Not all cooking oil sprays are as healthy – or as handy – as you think

Clay: 'I've got a love-hate relationship with oil sprays, but there's no doubt they are useful'
Clay: 'I've got a love-hate relationship with oil sprays' - iStockphoto

This week, the oil spray found its way into the national shopping trolley for the first time. The Consumer Price Inflation (CPI) basket of goods and services, a list compiled annually by the National Audit Office, aims to be “up to date and representative of consumer spending patterns.” So this year, it’s out with hand sanitiser (gone the way of washing hands for two rounds of Happy Birthday) and bye-bye rotisserie chicken – but there’s a re-entry for vinyl records, along with the brand new listing for that handy oil spray.

I’ve got a love-hate relationship with oil sprays, but there’s no doubt they are useful – or at least some of them are. There are two kinds. Some are just straight oil, although I suspect they choose a thin-textured “low-viscosity” example to run through the nozzle easily. Others, sometimes subtitled “cooking spray” are curious cocktails of ultra-processed ingredients, emulsifiers, thickeners and preservatives. They are billed as non-stick, and sound about as appealing as eating a Teflon pan. Talking of which, apparently you shouldn’t use a non-stick spray on non-stick cookware – all those weird additives end up forming a build-up of gunk on the pan.

The pure oil ones are a nifty store cupboard addition, both as an ingredient and a way to cook a little more healthily (and yes, I know good oil is healthy – but not in huge quantities). There are rapeseed, sunflower and coconut oil versions available but for me it’s all about olive oil, for the flavour – try the Odysea 100 per cent Cretan oil version for a great example. I could be tempted by hazelnut oil or walnut oil as both are strong enough tasting that a short spritz would deliver flavour aplenty, but I’ve yet to find either in a spray.

One that has caught my eye is the Sizzola Air Fryer Spray Oil which seems synergistic as air fryers have also entered the CPI basket this year. With high oleic sunflower oil and avocado oil, both able to cope with very high temperatures, and no added nasties, this could be the answer for low-fat chips.


Sizzola Air Fryer Spray Oil, £1.50/190ml,; Odysea 100 per cent Cretan oil version, £7/250ml,

Back to olive oil: for perfect crostini, misting a slice of baguette before baking it to a crisp is the only way to go. Drizzling the oil on doesn’t make for an even spread, while fiddling around with a brush just makes more washing up. A spray is good for a light touch with roasted vegetables too: anyone who’s counted calories (maybe that’s coming back, along with the vinyl records) will know that a single teaspoon of oil has a jaw-slackening 40 calories, while a single spray is just one tiny cal. Best-selling Frylight suggests five sprays per “cook”, which equates to 5 calories, a considerable reduction on the 120 calories that the one tablespoon of oil typically used in recipes carries. It gives a whole new meaning to “calorie control”.

But oil sprays are also a source of frustration. Mostly it’s the way the nozzle gets clogged up after about three low-fat suppers. This turns the spray into a squirt, so you might as well have just drizzled and been done with it. And all that packaging (mostly plastic) feels positively profligate these days.

Some of the bottles are refillable if you can prise off the cap, but don’t try that with a pressurised can. You could skirt all that by investing in a reusable oil spray bottle. Lakeland stocks the Misto ( £11.99) which you pump to increase the pressure inside so it puffs out steadily like hair spray. Despite the initial outlay, with supermarket vegetable oil priced at around 19p per 100ml versus 80p per 100ml for the spray equivalent, refilling your own will still stack up in your favour, if you plan to use it often.


Frylight, £2.75, Ocado; Misto, £11.99, Lakeland

But what about clogging? “We advise to clean it every six to eight weeks to keep it working smoothly,” says a Lakeland spokesperson. “To do this you fill it half full with hot tap water, add one drop of liquid detergent and shake to mix. You then pump 10 to 15 times and spray for 10 seconds. Leave the soapy water in the sprayer for several hours or even overnight as this will allow any oil that has solidified to break down. Rinse and repeat the sequence above with fresh hot water.” It means you can put the oil you want in there (even hazelnut or walnut) without paying through the nose for some possibly third-rate sample. And pay you do: the prices for some of the sprays are definitely pumped up. Some things stay the same, however much you update them.

Six clever ways to use cooking oil spray

1. Spray a light film of oil on the inside of measuring spoons when using sticky ingredients such as honey and nut butter. It will help ensure a more accurate measurement as well as making washing-up a little easier.

2. Spritz some oil onto a baking tray to help greaseproof paper stay fixed in place when piping biscuits or meringues.

3. For effective protection against browning, spray cut vegetables such as avocado or aubergine with a thin coating of oil before wrapping well.

4. Save time by using a neutral vegetable spray oil to grease aluminium cake tins – particularly useful for bundt and other elaborately-designed bakeware. Unless using a pure, additive-free oil, sprays are not recommended for non-stick surfaces.

5. Ensure bread dough doesn’t form a crust during proving by spraying the surface with olive oil before covering the bowl with a tea towel.

6. Help seasoning and spice-blends coat meat and vegetables more evenly by giving them a light spray of oil first.

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