Healthy, Refined Perilla Oil Needs to Be in Your Kitchen Arsenal
Light and nutty, this chef favorite is perfect for salads, seafoods, and sautéed vegetables.By Kate Krader
More and more home cooks are building up an arsenal of oils to have on hand, whether fancy extra-virgin olive, trendy hemp, avocado, or argan. Now perilla is making a case for its own pride of place.
A longtime staple in Korea, perilla oil has a flavor akin to sesame but with a more nuanced, nutty taste backed up by a hit of licorice. It comes from the toasted seeds of a large, green perilla plant common in Asia. In the U.S., it’s also known as Chinese basil, but the leafy plant is actually related to shiso, in the mint family.
In addition to having a captivating flavor, the honey-colored oil is high in omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids—good for supporting a healthy immune system—and omega-3s, which have been shown to help prevent heart attacks and inflammation. (This is the fatty acid that made fish oil supplements a $3 billion-and-growing industry.) “It has one of the highest proportions of omega-3s among plant-based oils, almost as much as more famous ones like flaxseed and chia,” says culinary nutritionist Kristy Del Coro.
Perilla oil is also making inroads into American kitchens as its health benefits become more well-known and interest in global cuisines, particularly Korean, grows. Professional cooks gravitate to it for a plush fattiness that lifts light foods without overpowering; it works well on raw or cooked seafood, plus fresh vegetables. At the Hawaiian restaurant Poi Dog in Philadelphia, Kiki Aranita has used it to pump up multiple kinds of poke, from ahi to ginger salmon poke; she also dresses kale salad with it.
“Perilla oil has an aromatic richness that makes it a great alternative to standard butter or olive oil,” says Junghyun Park, chef-owner of the two-Michelin-starred Atomix in New York, who drizzles it over sweet shrimp and tosses it with cucumber. He gets it from Gotham Grove, an online source for premium Asian ingredients. The store features an infrared-roasted oil ($36 for 200 milliliters): “It’s like giving the seeds a fancy sauna,” says co-founder Jennifer Yoo. The infrared rays slowly toast the seeds more lightly and evenly than conventional methods, producing a smoother-tasting oil. (It’s also available through the gourmet food site Regalis.)
Park recommends experimenting with perilla oil’s many variations. Regular roasted oil is good for sautéing vegetables over moderate heat or garnishing cooked ones; it also gives an unconventional anise-flavored hit to pesto. The infrared-toasted oil is excellent drizzled on crudos, carpaccios, and other raw dishes. Yoo splashes avocado toast with it.
Most delicate of all is cold-pressed, untoasted oil, which complements simple fish and steamed greens. Some health nuts swear by a spoonful of the raw oil as a morning regimen. But user, take note: Perilla oil is sensitive, so keep it refrigerated once opened, and use within six months. It’s so tasty, that shouldn’t be a problem.
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