Shake up your salad with these tasty oils

Salad oil dressing
Salad oil dressing

Shake up your salad with these tasty oils

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Eating healthy is great, but it’s easy to find yourself in a salad slump. Could it be time to switch that iceberg lettuce drenched in creamy ranch in favor of greener greens? While upgrading your leaves, why not turn the flavor up one notch further by experimenting with some of the more “exotic” oils sold in supermarkets throughout Germany?  

When it comes to choosing oils, certain rules of thumb apply. Cold-pressed, unrefined and organic oils, while more expensive, will have healthier nutritional profiles and more distinctive taste profiles than their processed counterparts. Once opened, the shelf life of an oil is limited. As they can turn rancid with time, consider those tiny bottles when experimenting with a new taste. Vinegars, the traditional salad dressing co-stars, range from tangy apple cider to thick and fruity balsamic blends, so play around with these as well to hit upon your perfect taste combination. 

The following is a sampling of oils commonly sold on the shelves of German supermarkets and health food stores, some of the benefits commonly associated with them, and the greens or foods with which they are traditionally paired.  

Note: This discussion is limited to the use of these oils in their cold state and NOT for cooking and frying— a topic for another day.  

Distelöl/ Safflower oil: This oil derives from the seeds of a thistle-like plant cultivated since ancient times. Two types of this oil are on the market, high-oleic and high-linoleic. While the high-oleic version is suited for cooking, the one higher in linoleic acid is the one more often used unheated. Its taste is described as neutral.   

Kürbiskernöl/ Pumpkin seed oil: A distinct greenish-brown tone distinguishes this from other oils. Styria, a state in the south of Austria, is a major producer. It’s commonly used in regional cooking and baking.  A source of omega-6 fatty acids, vitamins E and K and zinc, it adds a rustic and nutty touch to salads and holds up well against the more aromatic greens such as rucola/arugula or spinach. A drizzle of this is often used to intensify the flavor of a pumpkin soup. To really surprise dinner guests, try serving it as a topping on vanilla ice cream. 

Leinsamenöl/ Flaxseed oil: A source of omega-3 fatty acids, this is touted as a good alternative to fish oil. Unfiltered versions contain lignans, weak estrogenic substances that might also have health benefits, the prevention of cardiovascular disease among them. With a slightly nutty flavor, it’s sometimes used in cold grain salads such as tabbouleh or quinoa, on potatoes and in quark dishes, and often finds its way into smoothies. A disadvantage to this oil is its very short shelf life.   

Rapsöl/ Rapeseed oil: Those vibrant yellow fields dotting European countryside's in spring are rape, and its small black seeds are most commonly used for the production of biofuels and in other industrial applications. In terms of human consumption, this oil has a favorable ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids and is rich in vitamin E and carotenoids. Despite all its positives, it’s not without controversy: a recent study in mice shows possible links to Alzheimer’s disease. The oil, with its delicate, slightly nutty taste, is popular as a dip for bread.      

Sesamöl/ Sesame seed oil: This oil is has antibacterial properties and contains the chemical phytate, which acts as an antioxidant in cells. It’s also believed to stimulate the immune system. In its toasted form, it’s often added to crunchy greens or cold noodle salads, lending the dishes an Asian flair.  

Sonnenblumenöl/ Sunflower oil: This oil is linked to beneficial amounts of lecithin and a form of vitamin E that works as an antioxidant. Traditionally used in East European cooking, it’s a typical ingredient in a chunky Bulgarian “Shopska” salad of tomatoes, peppers, onion and feta cheese. A Russian version of coleslaw, with cabbage and carrot but not the mayonnaise, also makes use of this oil. 

Traubenkernöl/ Grape seed oil: grape seed oil surpasses even olive oil in terms of Vitamin E content, which benefits the immune system, and is rich in linoleic acid. It often figures into beauty regimens and to treat skin conditions. Its flavor is described by many as neutral but slightly fruity. It’s often used to dress lamb’s leaf (Feldsalat) or in salads with cheese as an ingredient. Many chefs like to pair it with raspberry balsamic vinegar.  

Walnußöl/ Walnut oil: this oil contains a variety of vitamins and minerals and is rich in antioxidants. It also has omega-3 fatty acids, which may help lower the risk of heart disease. Its nutty flavor lends itself well to vinaigrette dressings, and it nicely spices up a Waldorf or a green bean salad. 

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