Cooking without Oil

The thought of cooking without oil can be a little mind-bending if you haven’t done it. The mere suggestion to chuck the oil from the kitchen (and the body) usually elicits the responses, “What do you mean?” and “Why?” Because most of us have never heard that oil was harmful to health and because we have consumed it nearly every day of our lives, it can be hard to fathom living without it.

“But what about olive oil?” Whether it is olive oil, canola, corn, flax or any other kind of oil, as a category, oil has some major negatives going for it. For one, oil is very high in calories, about 120 per tablespoon; compare this to maple syrup (52), balsamic vinegar (14), soy milk (8), vegetable broth (2), and water (0).

For the whole scoop on why oil is not healthy, see E2’s “Big Oil” post. Basically, we want to consume fats that are still in their natural packaging—in the whole food—not fats that have been overly processed into an oil, a substance that our body, given the choice, would say “No thank you” to. Here are a few suggestions that will help you to enjoy your food without the use of oil:

    Vegetables: When you are sautéing vegetables on the stovetop, simply replace the oil you normally use with water or vegetable broth. You can use other liquids too, but these are the most common oil replacements for sautéing. Vegetables naturally have a lot of water in them, which releases when they are cooked, so this is why we only need to add a small amount of water or broth. Just keep an eye on your pan so that your vegetables don’t stick; I keep a glass of water nearby so I’m ready.

    Your food can quickly stick or burn if all the water cooks off and you are not paying attention. When sautéing vegetables like onions, celery, mushrooms, and bell peppers, heat up your skillet or pot (non-stick or stainless steel) with a couple tablespoons of water in the bottom, and when it starts to crackle, add the vegetables, keeping them moving with a wooden spoons for a few minutes until they soften. Sautéing allows the natural sugars to release and intensify. The nice thing about sautéing in water or broth is that you end up tasting more of the food instead of the oil.

    If you are roasting or baking vegetables, you also do not need to use oil. We have been taught that we need to first coat chopped vegetables, French fries, tofu, tempeh, etc. in oil, or in an oil-based marinade, but the oil is simply not necessary. These foods will still cook, and if left in long enough, they will lightly brown. Depending on what you are baking, a little crispiness can be achieved if that is your goal (with something like fries).

    Baked Goods: Oil can be replaced in many different ways for baked goods. Oil gives baked goodies a rich taste and also acts as an emulsifier and softener. Instead of oil, use other moist foods, such as bananas, apples/applesauce, soaked dried fruit (like raisins or prunes), dates and tofu. In my cornbread recipe, I use cooked quinoa and banana to provide moistness instead of oil. It takes a bit of practice to determine how much banana, for example, replaces the amount of oil called for in a recipe, but if you keep notes as you go, you can adjust as needed next time. If you don’t want to figure out your own oil conversions in recipes, check out the “Big Oil” post mentioned above to find many plant-based recipe sites that do not use oil.

    In preparing your pans for baking cakes, breads, or cookies, you can use parchment paper instead of oil. Parchment is a silicone-coated paper that nothing sticks to and it is disposable. (It’s different than wax paper but is found close to it in your grocery store.) Or you can use silicone bakeware, which is food-grade and safe to use; bread and cupcakes just pop right out of loaf and muffin pans. Silicone baking mats are also available; these are useful for flat baking (cookies and also for roasting vegetables). Both the silicone bakeware and the mats are washable and reusable.

    Salad Dressing: For salad dressings, if I am following a recipe, I will simply omit the oil altogether and leave it at that, or then add a little water or juice to make up for the lost volume. Oil and vinegar as a dressing is so traditional, it may be hard to imagine a salad without the oil, but I think you may grow to appreciate the cleaner, fresher taste of the vegetables and greens without the slipperiness.

    For quick homemade dressings without oil I like to use prepared mustard, vinegar, water, or juice (lemon, grapefruit, lime, apple, carrot, celery), and if I will be making a blended dressing, I’ll add in some soft fruits or vegetables, such as strawberries, cucumbers, or mango. For creamy dressings, a little tofu, avocado or soaked nuts may be added, however go light on these since these are much higher in calories than vegetables and fruits. A tablespoon or two of minced fresh herbs (basil, cilantro, parsley) are also a tasty addition to homemade salad dressings.

