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.

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.