FAQ Friday: Coconut Oil Tips and Spice Specifics

This is the first in a new weekly series tackling the most commonly asked questions I get regarding food, nutrition, meal preparation, shopping, etc. If there’s something specific you would like to see covered, please leave a comment or send me a message!

This week we’ll tackle cooking with coconut oil,and spice specifics.

What can I use coconut oil for? Will my food taste coconut-y?

I use coconut oil in place of other oils in just about every application. I use it so frequently that it’s actually easier to describe the times that I would NOT use coconut oil. For the most part that would just be some baked goods that need liquid oil, cold salad dressings, aioli, any other cold preparation (because coconut oil is solid at room temp). Typically, there sits a little dish of coconut oil next to my stove for easy scooping into the sauté pan, or easy heating up for tossing on veggies to be roasted.

I use it oil for cooking eggs, sautéing, roasting, in my coffee at times, for any type of hot preparation of meat, vegetables, or grains, as a healthy and dairy-free substitute in for butter or shortening in baked goods.

Coconut oil has a very mild flavor. Some super-tasters might be able to pick up on the slight tropical coconut flavor but typically it blends right in with the flavor of the food. It has a higher smoke point than olive oil or butter which means that it won’t burn as quickly at high temperatures. Coconut oil is also a healthy source of multi-chain triglycerides, which makes it a heart-healthy source of fats that actually can potentially aid in body fat loss, in conjunction with an otherwise balanced diet. (More on the importance of healthy dietary fats during another FAQ Friday blog post.) All in all, coconut oil is my favorite type of fat.

 Does it matter what brand of spices I buy? How long do they stay fresh for?

Spices are a funny little subject. They range from dirt-cheap to a pretty penny. Spices can completely change the flavor profile of a dish and are essential- especially in healthy cooking, taking a dish from blah and boring to flavorful and satisfying. They also contain many health benefits themselves! Spices, in my opinion, are worth the splurge and you should aim to buy them in small quantities so that they stay fresh. In a perfect world we’d only buy the amount of spice we need for the dish we’re making; this is neither economical nor practical.

I recommend investing in some glass spice jars or cute mason jars and trying to buy small amounts of spices in bulk, which can typically be found at Whole Foods or Earth Fare or specialty spice shops such as Savory Spice Shop or Penzey’s Spices. Spices have a short shelf life, but again, this is in a perfect world; they won’t go bad, necessarily, but they can lose flavor. If you’re using a leaf spice such as oregano or basil, be sure to crush it a little between your fingers to release some more of the flavorful oils, before adding it to your dish.

Play around with spices-mixing them and substituting new ones to see what you like. I love premixing spices blends so that I can quickly transform a boring meat or vegetable into something tasty and fun.

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