    If you’re interested in seeing how oil is made, check out this three-minute video from Science TV’s, “How It’s Made” (http://bit.ly/LLymgU). I recently watched this video on canola oil and couldn’t believe how many steps it takes to make it. By the end I would have a hard time calling this food.

    It will take a little time for your taste buds to adjust to no oil, maybe a couple weeks to a month; but give those buds time, they will come around. As someone who does not cook with oil at all nowadays, when I do have a little, it tastes, and feels, somewhat overwhelming, and I don’t care for it. Cheers to you for bidding goodbye to oil! If you have a tip or suggestion for substituting oil, please share it below.

Comments

  1. Prune puree (3 parts water, 1 part prunes blended) works great in baking. One to one conversion. White beans pureed (with or without their juice) work great in dressings, sauces, and no-bake desserts.

    • Hmm. . . . Never heard of using the white beans as an oil replacement, but I’ll try that. I’ve used them in plenty of other unexpected places (this morning, in pancakes!) but not in sauces.’

  2. Jennifer Stadtmiller says:

    Thank you so much for this!

  3. Question for Rebekah- wouldn’t the prune puree color the baking, making everything brown?

  4. I’ve done the prune conversion frequently (and also keep a few jars of baby food/pureed prunes when in a real hurry) but haven’t tried using white beans in no-bake desserts yet. Thanks for the suggestion!

  5. Very interesting, for the most part I agree… what are your thoughts on coconut oil? Not sure I could let go of that!

    • Christa, I’ve never used it. I’ve been oil-free for too long now, so when I do get a little I don’t like it; too greasy tasting on my food. Also too high-fat for my tastes.

  6. I just discovered this from the Engine 2 guys. When they first said I could put onion and garlic in a pan and sautee it in its own juices, I didn’t believe it. But I tried it and it worked perfectly! I don’t know that I’ll NEVER use oil, but I’m sure I’ll be using much less of it.

  7. I tried several times to sautee with water and the result was no good. First of all the non stick pans cannot tollerate the high heat so it is unhealthy to sautee using non stick pans. if I use water a little at the time the onions become more steamed than sautee and they don’t caramalize. If i dont use enough water they burn, very frustrating . I did the plant only diet for two months , then I modified it because I was tired to toss away so much food!

    • Hi Miri, true, you don’t get carmalization with water (you get steamed onions). If I want to carmelize first, I put the onions in a pan (non-stick or stainless) without any water at all, and I just keep moving them around with a wooden spoon. After they have started to brown and carmelize then I will add a little water to keep them from sticking. Then I add my veggies and add more water. Using good quality pans help too.

  8. Sid Cohen says:

    My wife and I used to argue about using oil in cooking, she’s the oil free person. Recently I started a mixed greens, mushroom, etc dish in a big electric fry pan by sauteing the onions mushrooms and garlic in water. The results were so good that I’ve come around!!! No more PAM for me!

  9. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve never really encountered the perspective that oils aren’t healthy (I thought it had to do with the quality and quantity) so I have something new to thank about.
    Also, thanks for sharing the video on how canola oil is made. I can’t believe all of the steps, especially the superficial ones, like making the colour lighter… Definitely not appetizing!

  10. To replace the oil and to get the dressing to cling to the leaves and salad, I use a little bit of Xantham gum usually no more than 1/4 to 1/2 tsp for a blender of dressing. If you aren’t careful, it can get gummy.and too thick real easy. I try and use the best quality vinegars I can find and afford along with a couple cloves of garlic, a bit of healthy ketchup (if there is such a thing) some water, and sometimes I add different herbs. But I find most of the kind the herbs aren’t necessary to achieve a great flavor with this dressing. Mary McDougall has published the recipe I use in the Starch Solution (No Oil Balsamic Dressing) and it was also in one of her Newsletter recipes. Hope your readers try it and enjoy it. If you want a good balsamic dressing with no oil, I think this is one of the best. It is an adaptation from the dressing my grandmother gave me only she used oil of course.

  11. I am a 60ish wife learning to cook without oil and refined sugars. I have never used much oil or sugar in my cooking. It will be interesting to see our lab results next time we visit the Dr. I will keep you posted.

