Tricks to avoid wasting olive oil in the kitchen

With oil setting historical price records, adjusting consumption has become a priority in many homes to prevent the shock of seeing the purchase receipt from being enormous.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
18 September 2023 Monday 10:31
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Tricks to avoid wasting olive oil in the kitchen

With oil setting historical price records, adjusting consumption has become a priority in many homes to prevent the shock of seeing the purchase receipt from being enormous. So while we recover after seeing Arguiñano use the entire production of Jaén in a recipe, and the jokes continue about that mythical sandwich with liters of oil from Paco Roncero, it's time to tighten the oil belt. If possible, without affecting too much the way we cook and the role that EVOO has in our diet.

According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in 2022 133 million liters of extra virgin olive oil were sold, about 34 million liters of virgin olive and more than 177 million liters of olive oil. Of the latter, the one with the highest consumption, we reach 3.83 liters per year per person. Adding the other two varieties and sunflower, the figure gives a total of just over 10 liters of oil per year per inhabitant.

So, given the panorama, the first question in this savings plan is obligatory: do we consume too much oil? Those looking for the recommended daily intake will surely end up with data from the European Food Safety Agency that speaks of a minimum of 20 milliliters per day and a very general recommendation of around 40 milliliters of consumption per day.

Beatriz Robles, nutritionist and food safety expert, is wary of this type of broad-brush recommendations that do not take into account each specific case, with its corresponding nutritional needs, the diet… “Rather than talking about quantities, it is recommended that it be one of the fats of choice in our diet along with nuts or avocado, which are good sources of fat,” he points out.

But if we were to accept those 40 ml—about four tablespoons a day—, with a calculator in hand, the annual total would be more than 14 liters per person. Indeed, above the average consumption in Spain, where in addition to olive oils, sunflower oil is also included, the second most sold in the country after generic olive oil and ahead of EVOO.

So the quick answer would be no, we don't consume too much oil. Although surely our pockets right now do not agree with that statement and encourage us to use even less. We can start, for example, with controlling the salad dressing.

“It is not advisable from any point of view, nor organoleptic, to bathe a salad in olive oil. We have to be a little conscious of how we cook and eat,” recommends Robles. Those who believe that without seas of oil the salad loses its grace, the option would be to try a vinaigrette, which will add flavor by reducing the amount of oil.

And one of those oil sprays? Not the ones that already come with oil—normally, their quality-price ratio is not recommended—but bottles to fill with our oil and serve it powdered, which, at least in theory, favors more moderate use. It may be a good idea to adjust quantities, but be careful not to fill it and forget about it, a classic among so many kitchen gadgets. And, as a reminder, the oil loses quality over time.

But if there is a device that is triumphing lately, it is the so-called air fryers. They were already popular for their promise of healthier and less greasy fried foods, but the rise in the price of oil has become their best argument.

Although it is true that they are basically a small convection oven, their size and convenience for preparing small quantities of food makes them an interesting alternative to the conventional oven for many with which we could prepare many of the dishes suggested for this device.

With an oven or air fryer, the oil saving plan logically involves replacing frying with other cooking methods, such as grilling or baking. Dishes like empanadas, for example, are perfect baked instead of fried. Grilling or roasting is also an excellent option for many fish, and roasted or steamed potatoes served with a drop of oil and seasoned with salt and pepper are a delicious and healthy alternative to French fries.

Is a fried egg with a lot of oil and its tip comparable to one grilled with little oil? Possibly not, but it's still good. It is also true that other fried foods lose part of their crunchy charm if they are not immersed in oil. This is when it is time to ask yourself another of the key questions to spend less: how many times can I reuse it?

In that sense, the news is not too good because Beatriz Robles clears us of doubts with a forceful "the less the better, the ideal would be to always use new oil." But since that rarely happens, it is better to also take note of these tips: maximum three uses and always avoiding food remains, as they accelerate the reactions that produce toxic compounds, the expert recommends.

And use cheaper oils for frying? The high oleic sunflower one and the olive pomace one work very well for frying. In addition to being somewhat cheaper, they maintain interesting nutritional properties and withstand temperatures and reuse well.

And when it comes to saving, possibly the first idea is to forget about EVOO and opt for other vegetable oils. Javier Sánchez Perona, CSIC researcher, has prepared a list of the most recommended oils from a nutritional point of view. Of the 32 products analyzed, EVOO clearly prevails, followed by flax, common olive and pomace.

Evening primrose, sesame, high oleic sunflower and avocado also score well. So there are alternatives that are still healthy, although the bad news is that, except for pomace and sunflower, the rest are noticeably more expensive than EVOO, difficult to find and uncommon in our shopping basket and recipe books.

Speaking of reusing oils, using canned oils is another common resource when talking about the subject. We already talked about it at the time and it is better not to be too optimistic about its possibilities: only high-quality preserves—and price, of course—include interesting oils that are worth reusing, and their quantity is usually very small.

Now, using the oil from good anchovies or preserved tuna to dress a salad or prepare a vinaigrette is always a good idea. Not just to save a tablespoon of oil, but because it is very delicious.