One of the most common cooking questions people ask is “what kind of cooking oils should I use?” If you go down the grocery store aisles, you’ll find the better part of one side completely overtaken by cooking oils. So how do you know which one is the best?
Growing up, my mom cooked with olive oil for everything. Well, that and vegetable oil for baking. Occasionally the crisco would be brought out if she thought a recipe couldn’t do without it. Ay yi yi.
When it comes to choosing the right cooking oils, there are two things to keep in mind: smoke point and nutritional value.
Understanding the Smoke Point in Cooking Oils
When cooking with oil, it’s important to be aware of its smoke point to preserve quality and taste. The flavors and composition of the oil can break down if heated above its given smoke point. And this cause the food to have a bitter aftertaste, as if the oil had gone rancid.
Some of the most common cooking oils and their smoke point include:
- Avocado oil: 500 degrees, neutral in flavor and a fantastic option for roasting grilling and/or broiling
- Sesame oil: 410 degrees, best used for stir fry and Asian dishes due to its toasty flavor
- Extra-virgin olive oil (cold-pressed): 325 degrees, best used for light sautéing and salad dressings
- Virgin, unrefined coconut oil: 350 degrees, great for baking
- Flaxseed, hemp and walnut oil: these oils are very delicate and should not be heated at all. They are considered a finishing oil and can be used to dress vegetables, salads or even added to smoothies for their incredible nutritional value add.
Do you know the Health Benefits of the various cooking oils?
When buying cooking oils, focus on quality. Many low-quality (cheap) vegetable oils are highly processed which can lead to a disproportion of fatty acids, contributing to inflammation, cell damage and heart disease.
Coconut oil has been a controversial kitchen staple due to its high proportion of saturated fats. Unlike many processed foods and animal fats, however, coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which have been linked to heart health benefits.
Aside from coconut oil, other cooking oils that promote cardiovascular health (meaning they contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) include: olive oil, flaxseed oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, almond oil, walnut oil and hemp oil.
Beware of Cooking Sprays
This is one of my favorite tests I put students of my monthly cooking classes through. I present everyone with a few cooking spray options, asking them which ones they would put in their shopping cart.
The point of this exercise is to look past the marketing messaging on the front of the cooking spray and pay attention to the ingredients listed. There should only be one ingredient – the type of oil being used.
What you might not realize is that the cooking spray bottles that look like a spray paint can (aluminum packaging with a small rectangular tip) contain additives that are questionable to your health. These ingredients often include: soy lecithin, natural flavors and propellant (which is flammable).
Which oils do I use when cooking?
I always recommend keeping just a few oils on hand at a time. The ones that I use the most are:
Avocado oil (mostly for roasting or high-heat searing)
- Sheet Pan Roasted Vegetables
- Chipotle-Inspired Sweet Potato Black Bean Power Bowl
- Detoxifying Roasted Carrot and Butternut Squash Soup
Extra-virgin olive oil (for sauteing vegetables, soups and homemade dressings)
Pure sesame oil (for stir fry, peanut sauces and Asian flavor)
- Mushroom Cashew Lettuce Wraps
- Easy Asian Cabbage Slaw with Ginger Dressing
- Veggie Thai Quinoa Salad with Peanut Dressing
Coconut oil (for baking and raw desserts)
- Bakery-Style Almond Blueberry Muffins
- No Bake Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake Bites
- Superfood Chunky Monkey Banana Bread Muffins
Truffle-infused extra-virgin olive oil (for when I want to feel a little fancy)
So, next time you’re at the store, make sure to keep some of these tips in mind as you consider your options for cooking oils. I know it can feel overwhelming with all of the healthy options and marketing out there, but that’s why I like to break things down into simple swaps for everyday items you may be using.