Getting into the hobby of cooking your meals is easy – you just have to follow any recipe step by step and you are guaranteed to succeed. However, once you get a little deeper into the exploration of culinary arts, you will find that the real beauty behind creating a meal you can share with your loved ones is the personal twist you give to any basic recipe. At this point you become a cooking apprentice, you know your way around your kitchen and command whiskers, mixers, and ovens with confidence; but you still have trouble picking and pairing ingredients yourself.
Sure, the best method to learn is the old college try, but to spare yourself embarrassing errors and wasted food, you head over to the internet to read up on the characteristics of the ingredients beforehand. What flavor profile does it carry, what it pairs with well, what you should avoid, and so on. And that’s where this humble little guide comes into play.
Oils have all but completely replaced animal fats in Western society, and with the farewell to butter came a vast variety of options to choose from, leaving many simply overwhelmed by the sheer number of different plant oils.
For a while coconut is all the rage, then suddenly it is rejected as unhealthy and filled with saturated fats. Sunflower oil is cheap – but it leaves things tasting bland, and it burns so easily. In this huge market, however, two oils stand out. One of them is perhaps the most recognizable staple of a centuries-old culinary tradition in the Mediterranean, made out of olives sun-kissed on the shores of Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain; and the other is the exotic millennial favorite made from the popular superfruit called avocado, treasured by Mexican producers as much as by L.A. jet-setters and socialites. So who will win the
This short overview will not give any definite winner in this battle of giants, mainly because both are excellent bases for your meals, but it will attempt to highlight some of the different characteristics and suggest the best fields of usage for either one of them.
The things to consider when deciding whether the dish you are about to make is better suited for the use of avocado oil or olive oil are first and foremost in the realm of taste profile and especially smoke point. A secondary concern is always, of course, the nutritional values and health benefits that come with using these oils, but there is much less to be said about that, simply because their nutritional values are surprisingly similar.
So, let’s begin with the technical side of things, and talk about nutritional value. The most common buzz-words you hear associated with oils and fats (or, collectively, lipids) are of course saturated and unsaturated fats, then come monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, “good” and “bad” cholesterol, triglycerides and omega 3, 6 or 9 fatty acids. After all of that comes, of course, the old calorie counting game, and at last the various vitamins that come after them. All this can be a hassle to research and take in, so let’s boil it down to the essentials:
The terms saturated and unsaturated refer to the molecular bonds that make up the structure of the fats. Saturated fats have single bonds between their molecules and are saturated with hydrogen. This means that they are more stable and are mostly found in solid states. By contrast, unsaturated fats have two or three bonds between their molecules and are therefore mostly found in liquid form.
Monounsaturated fats have one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule, or a double-bond, which means that one bond is “free” and can bond with another element. Polyunsaturated fats simply have two or more of these unsaturated bonds.
Cholesterol can be either LDL — low-density lipoprotein, or it can be HDL — high-density lipoprotein. Lipoproteins are found within our blood and serve as carriers for cholesterol, and HDL is the good variant because it absorbs the cholesterol and moves it to the liver, which then flushes it out of the body, reducing the risk of cholesterol build-up in the blood vessels, which is associated with LDL. With that comes the benefit of reduced risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other coronary diseases.
Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood which the body produces from any calories it doesn’t immediately need and later activates via specific hormones. They are different from cholesterol in that they are a storage of energy, while cholesterol is an important building block of cell membranes. Since the nutritional values of our two oils are virtually identical and their calorie count roughly the same, this is no concern in deciding between the two.
Omega-3, -6, and –9 fatty acids are all important dietary fats, which are different in certain important characteristics. The “omega” in their name refers to the point from which one should count the atoms in their molecules and the number at the end describes the last atom with an unsaturated or double bond.
To avoid getting too deep into the chemical side of things, let’s just remember that omega-3 and omega-6 are polyunsaturated, that they both can’t be produced by the human body and that the average consumption of omega-6 fatty acids is way too high in developed countries. Omega-9 fatty acids stand out from the group by being non-essential (I.e. our bodies can produce them) and being the only monounsaturated lipid in the group.