  12. I have found that sauteing in mushroom broth gives veggies a nice, rich flavor.

  13. very nice i will try this idea.

  14. I’m trying to stop having oil because It gives me acne spots and I’m only 13 do u guys no any good food that doesn’t have oil in it? It would be very helpful

    • Hi Naieem, thanks for your comment. :) Whole food doesn’t naturally have oil in it; it has natural fats but no oil (oil is manmade). So as long as you eat mostly whole plant foods, you’ll be on a better path to avoiding acne. Chocolate has lots of oil, so you may try avoiding that as well. Many packaged, processed and fast foods are loaded with it, which doesn’t make things easy. When you go out to eat to a restaurant, ask the server to make your food without oil. Or just order a baked potato with veggies (again, with no oil or butter). If you can ask your parent/s to leave oil off the food at home, that would also be helpful for everyone. Carry fruit with you, or carrots and other cut up produce that you like. You can get rice crackers without oil at Whole Foods/healthy stores. Avoiding dairy is also a good thing if you want to keep your skin looking nice. Good luck, and let me know if you have more questions. ;-) Cathy

  15. Today i was having lunch at my office and i was horrified by the amount of oil our cook used in a chicken karahe recipe. as soon as i was done with it, i googled “Why do we eat Edible Oil” and after some clicks here and there i came across this blog and believe me a lot of misconception about oil are now simply gone off site. The crux of the story is that we require Fats not Oil; which we can obtain directly from fruits and vegetables. Thanks for the great post :) Regards Hassan.

  16. I wonder if for salad dressing, in place of the oil you could use a nut or seed butter, like almond butter as long as you didn’t have to add oil to make the butter. Or maybe tahini depending on the recipe. Nut butters, at least when home made are whole foods with all of the fiber intact, unlike oils. I have tried Thai salad dressings that were peanut butter based, a little thicker than if oil were used because of the fiber but delicious nonetheless.

  17. How long do you cooking and living without even a drop of cooking oil?

  18. Thanks for the tips! I prefer coconut oil or olive oil but both are expensive so I’m trying to use less oil when cooking!

    • not only are they expensive but they are also 100% fat and fat adds fat to the body. As Dr. John McDougall so eloquently puts it: “The fat you eat is the fat you wear.” We can get all the fat our body needs in a plant based diet.

  19. Randomly came across this post, many great tips in it! I’ve been oil free for about two years now and it’s amazing how much better I feel (and how much weight I’ve lost!). Thanks for helping to get the word out!:)

  20. I have a Thai peanut butternut squash soup recipe that calls for 1.5 tsp of peanut oil to soften the onions and squash for 5 minutes before the rest is added. I am going to try this with water instead. Can you tell me if it will work?

  21. Hi Cathy,

    The recipe calls for softening the onions and butternut squash for 5 minutes first on medium-high (4 cups of 1/2 inch cubed squash; 1 cup of chopped onion; 2 tablespoons of minced garlic; spices) — how many tablespoons of water would you use, and what type of cookware (nonstick or stainless steel)? I have a large stainless steel soup pot that I have been using but hopefully it won’t burn the veggies.

    • Hi Dan, if you were just doing onions, I’d add just enough water to keep things moving/not sticking (1 to 2 tablespoons) but since you have the squash in there, I’d maybe add water so that it come up halfway on the squash. You can always pour water off at the end if you need to. Stainless will work fine. You can burn with both water and oil, the key is to just keep things moving. :)

      • Hi Cathy, thanks for the advice. It worked perfectly with only a little water. This is a really easy trick. The problem is that the oil is just a drop in the bucket because the recipe (for Thai Peanut and Butternut Squash soup) calls for 3/4 cup of peanut butter, which is obviously a huge amount of oil. I should compare the nutritional content of 1.5 tsp of peanut oil to 3/4 cup of peanut butter – I bet I know which has more fat! In addition, the recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of minced garlic, and being lazy, I used garlic from a small jar that was marinated in soybean and canola oils (but won’t do this in future). That may have helped the onions to fry rather than steam. Next time, I will try regular home minced onions to see how much water I will need.

