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The Cookus Cupboard: Fats, Oils and Vinegars

Sponsored by PCC Natural Markets, the largest consumer-owned natural foods cooperative in the United States. Nine locations in the Puget Sound area.

This has to be the most confusing ingredient to choose for most consumers.  For many years, Americans were told that hydrogenated fats like margarine were better for us.  Then polyunsaturated vegetable oils were given the big thumbs up as an answer to high cholesterol.  We hear butter is good, then it is bad.  So far no one has bashed olive oil.  What is right?

On Cookus Interruptus, and in Cynthia's book Feeding the Whole Family
, traditional fats and oils that have nourished populations for thousands of years are preferred for cooking.  Historically, most cultures have cooked with fats that are stable and less likely to go rancid and this our primary criteria.  Whenever possible, organic is preferred.  Steve shows us the Cookus Interruptus top picks:


is 66% saturated fat, 30% monounsaturated fats.  It is stable, has fewer rancidity problems and maintains its integrity when cooked.  Butter contains lauric acid, lecithin, vitamins A & D.  If the butter comes from cows allowed access to pasture, the possible presence of omega 3 fatty acids increases.


is clarified butter. It is made by heating butter, scooping off the protein solids and allowing the water to evaporate.  Ghee can hold a higher temperature than butter.  This is the traditional fat used in Indian food; thought to magnify all of the good qualities of the food surrounding it.

Unrefined Coconut Oil

is a saturated fat that is stable at room temperature and contains lauric acid.  Its anti-fungal, anti-bacterial properties make it the perfect fat for rapidly decomposing foods in tropics, so it is definitely not a local or seasonal food. Works well in baked goods for those choosing to be vegan.

Cold-pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil

must be mechanically produced with no heat according to standards set by International Olive Oil Council of Madrid.  Extra virgin oil comes from the first pressing of the olives and is only 1% acid or less. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fats which are cholesterol-free and help with its stability.  The deeper the color, the more intense the flavor.

Unrefined Sesame Oil

is a traditional oil from the Asian culture.  It is 46% monounsaturated and 41% polyunsaturated.  The poly part is protected from rancidity by “sesamol” an antioxidant naturally present in the seed.  This oil has a distinct, delicious flavor.

Refined Expeller Pressed Oils
For very occasional high heat cooking we use refined, expeller pressed grapeseed, safflower, sunflower or peanut oil.  We use this more as a cooking medium or a lubricant, not as an ingredient for regular consumption.  That's why it's not in Steve's cart.

Balsamic Vinegar

Nobody can afford the real deal on this product but most of us really enjoy the robust flavor of the less expensive, less aged versions of this vinegar.  Simple homemade vinegar and oil dressings are cheaper and healthier than bottled dressings

Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar

Adds a sharp bright flavor and friendly bacteria to food it is served on/in.  A few sprinkles really brightens up beans.


Fats and oils need to be kept in cool dark places in sealed containers.  The fats we have chosen are quite stable and most can be stored in small quantities on the shelf and used up quickly (within a few weeks).  Butter, however, needs to be kept in a butter keeper (if you want it soft) or in the refrigerator.

Vinegars can be kept indefinitely on the shelf.


Rebekah Kelly
Yes, Phil should come to dinner, but make sure he doesn't have a criminal record FIRST - he looks a little sketchy! LOL (thanks for the tip on a butter keeper - will take your advice!)
January 7, 2010, 4:19 am

Cindy Wambeam
Where do I find one of those cool butter jars? I've never seen anything like it.
January 7, 2010, 12:08 pm

Cindy Wambeam
D'oh! I should have read everything below the video before posting my first comment. That is a really cool thing, and I'm ordering a butter keeper now.
January 7, 2010, 12:09 pm

Kate Schenk
I love the butter keeper that Cynthia gave me! As far as Phil, yes, invite him over. I think it would make for a humorous episode.
January 7, 2010, 12:49 pm

Fran Post
Did you know that Balsamic Vinegar has a label warning in California due to lead content?
January 7, 2010, 1:16 pm

JoAnn Christensen
I feel so sorry for people who don't have butter bells. I give them for gifts all the time. Thank you for the nice, concise lesson on oils and vinegars. (Definitely invite Phil over for dinner-what have you got to lose?
January 7, 2010, 1:25 pm

Amy Robertshaw
A butter bell is the best kitchen tool!! I have no idea how I lived without one for so long...having a stick sitting on a plate on the counter is just yuk. And the one they posted here is a deal... Mine was over $20 and it is not fancy-- just a plain 'ol butter bell. So, order one if you do not have one... sooo worth it! Does anyone ever use organic safflower oil for sauteeing veggies? Healthy? And Phil...yes. The moustache...excellent.
January 7, 2010, 3:01 pm

Kristin Minner
Hey, did Steve get a haircut on the way home from the store? ;) Thank you for simplifying the lesson on oils and vinegar. I appreciated the tip about why choose organic.
January 7, 2010, 6:28 pm

Yes, Steve did get a haircut on the way home from the store.
January 7, 2010, 8:50 pm

Lisa Maurer
Phil should DEFINITELY come to dinner!!!
January 9, 2010, 1:27 am

char pearce
Do you also put the olive oil in the fridge after three weeks if it has not been opened yet?
September 14, 2010, 1:13 pm

Cynthia Lair
Char, No need to put unopened olive oil in the refrigerator. After it is opened it is your choice. My rule is - if it's a small bottle that will be used up quickly (within 2 weeks ) there is no need for refrigeration. If you only use your olive oil occasionally I would suggest storing it in the refrigerator.
September 14, 2010, 1:38 pm

Melanie C
I've heard that you should always buy unsalted butter, not because of its lack of salt, but because the quality is always just a little bit better... the flavor of the butter can't hide behind the salt.
January 21, 2011, 4:25 pm

Almena Almena
So much info in so few words. Toltosy could learn a lot.
October 23, 2011, 3:07 am

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