So what are fats? If you break it down fats are simply a chain of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen atoms bonded together in a particular way. For instance in the picture above is simply an ester group (The red section) connected to fatty acid chains ( the black/green section).
It is this fatty acid chain that determines whether the fat in oil is saturated or non saturated.
What this means chemistry wise is simply how much a carbon chain is connected by single bonds.
This is seen in the top chain above. As you can see of the two chains only the top chain is considered saturated ( due to all the bonds being singly linked).
Conversely the bottom chain is considered unsaturated due to the double bond (green section).
“So what’s the difference?” I hear you ask, Well due to this difference in chemical structure these fats behave differently when reacting in different environments say for example inside your body or in the hot environment of cooking.
The main behavior that we are interested in is how reactive each chain is. Now you may think that because the unsaturated fat has a double bond the bond is stronger and thus less reactive. Wrong. Infact the opposite is true. Double bonds are weaker then single bonds and result in a higher reactivity due to to its tendency to break more often.
What does this mean for you?
Healthwise oils with unsaturated fats are healthier by being more reactive than saturated fats. By being more reactive the body has an easier time to break unsaturated fats down as your internal chemical systems attack the double bond weak point.
In contrast to unsaturated fats due to all the bonds being single bonds there is far more stability and a higher chance for it to linger in your systems.
Cooking and Storage wise oils with saturated fats are the better choice. Especially with recepies of high temperatures, saturated fats are more unlikely than unsaturated fats to breakdown into other compounds where unsaturated fats do.
This reactivity we described earlier will also affect how long the oil will keep from rotting. Here saturated fats are the better choice.
The Choice you will have to make
In the end the choice between unsaturated and saturated oils really depends on what you are planning to cook it with and how healthy you want to eat. The trade off between saturated and unsaturated is an economical choice( as in how long you plan to keep it for), a health choice( how healthy you want to be) and an variety choice( what recepies you plan to cook due to temperature limitaions on unsaturated fats). Its a good thing that there are many oils to choose from all of which have different ratios of unsaturated fats to saturated fats. Here’s a few ratios typical of some oils.
Coconut Oil 92% 8%
Palm Oil 81% 19%
Butter 68% 32%
Olive Oil 14% 86%
Canola Oil 7.3% 96.4%
Heres a few protips to end the article
1. To help keep your oils keep for longer it is recommended to keep your oils in a dark cool place to prevent your oil going rancid.
2. Dont buy unsaturated oils in large batches. This way you are more likely to finish your portions before the oil goes rancid.
3. Try to only bring out the oil when you plan to use it and screw the lid on tight. This way you minimise the exposure of the oil to light and oxygen. The main drivers of oil going rancid.
I hope that helps in choosing the right oils to cook with. Until Next time!
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