I never thought much about the oils I used in my food when I first started cooking for myself. I think I had just one bottle of vegetable oil in my cupboard. Sometimes, I’m sure, I had butter in the fridge, but that was mostly for my toast or baking. When I delved deeper into my cooking obsession, after I got married, I added olive oil the cupboard. Then came some sesame oil for my stir frying, and next thing you know, I have dozens of oils to choose from on a daily basis.
One question that is presented to me time and again is: Which oil is best for which cooking method?
This question is presented to me all the time, and it’s not an easy one to answer. It is multi-faceted, with various angles to consider. The health factor, the flavor factor, and the smoking point factor. Health and flavor are obvious. Why smoking point? Because when an oil is at its smoking point, it is closer to its flash point – the point where it will burst into flame. Not only is burnt food not appetizing, but when food is burnt, carcinogenic substances are produced. Even though it would take significant amounts of burnt food to be consumed for it to be a significant cancer risk, again, why would you WANT to eat burnt food?
Andrew, over at Eating Rules, came up with a clever and super informative flow chart about the healthy benefits of cooking oils and a basic guide to the cooking uses of these fats and oils. What I hope to show you is more specific about the cooking side.
Below I have listed some oils that are commonly used in everyday cooking. I did not include every possible oil, as the choices are vast. But with a small collection of these oils, your cooking possibilities are endless.
This is the highest quality and most expensive type of olive oil. It must pass an official chemical test by the International Olive Council for it to be classified as “extra-virgin.” Virgin Olive Oil is produced from purely physical means and with no chemicals. Extra-virgin olive oil is the result from the first cold-pressing of the olives. It is darker in color, less acidity and has more olive flavor than virgin olive oil. Any other olive oils are just not worth mentioning as they tend to be refined with chemical additives.
Smoking Point: 400-365ºF (204 and 185ºC) depending on its free fatty acid content.
Good For: Pan-Frying, Stir-Frying, Baking, Roasting, & Dips/Dressings/Marinades.
This oil is the result from pressing the seeds from various grapes, a by-product of wine-making. It has a light neutral taste, and high in polyunsaturated fat. Because of it’s high smoking point, it is very safe to use on the grill or for frying.
Smoking point: 485ºF (252ºC)
Good For: Pan-Frying, Stir-Frying, Deep Frying, Baking, Roasting, & Dips/Dressings/Marinades.
This is the edible oil pressed from the avocado fruit, not the seed. It is high in monosaturated fats and Vitamin E. Light in color, with a mild nuttiness, it is much more neutral in flavor than compared to olive oil. It also has a high smoking point, but it is more expensive than grape seed oil.
Smoking Point: 520ºF (271ºC)
Good For: Grilling, Pan-Frying, Stir-Frying, Deep Frying, Baking, Roasting & Dips/Dressings/Marinades.
This oil is made from pressing toasted sesame seeds. It is amber in color and very flavorful. Here is where a little goes a long way, so it is typically mixed in with a neutral tasting oil. Because of it’s relatively low smoking point, dark sesame oil is best to use at the end of the cooking process for additional flavor.
Smoking Point: 350 ºF (177ºC)
Good For: Stir-Frying & Dips/Dressings/Marinades.
This is the oil produced from rapeseed, or field mustard. It is slightly heated and then crushed to release the oil. Most of the controversy over canola oil is that most of what you see in the supermarket is from the genetically engineered rapeseed. Low in saturated fat, it is a very popular oil for low-calorie cooking.
Smoking Point: 400 ºF (204ºC).
Good For: Pan-Frying, Stir-Frying, Baking, Roasting & Dips/Dressings/Marinades.