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I'm actually in china and here olive oil is expensive and difficult to be found. I need it to fry slightly onion/garlic for ex. to prepare tomato sauce.

What can I use as alternative?

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    Using extra virgin olive oil as a mere heat conductor for garlic seems wasteful to me. Why not use sunflower/vegetable oil? – Mischa Arefiev Sep 8 '14 at 8:02
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    really you will feel the difference in your tomato sauce. I trust in my grandmother (and in my tongue :) ... but I will give a try, maybe we (italian) do it only because olive oil is wide used/available. – WonderLand Sep 8 '14 at 8:16
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    if there is a METRO in your city (metromall.com.cn) and you have a chinese friend holding a card you can find several olive oil brands (price still a bit expensive) – Guido Preite Sep 8 '14 at 8:37
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    You should post your update as a self-answer instead. – 200_success Sep 8 '14 at 18:02
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    Strange that you found the rapeseed oil to have a strong flavor. Rapeseed is canola, it shouldn't have much flavor at all. If it does, I'd be a bit concerned Rapeseed and Toxicity. – Jolenealaska Sep 8 '14 at 23:46
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Nothing else is going to taste like extra-virgin olive oil, but extra-virgin isn't necessary for cooking at all. As a matter of fact, the smoke point of extra-virgin olive oil is so low that it's not often used for cooking. For cooking with olive oil, usually the choice would be "refined" or "pure" olive oil. Honestly, those don't taste like much. So whatever neutral oil you usually use (soybean, canola, peanut and vegetable are a few options) will work just fine.

  • " the smoke point of extra-virgin olive oil is so low ..." are u sure about that ? I always heard that olive oil is good also because it is resistant to high temperature ... – WonderLand Sep 8 '14 at 7:02
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    @WonderLand It's actually a bit controversial, apparently some olive oils that are called extra virgin can be heated to about 420F. The extra-virgin olive oil that typically can be found on a grocery shelf will burn much lower than that. Wiki makes the distinction between extra-virgin and high quality, low acid extra-virgin. Apparently the low acid stuff has a higher smoke point. I can tell you from experience that the cheap Costco brand of EVOO burns very quickly. – Jolenealaska Sep 8 '14 at 7:18
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    maybe it depends which oil is used for test as you are saying ... I'm from italy and I can assure you that what you find in supermarket is not olive oil at all ( any price ) ... my parent buy oil from farmer and that is a totally different product. – WonderLand Sep 8 '14 at 7:22
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    @WonderLand I have no doubt of that. It makes me think of when I go "home" to Iowa. For some reason, somebody always wants to serve me salmon. "You call that Salmon?!?" – Jolenealaska Sep 8 '14 at 7:26
  • +1 supermarket extra virgin olive oil burns quickly, which is why I only fry on refined sunflower oil – Mischa Arefiev Sep 8 '14 at 8:01
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My comment on the other answer got too long. Couple of points:

  • Regarding the "controversial" status of smoke points: I don't think it's that controversial. Chemically extracted and altered olive oils (pomace and "light" variants) behave differently to pressed, "real" olive oil. Few people include the first when talking about extra virgin; which has a sub-200°C smoke point.

  • You can still cook with EVOO (we do) but you can't cook like you're in China with it. It'll burn and it'll ruin your wok much quicker than almost anything else. You want to crank the temperature right down. A 600°C wok won't do at all.

  • If you're doing garlic to go in a sauce, cut a few bulbs in half, drench in oil and salt the bulbs. Roast them for ~40-50 minutes at 160-180°C. When it's all brown and soft, squeeze out the garlic and either combine with your oil or separate them (not sure how much oil you want).

    Not only will you end up with a much richer roast garlic paste but you don't have to worry too much about burning things.

But as for the oil, if you're mixing it with garlic and tomato, I would be surprised if anybody noticed it wasn't extra virgin olive oil. Pick something that you can cook with and save the EVOO for when you would taste the oil (salad dressings, etc).

  • An excellent suggestion for roasting the garlic as woks may be too hot ... but I don't know how prevalent ovens are in China. I've never tried cooking garlic in a steamer, but it might work. – Joe Sep 8 '14 at 12:12
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    Apparently just ~10 minutes in a steamer though I'm not sure I'd believe it delivers the same sweetness... That said it is only 10 minutes and it is lunchtime... Be right back... FOR SCIENCE!! – Oli Sep 8 '14 at 12:17
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    Steaming garlic does work but it's not the same beast as frying and nothing like roasting it. It takes a surprisingly long time. I gave it about 15 minutes in a pressure steamer which is about 30 minutes in a normal steamer and it needed more. It was earthy and subtle but lacked the sweetness of direct heat cooking techniques. It was also a bit soggy but that's understandable. – Oli Sep 8 '14 at 12:53
  • @Oli: yes I was thinking the same about preserve olive oil for "crude purpose", about the wok I have today experienced that it tends to get high temperature fast so I have switch off very soon. unfortunately in China oven are not very popular and I don't have it in my apartment, but sounds a good advice. – WonderLand Sep 8 '14 at 15:07
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Can you access Walnut oil? I love La Tourangelle from Amazon; it adds a unique flavor and I use it almost interchangeably with EVOO. It tastes great and has a great anti-inflammatory powers similar to EVOO.

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Update
at the end I bought some rapeseed oil, this is the only thing I was able to find ( since I don't know chinese and my first concern was to find a 100% vegetable oil ... ).

It was not the best (this oil has a strong taste) choose but my pasta "aglio e olio e peperoncino" was not so bad. ( main problem was the rice pasta that has to be cooked in a different way and get overcooked ) I had to be very careful with the wok since it tends to rise high temperate and burn the garlic ( even if I set the fire to the minimum )

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