What oil do you use for cooking in Japan? Is tempura healthy?

nisshin salad oil

The most frequently asked questions since we started Cooking Sun in April, 2014 is: ‘What oil do you use?’

We answer ‘Salad oil’ or ‘Canola oil’. Simple and honest. In fact, this is the most common oil for deep-frying foods. And actually the only oil we use for daily use. We use other oils such as sesame oil but that is more for flavoring and less for every day cooking.

I suspect people may think canola oil is unhealthy, so when they see oil, they get nervous and ask about every day oil use in Japanese cooking. But, please don’t worry. Vegetable oil is perfectly healthy in small amounts. At Cooking Sun, we use lots of oil for tempura, but it is actually considered a very healthy food because of its oil use!

Why is tempura healthy? Though I’m not an expert, let me explain briefly. Usually we eat vegetables stir-fried or boiled. But by doing that, if the vegetables are in the pan or pot for a long time, the nutrients can be cooked away. But if you deep-fry vegetables tempura style, because they are covered by tempura batter, the vegetables are only steamed and maintain their full nutrients. And some nutrients require a bit of oil in order to be best absorbed in the body, so the oil used in making tempura is actually perfect for this purpose. This is why tempura is sometimes mentioned as a healthy food.

But you may wonder if tempura batter is healthy or not. That is a valid question. If the tempura batter is too thick, it sucks up a lot of oil and it will never be healthy. Sometimes if you order tempura at a restaurant, and the batter is so thick with just a tiny shrimp or vegetable inside, don’t blame tempura. Blame the chef!

Using oil is not always unhealthy. Japanese people have been using vegetable oil and making tempura for many years and they say we are some of the healthiest people in the word. So don’t worry! Just come and savor the delicious food.

If you are interested in learning how to make tempura and if you are visiting Japan, it is in our Morning Bento Class (KYOTO) menu and you can also make tempura bowl in our Nishiki Market Food Tour (KYOTO), so please check out.