Cooking Oil

Let us help you through the maze of
cooking oil choices

Written by ALLISON MONTROY

With dozens of options on supermarket shelves, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when choosing cooking oil. But oils are fundamental to meal prep. They add flavor and moisture to a dish. They keep food from sticking to the pan and add a final flair when drizzled on top just before serving.

So choosing the best oil for each dish is crucial. To do that, you need to compare performance, flavor and health benefits of each. And to make an informed decision, you need to know the basics.

Three types of fats dominate the oil world: saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. While saturated (and trans) fats, mostly present in butter, shortening and lard, are solid at room temperature and can resist higher temperatures, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are packed with heart-healthy nutrients.

Polyunsaturated fats, found in safflower and corn oils, oxidize easily, making them more susceptible to heat unless treated.

Monounsaturated fats, found in canola, nut and olive oils, can withstand higher heats. It’s important to be aware of an oil’s heat resistance—known as the smoke point—the temperature at which the oil begins to break down and lose nutrients.

For instance, peanut oil, with a high smoke point of 440°, is great for frying; while flaxseed oil, with a low smoke point of 225°, should not be heated but makes a healthy addition to salad dressings.

Despite the fats present in the oils, different oils can be manipulated to resist higher
temperatures.

Refined oils, while more stable for longer storage and high-heat cooking, don’t pack as much nutrition or flavor as their unrefined counterparts.

An unrefined oil delivers bolder flavors, colors and nutritional benefits; however, their natural resins means they’ll begin to smoke at low temps.

In most cases, soft fruit and nut oils labeled as “expeller-pressed” or “cold-pressed” are considered higher quality because the oil is mechanically pressed from the seed without any chemical solvents. Harder seeds are more likely to need pre-treatment before pressing.

CANOLA OIL Uses: Bake, sauté Smoke point: 400° (medium-high) Great for: All-purpose cooking where flavor isn’t needed. Look for cold-pressed, non-GMO organic canola oil, which is low in saturated fat and high in omega-3 fatty acids.

The following and above (very) basic cooking oil primer helps demystify the decision-making process so you can focus on the rest of your food prep.

FLAXSEED OIL Uses: Drizzle Smoke point: 225° (no heat) Great for: Salad dressings. This oil oozes with healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
MACADAMIA NUT OIL Uses: Fry, sauté, bake Smoke point: 390° (medium-high) Great for: Popcorn and as a basting sauce for deep fried turkey thanks to its nutty, buttery flavor. Has less polyunsaturated fat than olive oil but is high in antioxidants.
RED PALM OIL Uses: Sauté, bake, drizzle Smoke point: 302° (medium) Great for: Stews and sauces. Not to be confused with palm kernel oil, this carotene-packed oil comes from the red, fleshy fruit of the palm tree and has high amounts of vitamins A and E.
TOASTED PUMPKIN SEED OIL Uses: Drizzle Smoke point: No heat Great for: Topping grilled foods with its smoky, earthy flavor.
COCONUT OIL Uses: Bake, sauté Smoke point: 350° (medium) Great as: A delicious, distinctively sweet addition to baked goods and perfect for sautéing veggies.
GRAPESEED OIL Uses: Drizzle, sauté, fry, bake Smoke point: 420° (medium-high) Great for: Just about anything. Neutral flavoring makes it easy to use in a variety of dishes.
OLIVE OIL Uses: Drizzle, sauté, fry Smoke point: Extra virgin, 320° (medium-high); virgin, 420° (high) Great for: Drizzling on everything. This heart-healthy oil, made by grinding olives, is good in Mediterranean-style dishes because of its robust flavor. Avoid pomace olive oil which is heavily refined using chemical processing.
 SAFFLOWER OIL Uses: Sauté, bake Smoke point: Unrefined, 225° (low); refined, 510° (high) Great for: Dishes that don’t need additional flavor. Similar to sunflower oil. Look for high oleic oil, which is labeled for high heat.
WALNUT OIL Uses: Drizzle Smoke point: 204° (no heat) Great for: Salads and drizzling on game meats like venison and beef. Adds flavor but is extremely perishable, so store in fridge.
CORN OIL Uses: Fry Smoke point: 450° (high) Great for: All-purpose cooking. Corn oil doesn’t have a particularly strong flavor and is high in polyunsaturated fats.
HEMP SEED OIL Uses: Drizzle Smoke point: 330° (no heat) Great as: A finishing oil–drizzle over pasta or on grilled veggies. Don’t heat; the omega-3 fatty acids break down too easily and you’ll lose the nutrients.
PEANUT OIL Uses: Drizzle, fry Smoke point: 440° (high) Great for: Deep-frying, roasting and in Asian dishes thanks to the oil’s light, nutty flavor.
TOASTED SESAME OIL Uses: Drizzle Smoke point: 210° (no heat) Great for: Asian cuisine. This distinctively smoky, nutty oil is packed with vitamin K.