What are the benefits of using low-calorie cooking sprays?
Reading Labels: bestselling cookbook Pinch of Nom recommends low-calorie cooking sprays, but how healthy are they?
Cooking with sprays is often recommended as a low-calorie option
The last thing I expected to see in a best-selling cookbook was the instruction to use low-calorie cooking spray. That’s what you find on page after page of recipes in Pinch of Nom, the book created for slimmers by two British chefs that is top of some non-fiction charts.
The book is based on their popular blog of the same name. The duo also wrote a blog post in 2017 on one such spray – Frylight – after being invited to cook with it. Their online recipes also include links to products they use, including some baking tins and Frylight. The post clearly says that it has affiliate links, which means that the poster gets a small commission when you buy the product, though it does not specify which ones involve payment.
Frylight is made in Britain by MH Foods, which is owned by Saputo, one of the world’s biggest dairy processors with operations in 40 countries. The Canadian giant acquired the brand earlier this year along with a stable.
Frylight was created to be a low-calorie alternative to butter and it fulfils that promise with just 1kcal in each spray. Even if you use six sprays to cover a frying pan, that compares well to a pat of butter, which has closer to 40 kcal. The promise is that it will smell and taste like the real thing. That seems unlikely when you look at the label, however. So what is in this unction?
Frylight comes in nine flavours and highlights on the front that it has no artificial ingredients, but any longtime reader of this column will know that is often simply a distraction.
The Frylight Better Than Butter spray is mostly sunflower oil at 51 per cent. Then there is sunflower lecithin as an emulsifier, alcohol to prevent bacterial growth, xanthan gum as a thickener and natural flavourings.
Sunflower oil has fallen from favour in recent years as a cooking oil as it can generate harmful compounds if heated to higher temperatures. Emulsifiers have been shown to reduce the good gut bacteria in animals, so the same may be true of humans. For this reason, many choose to avoid them. The xanthan gum is based on glucose, from sources such as cane sugar, fermented with a bacteria found in plants, according to MH Foods. The “natural flavourings” could be anything, though lactic acid is often used to recreate the taste of butter.
It’s all done to help those of us for whom Jamie Oliver’s “glug of oil” often manifests as a pond ducklings could paddle in happily. (Guilty.) The intentions are good but science has moved on. So there are now lots of sprays that use no emulsifiers, additives or preservatives.
The Flora product cleverly notes on the front that it is a sunflower oil spray “made with plants”. Under ingredients it lists simply “hi-oleic sunflower oil” indicating it is high in monounsaturated fat. It has just 2kcal in each spray.
Italian olive oil producer Felippo Berio makes an extra virgin olive oil spray with no additives or preservatives. There is no list of ingredients as it is not necessary to create one when just one ingredient is used. It explains that the olives used are from Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Tunisia. It also has a version for frying that uses refined olive oil. Neither mention the number of calories, but all olive oils have about the same.
Another Italian brand Fratelli Mantova uses simply cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. It has “15 calories in a one second spray”. It comes in a can with “no CFCs, no silicone, no additives and no preservatives”. It is pressurised though, but how to dispose of it safely is not mentioned.
Better yet is Irish brand Sussed, which is based in Wicklow. Its oil spray is made using “100 per cent cold-pressed extra virgin rapeseed oil” and has just two calories in each spray. The front explains that it is low in saturated fat, but rich in omega 3 and vitamin E. The thinking now is that most of us could do with getting more omega 3 oils and less omega 6, which is found in sunflower and corn oil.
Turn the back of the Sussed spray and you will see a flame with the words “high smoke point” and 200 degrees C. This means it will not release damaging compounds when you fry at standard temperatures.