Nut and Seed Oils

I am teaching a class on how to cook with all those wonderful summer berries – both sweet and savory dishes. One of the recipes is for a Strawberry & Mango Salad with a Champagne Vinaigrette. The latter is made with walnut oil. Walnut oil is only one of a myriad of nut & seed oils and I wonder how many of you use any of them. In this Cooking Tip, I will tell you about some of these delicious oils. I will discuss best uses for the different types as well as their respective smoke points. The lower the smoke point, the less appropriate it is for high heat cooking.

Nut and seed oils are used mostly for flavor. They are considered seasoning oils rather than cooking oils. Some can handle high heats; some cannot. If they are used in hot dishes, they are usually added at the last minute. Most nut and seed oils do not have a long shelf life and so should be purchased in small amounts. They need to be stored in a dark, cool place. Many should be refrigerated.

Walnut
This is a topaz colored oil with a rich/nutty flavor. The best walnut oil is said to be made from walnuts from the Périgord and Dordogne regions in France. As with most of these oils, it does not have a long shelf life and should be kept in a cool, dark place. Some recommend against putting it in the refrigerator as the cold could cause a deterioration in flavor. Not all agree with this, though.

It is wonderful in salad dressings (as in my recipe) but may be used in baking, especially if the item also contains walnuts. It is also nice with poultry, fish or veggies.

Smoke point
Unrefined – 320°F
Semi-refined – 400°F

Almond
This is oil is made from sweet almonds and is pale in color. It is primarily used in baking and confectionary. If heated gently with slivered almonds, it is great to serve with fish or green veggies.

Smoke point – 420°F

Hazelnut
This is a very richly flavored oil that is produced mainly in France. It is paired with very good vinegars for salad dressings or as a marinade for fish/poultry. Its delicate flavor is lost when heated but it can be whisked into a sauce at the very last minute. It can also be used in baked goods in combination with hazelnuts.

Smoke point – 430°F

Peanut
Although peanuts are actually a legume and not a nut, I will list it here. Since it is almost tasteless and usually has a high smoke point, it is good for more general use such as in salads, cooking and frying.

The cold pressed variety has a mild peanut flavor that is good with fruit-flavored vinegars for salad dressings. It also has a lower smoke point then refined peanut oil.

Smoke point
Unrefined — 320°F
Refined – 440-450°F

Pumpkin seed
This oil is either dark brown or green in color and has a pleasant flavor of toasted pumpkin seeds. It is popular in Austria, where most of it is produced. It is used as a last minute seasoning for steamed veggies or fish.

Smoke point — 320°F or less

Sesame oil
All sesame oils are aromatic and the most common are able to withstand high temperatures.

There are three varieties.

European sesame oil is cold-pressed and is light in color and nutty in flavor.

The Asian variety is made from toasted sesame seeds and is darker with a more pronounced flavor.

Middle Eastern sesame oil is lighter in flavor than Asian and has a deep golden color.

Smoke point
Unrefined — 350°F
Semi-refined – 450°F

Pistachio
This oil has a beautiful green color and is usually used in cookies, cake and ice cream.

Smoke point – 250°F

Pecan
Pecan oil is light and mild and is great in baked goods and in dressings, sauces and marinades.

Smoke point – 470°F

Macadamia nut
This oil is very light in color with a mild, buttery taste.

Smoke point – 390°F

I took a look at my regular supermarkets and, without resorting to online sources or specialty stores, I could easily find peanut, sesame, avocado and walnut oils. A couple of stores carried almond oil and occasionally macadamia and pumpkin oil. What can you find in your stores? Let me know.

Even though I could find these oils, not all of them were unrefined. Unrefined oils are less processed and thus, have a fuller flavor and, according to some, more of the healthy antioxidants we seek. However, this also means their smoke point is lower. The choice is up to you.

If you have never tried a nut oil, I encourage you to do so. They are a very nice addition to your culinary arsenal!