        • Hi Dan, thanks for the comment! :) Since PB is common in Thai recipes, I usually leave it out (letting all the other ingredients do the job (garlic, ginger, etc.) or significantly reduce the PB. Even a little really adds a lot of flavor w/o adding lots of fat. Yes, that frying taste is hard to replicate w/o oil (since water does do more of a steam job) but it’s one of those things that you just get used to not having anymore. You can try dry-sautéing your onions, w/o water for a sweeter, browned effect.

  22. Need help!!! Any ideas for a good no-oil tomato-based sauce for pasta dishes? I’m moving to a low-fat vegetarian diet for health reasons and I need to lose the oil. This way of cooking is completely new to me. Also, is balsamic vinegar ok for low-sodium diets?

  23. I’m in my first full day of trying to eliminate oil and fear that I may already have sinned! After my supper of salad and balsamic plus a little fruit, I needed something more so I had a half a piece of wholegrain bread with about 1 T (100 calories) of Trader Joe’s organic peanut butter. Unlike regular supermarket PNB, the only ingredient is dry roasted peanuts. Still, it is so oily that you can pour it. I guess that this would be about the same as eating a little avocado. What do you think? Thanks.

    • Hi Ed, great job! I think some nut butter once in a while is fine. Mary McDougall has a trick where she pours off the separated oil and adds some water and stirs it in. :)

  24. Abdulraheem says:

    I wad looking for an article like this to persuade my mum that she can make the food much healthier by not adding lots of oil for each meal. She thinks that the food will be tasteless and boiled with no flavor without the oil, and I’m a health freak who can’t accept to take 120 caloeies for a spoon of oil!

    My final solution now is either she quits the oil or I will be cooking my own food which she also don’t want because the kitchen is her place lol.

    Thanks!

  25. What if I want to make scrambled eggs? Or Eggs sunny side up? how does that work?
    If it works with water, how much water exactly do i need to put?

    • Hi Maggie, I don’t use/eat eggs, but you could use a nonstick pan; you wouldn’t need water. Just a good spatula and a good pan. Take a look in my store. :)

  26. Ahmed Aseel says:

    oil is important for absorption of fat soluble vitamens

    • Hi Ahmed, the fat that is naturally present in plant foods is sufficient for fat-soluble vitamin absorption; no need to add oil to your diet to achieve this. Oil is a highly refined, fiber-less, practically nutrient-less, 100% pure fat substance. At 4,000 calories a pound (120 per tablespoon), it’s the highest-calorie food product there is. Even olive oil is not a health food; all oils are problematic for health. It also makes weight loss difficult and is addictive. For a thorough response to the most asked oil questions, click here.

  27. For cooks trying to carmelize vegetables on the stove without fat, try cooking on a flat top griddle instead of a wok or other deep pan — you are creating a steam bath by trapping the water within the sides of the pan. If the water is free to evaporate as it cooks off, you will “fry” instead of steam. And of course do not crowd the pan — if the vegetables have air circulating around each piece, you will end up with veg that are crispy on the outside but still juicy on the inside..Both the flat pan and the food spacing will prevent soggy vegetables even if you use fat as well.

    And the same goes for oven roasting — use a cookie sheet rather than a roasting pan if you want crispness or for quick-roasting veg (i.e. green beans), vs. a deeper pan where you need to steam to cook the inside (i.e., root vegetables) A good idea is to start the veg sealed in foil to steam the inside, then uncover to carmelize. Also consider what shelf you use in the oven — for brussel sprouts, I lay them cut side down, seal them with foil on top, then put them on the lowest shelf at 450 until the bottoms are browned — now the interiors are steamed, so I remove the foil and move the pan to an upper shelf for 10 or so more minutes just to brown the tops — or turn on the broiler for 2 minutes!

  28. Cutting out healthy oils and fats from your diet is a big mistake. Notice I said healthy fats,healthy oils. Paleo,caveman whatever you wanna call it. Saved my life!

    • Hi Cortney, glad to hear of your improvements! :) Oil is different from fat. No oils are healthy, as they are all refined/processed, with the original food (olives, flax, corn, grape, nut) having been striped of most of its nutrients, water and fiber; oils do not occur in nature, but fats do. Healthy fats are needed and are found sufficiently in plant foods. Our bodies’ need for fat is low, so we do not need to supplement with oils; in fact just by taking oil out of one’s diet, many people report greater/faster weight loss and they feel better. Purposely putting oils into our bodies slow our circulation and can contribute to heart disease, among other things. Eat plant foods as close to how nature made them and you can’t go wrong. For all the facts on oil, click here.

