Vegetable oil is not as healthy as the ads claim. Learn the surprising truth behind the chemical process used to make it, and what is a better choice.
You might be surprised to learn that our family doesn’t cook with vegetable oils of any kind.
“What?” you exclaim. “You don’t use vegetable oil? Seriously? You must be using canola oil then. That’s healthy, right?” Nope, I don’t use vegetable oil, canola oil, or soybean oil. In fact the only cooking oils I use are olive oil and coconut oil.
To learn why vegetable oil is unhealthy, we need to talk about how it’s made–it’s a 6-step process.
First, you need to harvest the extract the oil from the plant seed. For example, canola oil is made from a hybrid version of rapeseed–usually genetically engineered to resist the huge amounts of pesticides applied to them.
The seeds are husked and cleaned. Then they are crushed, heated to high temperatures (up to 180F) and pressed with heat and friction to extract the oil from the seed pulp.
3. Hexane solvent bath
Yep, you read that right. The seed pulp and the oil are put in a hexane solvent bath to extract more oil. Hexane is produced by refining crude petroleum oil. According to the EPA, “Acute (short-term) inhalation exposure of humans to high levels of hexane causes mild central nervous system effects, including dizziness, giddiness, slight nausea, and headache. Chronic (long-term) exposure to hexane in air is associated with polyneuropathy in humans, with numbness in the extremities, muscular weakness, blurred vision, headache, and fatigue.”
Next, the oil is separated from the seed residue in a centrifuge and phosphate is added. The residue that is collected is often used as animal feed. Ack.
5. Neutralization and bleaching
Now that the oil has been super-heated and treated with solvents, it’s called “crude oil.” It has a terrible smell and an awful color. This, of course, means even more processing. Any impurities in the oil will cause it to oxidize (spoil), so they are neutralized and drawn off with caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) or soda ash (sodium carbonate). Then the heated oil is treated with bleaching agents to remove any unwanted color.
This is the last step before bottling. Pressurized steam at temperatures of 500 degrees or more removes volatile compounds that cause the final product to taste or smell bad.
Now it’s ready to eat! Or you can add just two ingredients and make biodiesel. Anybody grossed out yet?
Vegetable Oil Alternative
Good question. Let’s compare how vegetable oil is made to how La Tourangelle, my favorite organic coconut oil, is made. Then you can decide which you’d rather eat!
Ripe, certified-organic coconuts are picked and hand-shelled within a few days of harvest. The fresh, food-grade white coconut meat is then dried at a low temperature (not exceeding 131Fº) to remove moisture.
The dried coconut meat is then expeller-pressed to extract delicious virgin coconut oil. No further processing is required beside filtering, and no chemicals or high-heat (e.g. steam deodorization) treatment is used.