In the past few decades, fats and oils have been on nothing short of a roller coaster ride where they fluctuated between an unhealthy and healthy status. Today it has become very clear that an all or nothing labeling of food groups is not the correct way to go. Today we understand that when it comes to something like oils, their source and form of processing is what will qualify them as healthy or unhealthy. And of course how much of them we consume must always be taken into consideration.

In this review, I will share with you information and my experiences with three particular oils from Spectrum. These will be their organic coconut, walnut and organic asian stir fry oils from the Spectrum Naturals line of oils.

Spectrum was founded in 1986 and is a company that specializes in oils, mainly organic oils. Its purpose was to make healthy oils available to the American public. Today Spectrum is owned by Hain Celestial – a leading natural and organic food and personal care products company in North America and Europe. Spectrum prides itself as the nation’s top-selling brand of organic, expeller pressed culinary and nutritional oils. The company consists of two main divisions:

1. Spectrum Naturals® is a line of culinary oils and vinegars that includes more than 30 varieties of seed, nut and plant oils, vinegars, mayonnaise products, salad dressings, spreads, cooking sprays and trans fat free shortening, many of which are organic.

2. Spectrum Essentials® is a line of nutritional oils including over 20 distinct products aimed at supporting good health by providing essential fatty acids like omega-3 and other vital nutrients.

Oil Basics

When it comes to oils in general, for optimal health, they should always be of the highest quality, meaning unrefined. They should whenever possible be organic. They should for the most part be used sparingly. Finally, they need to be from the healthiest sources like olive, flax, or coconut. And they need to be used optimally, meaning keeping most oils raw and not subjected to heat to prevent degrading oxidation reactions that are inflammatory in nature to our health. Ultimately oils are processed food products, so the closer we get to the oil’s original source and form, the healthier for us.

When it comes to Spectrum oils, I examined the extensive variety of products they feature on the Spectrum website and right away could see some valuable products, but also lots of processed and refined products that one would not consider for optimal health. For this review I got sent 3 sample oils: Coconut, Walnut and Asian, and will share with you about each one of these specifically.

Spectrum Organic Refined Coconut Oil

Ingredients: Organic coconut oil (may contain peanut oil, tree nuts, sesame seeds, milk, soy or wheat.)

Coconut oil, as we know today, is one of the healthiest oils we can cook with. Being someone who loves coconut oil and is used to the highest quality, unrefined, extra virgin coconut oil, I was however not eagerly looking forward to trying the Spectrum refined coconut oil. Having tried refined oils in the past, I pretty much knew what to expect – a white, tasteless and odorless product. And that is exactly how this oil proved to be. The good news was that it had no detectable chemical scent, which I have experienced with some other refined oils. I was not impressed either with the contamination possible when it comes to this oil, as it is produced in a multi-food product facility. This is a big issue for anyone with food allergies or strict vegans.

Aside from the health properties of coconut oil when in its most natural form, it is very heat stable due to the fact that it is very high in saturated fats (the healthiest kind). Thus it is the most ideal oil (unless you wish to use butter) for high heat cooking.

Finally, while it is great that this oil is organic, this does not override the fact that it is refined. If you are interested in this oil, the good news is that Spectrum has an unrefined organic option which will be a much better choice.

See this previous article I wrote for more information about how to pick the best coconut oil with a comparison of various brands.

Spectrum Refined Walnut Oil

Ingredients: Walnut Oil

Walnut oil is not a popular or common choice of oils for everyday use, and this was my first time trying one. It is an expensive oil, compared to others, and most commonly used in its purest, unrefined version in fine cuisine or by specialty food connoisseurs.

In terms of taste, I do very much enjoy walnuts and their taste, and this product label shared that this oil has a “mild walnut flavor”. However, upon opening the bottle to smell it, or when used in cooking no walnut flavor or scent was detected, as would be expected with a refined oil. Like the coconut oil above, this oil also states that it was expeller-pressed, and then refined, making it unfit as a raw food product.

