All of them are beneficial in their own ways, but there's another cooking oil you may not have heard of and its nutritional benefits are just as impressive as olive oil's. Tea seed oil is traditionally used in Chinese cooking and Yóu Yóu is bringing it Stateside so eaters across the U.S. can reap its many benefits (and enjoy its taste).
Anthony Chen, Yóu Yóu's co-founder, explains that tea seed oil is made from cold-pressing Camellia oleifera seeds, a flowering plant in the Hunan region of Asia. "It's known as the 'olive oil of the East' because it's full of catechins, a type of antioxidant that is very beneficial. In this way, tea seed oil makes whatever you're cooking a little bit healthier," he says. Catechins are the same type of antioxidant in green tea. They help protect the body from free radicals. This supports brain health, heart health, and, ultimately, longevity. Besides being high in antioxidants, tea seed oil is full of omega-3 fatty acids; in fact, it has even more than olive oil. Consuming omega-3s is directly linked to a longer lifespan, so this is definitely a benefit worth knowing.
"Tea seed oil has been used in China for thousands of years, but it hasn't really gotten mainstream in the United States," Chen says. Tania Cheung, the growth marketing lead at Yóu Yóu, says part of the reason for this is that it is time-consuming to produce. "It takes eight years to make one bottle of [Yóu Yóu] tea seed oil," she says. Cheung explains that the camellia oleifera flowers need to grow for five seasons. Once they're ready to be harvested, it has to be done in one month; the window is very short. Then, the seeds are cold-pressed (heating would destroy some of the nutritional benefits) and bottled. "We're working with producers in the Hunan region who have literally been doing this for generations," Chen says.
Cheung says tea seed oil has a neutral taste and a high smoke point, making it super versatile. "It really complements any dish," she says. It can be used for frying, sauteing, baking veggies in the oven, or used to make dressings and sauces. Chen says another benefit to it is that since the smoke point is so high, the oil doesn't brown when you cook with it. "This means you can actually recycle the oil after frying and use it for something else," he says.
Currently, there aren't many other brands selling tea seed oil in the U.S., but if you are going to shop around, one piece of advice Chen has to ensure that the oil you're eyeing is actually worth the money is to research to see if the ingredients are from the Hunan region. You know how legit champagne only comes from Champagne, France? It's kind of like that. This also ensures that the cultural heritage of the oil is being honored and not stripped away.
Again, tea seed oil is super versatile because of its neutral taste and high smoke point, but Chen says it's especially great for using when cooking Chinese cuisine. After all, it's been used for centuries in that way. "Your oil is the foundation of your meal. When you build your meal with an authentic Asian oil as your base, it's the starting point for creating the very best Asian dish you can make," he says. "It can really take your cooking to the next level."
With the omega-3s and antioxidants, it can take your meal's nutritional profile to the next level, too. Want to give it a try? Yóu Yóu is giving a special discount for Well+Good readers through November 30, 2021: Use the code THANKYOUYOU at checkout when buying two bottles ($40 each) to get an additional bottle free.
Tea seed oil isn't meant to replace your other oils—keep your olive oil handy—but it is a way to round out your collection with yet another healthy go-to. And it will take your cooking to the next level, too. Talk about a win-win!
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