A Mediterranean gift to Korean cuisine: oil

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A Mediterranean gift to Korean cuisine: oil

These days, the most popular cooking oils are olive oil, grape seed oil and canola oil. But it’s olive oil, an integral part of Mediterranean cooking, that is making the biggest impact here.
The highest quality olive oil is extra virgin, which also has the strongest flavor. It’s not good for frying and panbroiled dishes, however: It begins to smoke at low temperatures. It works best as a seasoning or as salad dressing. In Korean dishes, it goes well with bibimbap (assorted vegetables over rice), bibimnaengmyeon (spicy cold noodles), and seasoned herbs.
One step in quality below extra virgin is fine virgin. Suitable for all kinds of dishes, fine virgin olive oil keeps its taste even at high temperatures.
Below that is pure quality olive oil. Pure quality has a weak flavor, but is excellent in panfried or roasted dishes.
Olive oil became popular in Western countries after it was found that people living in Mediterranean countries have a much lower chance of cardiovascular diseases. The secret of the health benefits is oleic acid, which comprises 80 percent of olive oil.
Whether Koreans would benefit from using the oil is a different matter. “Koreans are eating enough unsaturated fats already,” said Ham Tae-shik, a professor at Hanseo University.
Olive oil is high in calories. A teaspoon full of olive oil has 14 grams of fat (about half an ounce) while a teaspoon full of butter has 12 grams of fat.
One common substitute for olive oil is graph seed oil, which is mostly produced in Italy, France and Chile. Its taste is generally considered inferior to that of olive oil, but it can be used at the high temperatures required for frying, panfrying and roasting, and it’s said to go well with Korean food.
Canola oil has the least amount of saturated fat of any cooking oil. Saturated fat, which is mostly found in animal fat, can be harmful to one’s cardiovascular system. It does have a great deal of unsaturated fat, and is recommended for those with cardiovascular diseases.
What these three oils have in common is that they’re not produced domestically, which makes them more expensive than sesame, soybean or corn oil.
Are these cooking oils worthwhile despite high costs? Professionals say using a certain cooking oil over another does not necessarily guarantee health but the balance of fat intake does.
“The average intake of fat to calories by Koreans is 20 percent, which is favorable,” said Jeong Mun-ung at Woosuk University. “Cholesterol consumption is not high, and the intake of different types of fats ― polyunsaturated fat, monounsaturated fat and saturated fat ― is best.”
Koreans do, however, need to consume more omega-3 fat on average.
“This fat helps lower the cholesterol level and prevents blood clots and arteriosclerosis,” said Song Hong-ji, a professor of St. Mary’s Hospital. Arteriosclerosis means hardening and thickening of artery walls.
Omega-3 fat is found in mackerel and tuna and in cooking oils such as perilla seed oil, soybean oil and canola oil.

by Park Tae-kyun
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