Pouring oil on the fire

On holiday with friends in Tuscany recently I was struck by how little is generally known, even by professed foodies, about a product that has been used in regional dishes for thousands of years, and in recent decades increasingly throughout Western Europe - olive oil. Many people I've talked to use extra virgin olive oil to cook with, thinking it is healthy - which it is most of the time. However, extra virgin olive oil has a relatively low smoke point, which means it oxidises at medium to high heat, producing potentially toxic by-products and carcinogenic free radicals. Non-virgin olive oil - i.e., that which has been extracted by chemical means and/or has been more refined - has a higher smoke point but contains less healthy fatty acids and anti-oxidants that help "mop up" free radicals. On the other hand coconut oil, being high in saturated fats - which contrary to received wisdom recent studies suggest have no clear causal link to heart disease - is much better for high-heat cooking methods like frying. In fact, unrefined coconut oil has actually been shown to improve cholesterol and blood lipid profiles and has anti-bacterial properties. Clarified butter (made by heating ordinary butter and removing the milk solids that rise to the top) is also good for frying and can help the body absorb healthy nutrients. 

How is it that those responsible for selling basic food products such as olive oil and butter - i.e., supermarkets - don't advise customers on how to use them properly, even when misuse may be harmful to the health? How do you think customers would react if they received advice on how to choose, use and store food from staff who are well trained, engaged and empowered? Surely they would want to come back to that store more often, and tell all their friends about this cool new type of store that ... actually sells food, instead of just putting commodities on shelves and letting customers fend for themselves. 


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