Calories and vitamins are probably more than common knowledge at this point, but just to make sure, calories are essentially a measurement of energy that is contained in the food, and vitamins are a set of very important compounds that are key in the normal functioning of metabolism, but also have specific biological benefits on their own.
Now that this little chemical introduction is out of the way, let’s start comparing our oils. When it comes to saturated fats, avocado oil beats olive oil by having around 11.5g of them per 100g, while olive oil has around 13.8g. This is, of course, a minuscule difference, especially when you know that coconut oil has around 82.5g of saturated fats per 100g of oil. Nevertheless, if saturated fats are a concern for you, and you already consume a fair bit of oil, avocado might be the better choice for you.
Monounsaturated fats are abundant in both avocado and olive oil, with around 70% of them found in avocado oil and around 73% in olive oil. Most of these monounsaturated fats are made out of oleic acid, commonly known as Omega-9 oil.
In the arena of polyunsaturated fats, avocado oil edges out a win again, with 13.5% in comparison to olive oil’s 10.5%. It is also consequently richer in omega-3 and –6 fatty acids, with 1% and 12.5% respectively as compared with olive oil’s 0.7% of omega-3 and 9.8% of omega-6 oil. At this point, the information about citizens in developed countries consuming too much omega-6 oil comes into play, and should also be taken into account. Maybe the reduction of 0.3% of omega-3 intake could be outweighed by the reduced consumption of omega-6 of around 3%.
Both oils are rich in phytosterols, molecules that help reduce cholesterol. Olive oil has around 220mg and avocado oil around double that, per 100g of oil. When it comes to calories, both olive and avocado oil have around 880kcal per 100g serving. Olive oil also boasts 14mg of vitamin E, or alpha-tocopherol per 100g, which is more than the recommended daily intake of 10mg. Avocado oil has a little less with around 12mg.
As you can see, the differences are hardly noticeable in most aspects, and both oils are undeniably healthy choices, as long as one consumes them in moderation, of course. With that being said, we should now examine the culinary qualities of the two oils.
The decision of which oil you should use in a dish will largely be determined by the smoke point of the oil and the flavor profile of it. The smoke point is the temperature value at which the oil will start to burn and therefore definitely lose much of its taste and aromatic qualities, and probably some of its nutritional values. Vitamin E, for example, will degrade at high temperatures beyond the smoke point. This quality is precisely what makes avocado oil an amazing new alternative to the classic olive oil.
Namely, the smoke point of avocado oil is at an amazing 271 °C (520 °F), versus olive oil which clocks in at 193 °C (380 °F). This doesn’t mean you should immediately toss out all olive oil from your repertoire, but rather to prefer avocado oil in meals which you know will take a longer time to cook. That would be for example any food you wish to sauté or stir-fry. Olive oil is best reserved for low-heat cooking, salad dressing, and finishing touches. Keeping the heat below the smoke point will allow the oil to retain its flavor and retain beneficial nutrients that break down on higher heat levels.
Consider the flavors
When you are sure you can keep the temperature in that region, you should next consider the flavors that avocado oil and olive oil carry. Olive oil will naturally be on the bitter side of things when it is made of ripe olives and have a sweeter taste in milder variants. It can also have floral notes in certain varieties and even a taste reminiscent of fresh herbs when it is made of the unripe olive fruit.
Avocado oil vs Olive oil – who’s the winner?
By comparison, avocado oil will usually have a more buttery, smooth taste to it, with nutty notes and naturally a noticeable avocado taste – as it is pressed from the flesh of the avocado fruit. These characteristics can make all the difference between a great meal and an unforgettable meal. The best course of action is to try them out in different settings, see how they harmonize with the rest of your ingredients and see if the dish benefits more from a contrastive bitter twang of olive oil or a mellowing coat of hearty avocado oil.
With all being said about the various qualities of avocado oil and olive oil, we hope that you are now better equipped to make an informed decision about which one will serve your purposes better, and whether the slightly higher price of avocado oil compared to extra virgin olive oil is warranted or not.
In the end, the winner in the debate of avocado oil vs olive oil is different for every person as much as it is for every meal and depends on the preferences of whoever the meal is meant for, but they are both guaranteed to taste great and have big benefits to your health, as long as they are from quality sources and are prepared with care on your part. Have fun trying them out!