil should always be refrigerated
- store nuts, seeds and flours in the fridge or freezer
- never buy unrefrigerated ground flax seed or flax oil
- throw away oils, nuts and seeds that you suspect may be rancid
- buy oil in a bottle size you can finish within a few weeks and buy fresh ones as needed
Do you have any other tips to share?
How do you store your oils….what works for you?