For cooking, I prefer to use oils/greases with a high concentration of saturated fatty acids (not omega-x fatty acids and especially not trans fats) to avoid unwanted chemical reactions during cooking (conversion of cis double bonds to trans, generation of free radicals, etc.), so for hot meals, we use butter, Schmalz (rendered animal fat) or coconut oil. For cold meals, like salad, we use cold-pressed vegetable oils, mainly extra-virgin olive oil (unrancid) in Mediterranean-themed salads.
Through other bloggers and some experimentation, I have discovered that there are a lot more possible applications for oils other than cooking. The following are the uses that I recommend to get the most of your precious plant oils and to use them up before they go bad.
Like many other people who are unhappy with standard toothpastes, I use coconut oil for oil pulling. Coconut oil is high in lauric acid, a fatty acid with antibacterial and antifungal properties. Unlike sunflower and sesame oil, which are traditionally used in oil pulling, coconut oil does not stain teeth yellow; it actually makes them look whiter (without bleaching). I actually did extensive research on oil pulling for a research project proposal and was convinced that oil pulling with coconut oil can at least (1) greatly reduce the chance of mass colonization by Candida albicans (a pathogenic yeast) and Streptococcus mutans (a pathogenic bacterium) and (2), after reacting/combining with saliva, act as a ‘soap’ that can access small gaps in and between teeth. If you have healthy teeth, oil pulling once or twice a day is probably enough, but I’ve been needing to also thoroughly brush mine with a salt mixture, since I have recently had very rough, demineralized teeth and am working on remineralizing them.
Coconut oil is touted to have many other ‘alternative’ benefits (Dr. Axe), especially when virgin (minimally-processed). I’ve tried using coconut oil on my skin, but it made my skin smell bad and felt like it was clogging my pores, which makes sense when considering that long fat molecules were coating my skin. The experience may be different for different skin types and climates.
I also use coconut oil to remove the dust from candles. This basically replaces the dust layer with an oil layer, which helps prevent further dust collection. I have a lot of real-wax LED candles that often need ‘dusting’. Coconut oil is as safe to burn as waxes, and coconut oil is even used in combination with wax to make candles. I haven’t tried this, because I don’t burn candles anymore.
This is my skin conditioner, especially after a shower. My skin, especially dry flaky parts, absorb this oil very well. Because it’s made from a thistle (hardy, fast-maturing plant), it’s also rather inexpensive.
I use an oil squirt dispenser to make application easy and quick. I feel oily at first but end up with (surprisingly) super-smooth, healthier-looking skin an hour or so later. I started out using sunflower oil on my skin, since I saw that it is in a lot of baby skincare products, but I found the oil to be greasy. It also made my skin ‘sparkly’, which I didn’t like, but other people might. Safflower oil and sunflower oil both have a high content of linoleic acid (about 75% and 66%, respectively), an unsaturated essential fatty acid that can be converted by skin cells to other compounds that benefit the skin and therefore the body. The oil might also help the skin absorb and store oxygen molecules, which are nonpolar and dissolve well in the nonpolar oil compounds.
Since it is so soothing to my skin, I also use safflower oil as a shaving oil and aftershave to get a close shave without razor burn.
Rosemary infused Rapeseed Oil:
Rant-like side note: That’s right, I use rapeseed oil. Couldn’t they come up with a better name? Well, it’s basically canola oil, which is made from the rapeseed plant, but canola oil is, by definition, low in erucic acid, and many canola oils in the USA are derived from genetically modified plants. The concern was that erucic acid might cause heart disease, based on animal studies and the toxicity of Lorenzo’s oil, a pharmaceutical containing erucic acid, even though there haven’t been reports of toxicity from dietary rapeseed oil (wikipedia). Nevertheless, rapeseed has been bred naturally, on both sides of the ocean, to have lower EA concentrations. Now, since everyone-and-their-mom uses canola oil, the canola plant is being genetically modified to have other qualities such as herbicide resistance to make ‘weeding’ easier. This may sound like a good thing, but I’ve learned to ask, ‘Good for whom?’. This issue requires more attention and another blog post, since choosing organic foods or not is now an everyday thing.
I use this Housewarming present (not Gift, which translates to ‘poison’ in German) of rosemary infused rapeseed oil (the rosemary was likely pressed along with the seeds to make the oil) to clean and condition my bamboo cutting boards. Many people think that bamboo boards are not sanitary and are difficult to maintain. I live in a damp and generally overcast area and have not had issues with mold on bamboo boards or utensils.
Bamboo is easy to sanitize by spraying and wiping with vinegar or citric acid/lemon juice spray, rinsing when necessary. I do not use baking soda or detergent, because they remove the oils, leaving more holes behind for microbes to populate. To condition the cutting board, I squirt a few drops onto the board and wipe with a paper towel to remove any stubborn fat particles. I then squirt several more drops and use the palm of my hand to spread the oil into a thin layer and let this absorb overnight. I’m sure that other rosemary infused cooking oils, like olive oil, would work. Rapeseed/canola oil is fairly balanced in short and long chain fatty acids, so I think that it is suitable for reaching deep into the wood AND forming a waterproof layer at the surface. The rosemary scent is due to the ‘essential oil’ compounds, which hopefully we all now know are small molecules with therapeutic and antimicrobial properties. The pressing method also captures the hydrosol (volatile, water-soluble) compounds and anti-oxidants (notably carnosic acid), which help preserve the essential oil compounds and may also prevent microbial growth. Since I want to destroy and displace, not trap, bacteria and yeast in the wood pores, I prefer to use the herb infused oil instead of plain rapeseed oil.
Also called ‘linseed oil’, flaxseed oil is relatively high in omega-3 fatty acids, namely alpha-linolenic acid (about 47%). The one that I use was cold-pressed with vitamin E and stored in a dark amber bottle, both important to prevent oxidation of the α-linolenic acid. I did a test of the oil after reading this helpful article on SFGate (How to know when flax is rancid). It passed the appearance (golden yellow, not cloudy) and aroma test (nutty, grassy), but the taste, although green and nutty, was also bitter. The bitter taste could be from the extra vitamin E. Flaxseed/linseed oil is used for many non-culinary uses, such as treating wood (after processing). Although I planned on using it regularly as a vitamin supplement, I only think about it when I have a bad stomach ache or constipation.
Edible makeup! I am working on mixing oil with fruits and flowers to create skin-supporting makeup that is shelf-stable and safe to eat.