In terms of nutritional value, walnut oil is made available as a source of omega-3 fatty acids. However, don’t look to products like this to improve your health in that department. Eat fresh, natural walnuts instead. If you would like to enjoy the flavour, aroma and health benefits of a real walnut oil, you need to find one that is artisan-like and unrefined.

Spectrum Organic Refined Asian Stir Fry Oil

Ingredients: Organic soy oil, organic peanut oil, organic sesame oil, natural flavors.

Trying this oil was also a first for me, as I don’t really use any oils aside from coconut and olive oil in my daily meal preparation. I definitely would have been more open to it, if it was not refined. The good news was that the oil did contain organic oils, which in the case of something like soy is crucial to prevent consuming GMO soy products, and in the case of peanuts is crucial as well, as peanuts are treated with many pesticides.

In terms of taste and aroma, this oil was very strong and you can expect a strong ginger-soy-sauce-like taste and smell. On the label there is mention that it is a flavored oil, and given that it is refined (which normally nullifies any natural taste/smell), the strong scent and flavor came from the added “natural flavors”. While these may sound “good”, we have to keep in mind that true natural flavor is what our food has before it is processed.

I prepared various food dishes with this oil, both cooked (stir-fry) and raw, and while sometimes I found the taste/aroma beneficial, most of the time it was as if the food was treated with a perfume and I would definitely not recommend this oil for optimal health.

Conclusion

Overall, the best part of the three oils was that they came in glass bottles/jars. This is very important to maintain the freshness and product quality. Each of them being refined, is suited for medium to high heat. All three of these oils state that they have been expeller pressed, meaning a mechanical type of oil extraction where the pressure involved creates heat in the range of 140–210 °F (60–99 °C), making the product unsuitable as a raw food product. Once an oil has been pressed, it then goes through a refining process. This can involve the use of various chemicals and/or heat, but at least Spectrum shares that it is a natural refining where no preservatives or chemical agents were used. Still, these processes are degrading the nutritional quality of the product and it should always be our first choice to pick an oil that is unrefined.

Although Spectrum specializes in oils, it has not been and won’t be my first choice for oil products. Although the company has some right intentions, and shares a lot about their products and business that sounds really good, it is not a company that has optimal health at the basis of their foundation. Thus, I would rather choose any oils I use, or any oils I recommend from companies whose foundation is based on optimal health of the highest quality of unrefined and unprocessed products.

If you are interested in choosing or using some oils from Spectrum, my only advice for your best health is to choose from their unrefined options, and overall reduce your reliance on oils and high-heat treated foods.

Packaging

The coconut oil comes in a clear, glass jar. The walnut and asian oils come in green glass bottles. The green bottles protect the product from light, which can degrade the oils, helping them stay fresh longer. The glass packages are all fully recyclable or reusable once the product is finished.

Price (as of this posting)

Spectrum Coconut Oil

  • Around $8.00 – 12.00 CAD/US in local health food stores
  • $11.29 CAD per 414ml jar from Well.ca
  • $7.74 US per refined 14oz size from Amazon.com
  • $10.12 US per unrefined 14oz size from Amazon.com
  • $7.99 US (refined)/$11.99 US (unrefined) per 14oz size from The Vitamin Shoppe

Spectrum Walnut Oil

  • Around $12.00 – 15.00 CAD/US per 375ml/12oz bottle in selected stores
  • $13.49 CAD/US per 375ml bottle from Well.ca

Spectrum Asian Stir Fry Oil

  • Around $7.00 – 10.00 CAD/US per 480ml/16oz bottle in selected stores

Availability

  • In Canada & US at local health food and grocery stores
  • Online Stores (see in price section above)
  • To find a store in the US see the Spectrum store locator

The Good

  • Some certified organic ingredients
  • Come in glass packaging
  • Some health promoting characteristics
  • Naturally refined (no chemical use)
  • Fair prices

The Bad

  • Refined oils
  • Heat-processed oils
  • Some health harming characteristics