  29. would to know if you have a cookbook

  30. Neha Sharma says:

    Awesome article.. just loved it. I am from indian origin where cooking tasty food means putting lot of oil and spices. somehow i never agreed to this misconception and decided to follow cooking without oil & sugar. It has been a month only, but i can see the results. Your article has given me motivation again to follow what i have decided.. thanks for that :)

    I need your help to explore the vegiterian dishes that can be made without Oil, Sugar & Salt (or any spice that is harmful).

  31. I don’t eat vegetables for the most part (Except potatoes), and I’ve been going *almost* oil free for many years now. The reason I use just a teeny bit is that it makes a huge difference in the taste, and since I use the teeny bit for a generally large portion (4 portions or so) I guess I don’t feel that bad. I just use some drops in the beginning to start things off.
    I use a few drops of something called Becel oil which they sell in the Netherlands:

    http://voordeelmuis.nl/cgi-bin/v.cgi?a=d&d=787800&l=3471919

    which claims to be 50% fat – 56 g fat and 500 cal per 100 g.

    What would you say about this? I guess I rarely have cooked 100% oil free, but I could try. I always try to substitute low fat versions of ingredients for recipes, like milk, cheese, cream, butter, sauce, etc. I guess I don’t have the heart to completely leave them out.
    Also I eat out once a week, and I still love oily/creamy/buttery food! :( Does doing that undo all the work in the rest of the week?

    • Hi Ria, it’s up to you but having a little will make it hard to give it up if that is your goal–everyone’s goals are different. Like anything, you will get used to not having it. Anything that is refined and/or concentrated (fats/oil, sugar, salt) will be hard to let go, but after a while of not having it, you learn to love the new way. I’m not perfect with my oil, but never use it at home or in my recipes, some sneaks in when eating out sometimes. I’ve not heard of Becel. I’d give oil-free a try for a couple weeks and see how you like it. :)

  32. Read the books Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr.Esselstyn and the China Study after my cardiologist said I HAD to go on statins to bring down my cholesterol from 300 (I’m a 66yr old male and had dbl bypass 10 yrs ago). Instead went on the oil-free whole food plant based diet 100% and after two months cholesterol and LDL numbers dropped to half….quite a few other benefit too, like bp down 25-30 points! Since I love Indian food, what would you suggest to cook the spices in instead of oil to bring out their flavors….use vegetable broth or ???
    ps..really great to find this blog and see the interest…sometimes my wife and I feel rather “out of it” because we’ve started eating this way….but right now I don’t feel that I would ever go back to eating animal foods, just because I feel so much better now.

    • Hi Josephus, Thanks for your comment! Wow, that’s great! I just use water instead of oil, rarely broth. Yes, feeling great is the main motivation. You get more courageous the more you do it and then you don’t mind feeling like the odd one because you’ve got great health, and without that what do we have? I’m glad to hear that you and your wife jumped onboard together. :)

  33. What about grilling? Inside or outside? I am using Caldwell Esselstyn’s diet.”Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease” book. I still can’t figure how to replace the oil replacement for cooking bean burgers or veggies on the grill…water evaporates and so does vegetable broth.

    • Hi John, the grilling surface would need to be non-stick I suppose, or cook on the grill but in foil or some other non-stick pan/dish (which kind of defied the purpose of grilling). Or cook in a non-stick pan then put on the grill toward the end, or to reheat, to get that grilling flavor/look. Some things aren’t as transferrable to SOS-free cooking and this may be one of them. Try Googling “grilling without oil” maybe. Good luck! :)

  34. Susanna Farley says:

    I’m really intrigued about oil-free cooking and can’t wait to try it. However, I make seitan at home and recipes often contain oil. What can I use to replace this? Secondly I find that grilling is not a good way of cooking seitan burgers or “steaks”, they are often not done well enough in the middle when fully cooked on the outside, so how can I fry them without oil?

    Many thanks

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