Lately our world seems to be filled with choices down every food aisle at the super market, and the cooking oil section is no exception. Long gone are the days when vegetable oil was the only option. Although all this selection can ultimately lead to a more healthy and delicious eating experience, it can be a bit overwhelming.
So how is a person supposed to decide? The good news: you don’t have to pick just one type of oil. Different types of oils work better for different types of cooking methods, so it is important to have a diverse selection in your pantry. Also, varying your cooking oils can help your body benefit from the wide assortment of healthy fats found in different oils.
The main thing to remember when you are selecting your cooking oil is that oils are heat sensitive. If you cook with an oil at a higher temperature than it can tolerate, the oil will begin to smoke. Not only will this lead to a less than stellar eating experience, it will also cause many of the beneficial compounds in the oil to break down. Fortunately, it is fairly easy to tell if your oil is not suited to the type of cooking you are doing. As stated early, if the oil begins to smoke it cannot handle the temperature needed for that particular cooking method. Simply start over with an oil that has a higher smoke point.
Different Types of Cooking Oils
Vegetable Oil: Vegetable oil is a blend of plant based oils – the majority of which being soybean oil. Soybean oil itself has neutral flavor and medium smoke point that make it great for a variety of light sautéing applications, whether you are cooking veggies or meats. Soybean oil is also high in polyunsaturated omegas 6 fatty acids, which are important for brain development. However, overconsumption of vegetable oils can contribute to health issues like heart disease, so it is important to maintain a balance between omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.
Olive Oil: Olive oil has a medium smoke point and mild to moderate flavor based on the varietal selected. Different types of olives create oils with different flavors, which makes cooking with olive oil an exciting venture. Experiencing different varietals of olive oil can often be compared to tasting fine wine. Some olives create oils with a buttery or peppery finish, while others have citrus notes or even hints of apple or artichoke.
Olive oil is great for many different types of medium heat cooking, such as sautéing and baking meats and fish. Olive oil can even be used as a substitute for vegetable oil in confections when a small amount of oil is called for. In fact, our Blood Orange olive oil makes a great substitute for veggie oil in a traditional brownie recipe. Olive oil is also great for cold applications like salad dressings, bread dipping and pesto.
From a health standpoint, olive oil has many benefits. It is very high in monounsaturated fats, which can help reduce bad cholesterol levels and thereby lower your risk of heart disease and stroke (source: American Heart Association). Olive oil also contains omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, as well as vitamins E and K.
Olive oil should not be used for any cooking method with temperatures above medium heat (375°F), such as stir-frying or pan-frying. High heat damages the omega 3 fatty acids contained in olive oil, depriving you of their health benefits. Also, frying with olive oil will cause the oil to smoke and create “off” flavors.
Avocado Oil: Avocado Oil is relatively new to the culinary scene, however its mild flavor and high smoke point (570°F), along with its many health benefits, are sure to make it a staple in many kitchens. Like olive oil, avocado oil is extracted by pressing the pulp surrounding the pit of the fruit. Also like olive oil, avocado oil is very high in monounsaturated fats and vitamin E, in addition to heart-healthy compounds called phytosterols. Avocado oil’s high smoke point makes it a go-to for stir-frying and high heat baking. Its mild flavor also makes it a great option for salad dressings.
Grapeseed Oil: Grapeseed oil is pressed from the seeds of grapes, making it an abundant by-product of the winemaking industry. Grapeseed oil is very versatile due to its light, clean flavor and moderately high smoke point. Grapeseed oil is great for use in stir-frying, sautéing, salad dressings, and even baking. Similar to soybean oil, grapeseed oil is high in polyunsaturated omega 6s.
Peanut Oil: Peanut oil is a flavorful, high smoke point (450°F) oil that is excellent for frying. Whether you are frying fish, French fries, tempura, or a turkey, nothing really beats peanut oil. It is also great for stir-fries and other Asian dishes. In addition, peanut oil is relatively high in monounsaturated fats, and contains vitamin E and heart-healthy phytosterols.
Coconut Oil: Coconut Oil has a mild to moderate flavor (usually the refined varieties are not quite as “coconutty” in flavor) and medium to high smoke point (350°F for extra virgin, 450°F for refined). Coconut oil makes a great substitute for butter or shortening in many baking recipes (try it the next time you make pie crust). It is also very popular in Thai cuisine.
Sesame Oil: Sesame oil is a very flavorful oil with a moderate smoke point (350°F) that is almost exclusively used in Asian cuisine. It is common in low-heat stir-fries, sauces, soups, and marinades. It has a high proportion of polyunsaturated omega 6s and is high in anti-oxidants. If you are a fan of any type of Asian cooking, sesame oil is a must-have for your pantry.
There are many more cooking oils available to consumers, all with different flavors and health benefits. The most important thing is to pick a cooking oil that has a smoke point appropriate for the type of cooking method you are doing. Beyond that, cook with many different oils for the maximum health benefits and have fun exploring new flavors!