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Oil alternatives

(article, Melanie Mesaros)

Confused by all the controversy over imported olive oil? Check out the growing number of domestic alternatives.

According to a recent Associated Press article, Americans have 14 percent more different types of cooking oils in their pantries than just six years ago. The Wild Oats grocery chain is also seeing an increase in cooking-oil sales: up 15 percent over the last two years.  

From Paso Robles to Los Angeles, olive-oil tastings, festivals, and competitions are becoming commonplace in California. More than 400 olive-oil producers have emerged in the state, giving those with a taste for Italy a reason to buy closer to home.     

But top chefs today aren't limiting themselves to just olive oil. New York restaurateur Peter Berley says he will be cooking at his new Broadway East restaurant with locally produced grapeseed oil. The elixir is made from the seeds of wine grapes after the juice has been pressed; it's currently being produced on both coasts. The oil, which has a light, nutty flavor, has a high smoke point (485 degrees), making it ideal for grilling.  

In California's Napa Valley, a grapeseed-oil producer named Food and Vine has been making headlines for using its recycled grapeseed oil as biofuel for the company's two Mercedes diesel cars and Ford pick-up. The owners, Nanette and Valentin Humer, pick up the leftover oil from local restaurants. 

Avocado oil is also being marketed as an olive-oil alternative, touted in the July issue of Prevention_ magazine as one of the 25 best new foods for you. Made in southern California, the Pacifica Culinaria brand of avocado oil is high in monounsaturated fat and cholesterol-free. Because avocado oil is naturally neutral in flavor, the company has created its own flavor infusions; sweet and savory tastes include blood orange and roasted garlic. Avocado oil can be used for grilling, but dipping sauces and salad dressings are more popular choices.

Loriva Culinary Oils, another California oil company, produces both avocado and grapeseed oils, along with peanut, sesame, and walnut oils. Walnut oil has a low smoke point and is mostly used for baking, although it's delicious drizzled over salad. And toasted sesame oil is a savory alternative for stir-fries and noodles.