You probably use cooking oil in lots of homemade meals. But have you ever wondered what sets different oils apart from one another?
All oils aren’t created equal, and there are a few things to consider when choosing which ones to cook with. The uses, flavor, and types of fat that oils contain are just a few things to think about.
How to Choose a Cooking Oil
Some people shy away from adding extra fat into their cooking, but using an oil that contains healthy fats will enhance your diet, as long as you use it in moderation.
To choose the right oil for your needs, you have to think about what you’ll use it for. For example, if you plan on using an oil to fry or saute food, you’ll want to know its smoke point.
That’s the temperature at which the oil starts to give off smoke when heated. Once the oil starts to smoke, it produces toxic fumes, and its chemical makeup changes.
When an oil smokes or burns, any healthy fats and antioxidants burn along with it. The oil will also produce free radicals, which can be damaging and can cause health problems, especially if you use burned oil on a regular basis. Different cooking oils have their own smoke point temperature.
Types of Fats in Cooking Oils
Oil has healthy or unhealthy fats. Some oils have a mix of these fats, so get familiar with them to find the best option for you.
Saturated fats. These typically aren’t healthy. They’re mostly found in dairy products, fatty meats, or coconut and palm oils.
Trans fats. These are commonly found in processed food. Stay away from trans fats, or eat them sparingly. Check grocery labels to find out how much trans fats are in packaged food.
Monounsaturated fats. You can find these healthy fats in raw nuts, olives, and avocados. Monounsaturated fats can also be found in extra virgin olive oil, peanut oil, and avocado oil.
Polyunsaturated fats. These fats, which include omega-6 and omega-3s, are healthy fatty acids. You can get them from oily fish like salmon and mackerel, as well as chia seeds and walnuts. They’re especially good for your brain.
Types of Cooking Oils
You can find the most popular oils in most grocery stores.
Canola oil. This common oil is extracted from the rapeseed plant. Its neutral taste and high smoke point make it a good choice for frying, sauteing, and baking. It’s also used to make margarine. Canola oil has alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which your body converts to essential fatty acids. That makes it a great supplement to a vegetarian diet.
Olive oil. Olive fruit and pits are crushed to make this fragrant, fruity tasting oil that’s green or yellow in color. Extra virgin olive oil -- the least refined of all types of olive oil -- has the lowest smoke point. It’s also healthy for the heart. Bottles simply labelled “olive oil” are a mixture of refined and extra virgin oils.
Coconut oil. It’s a saturated fat, so it’s often sold in solid form. Unrefined coconut oil can be used as a butter substitute in baking, and it has a stronger coconut taste. Refined coconut oil can be used for stir-frying or sauteing, and it has a higher smoke point. Use it sparingly, because this oil is high in saturated fat.
Vegetable oil. This is typically a mixed, neutral-tasting oil. Its nutrition varies depending on the particular blend. It’s often a mix of soybean, palm, sunflower, safflower, and canola oils. It usually has a medium-high smoke point and is quite versatile.
Avocado oil. This oil has a sweet aroma and is quite healthy for you. It contains mainly monounsaturated fatty acids that can help lower inflammation. It also has a high smoke point, making it good for frying and searing.
Sunflower oil. This comes from sunflower seeds. It’s a refined oil high in omega-6 fatty acids. It’s good for your heart health and it can lower inflammation. It mainly has monounsaturated fats, and its smoke point is high. Look for its high-oleic versions to reap all the benefits.
Peanut oil. It’s heart-healthy and tastes neutral. Refined peanut oil has a medium-high smoke point and is commonly used for frying. You can find unrefined peanut oil, too, though it’s quite rare.
Storing Cooking Oil
It’s best to buy cooking oils in amounts you’ll use within a month or two after opening them. Otherwise, they can go bad. If you’ve stored oil for a few months, check to see if the smell has changed.
Also, keep cooking oils in a cool and dark place, because heat and light can damage them.