Read All About It: A Complete Guide to Cooking Oils
A kitchen staple, cooking oil can be found on the shelves of almost every household across the globe. However, with dozens of uses and oils to choose from, picking the right one for your dish can pose quite a challenge. Here’s a closer look at some of the most popular cooking oils, tips for using them, and how they can change the way you cook.
Extracted from fruits, grains, seeds, and nuts, vegetable oil is a popular, accessible, and affordable everyday oil choice. Vegetable oil maintains a neutral taste and smell, giving the flavors of specific dishes a chance to shine on their own. With a very high smoke point (the point at which it stops simmering), vegetable oil is ideal for frying, baking, and cooking at high temperatures.
- Source: Various fruits, grains, seeds, and nuts
- Flavor profile: Neutral taste and smell
- Smoke point: 450
- Great for: Everyday frying and high-heat sautéing
Another oil with a high smoke point, peanut oil is a top pick for many, especially for sautéing and frying. Common in Chinese, South Asian, and Southeast Asian cooking, this oil adds a light and nutty flavor to your feast and can be reused for multiple food types, as it doesn’t absorb the flavor from foods fried in it.
- Source: Peanut seeds
- Flavor profile: Light, neutral, and sometimes nutty taste
- Smoke point: 450
- Great for: Stir-frying and deep-frying
Pressed from fresh olives and offering plenty of versatility, olive oil can be used for cooking, dressings, sauces, skin care, and health products. There are several varieties of olive oils, but most are made “extra virgin,” meaning no chemicals or solvents are used to extract it. Opt for olive oil sold in dark bottles and store it away from light sources that can taint the flavor and nutritional value.
- Source: Fresh olives
- Flavor profile: Olive flavor and aroma
- Smoke point: 375
- Great for: Low-heat cooking and cold applications
Canola oil is made from the seeds of the rapeseed plant, which is similar to cabbage, turnip, and mustard plants. The components of canola oil make it suitable for sautéing, stir-frying, grilling, and baking. It can also be used as a substitute for fats like butter in recipes. Just like olive oil, you should avoid exposing canola oil to light and try to store it in darker bottles if possible.
- Source: Rapeseed plant seeds
- Flavor profile: Neutral
- Smoke point: 400
- Great for: High-heat cooking, salad dressings, and vinaigrettes
Due to its high levels of potassium and healthy fats, avocado oil is preferred for healthy cooking. With the highest smoke point of any cooking oil, avocado oil is perfect for pan-frying, roasting, and baking. Additionally, it can be drizzled over salads and other veggie dishes for a nutty and grassy punch. Avocado oil comes in two varieties: extra virgin and refined. Extra virgin offers similar qualities to an actual avocado, while the refined version has a less powerful flavor and higher smoke point.
- Source: Avocados
- Flavor profile: Buttery, fatty, nutty (extra virgin); lighter scent and more subtle flavor (refined)
- Smoke point: 482 (extra virgin); 500-520 (refined)
- Great for: Searing and frying
Solid at room temperature, coconut oil is a saturated fat extracted from coconut flesh. This oil can be bought in three different versions: virgin, refined, and fractioned. Each one comes with a unique flavor, with virgin coconut oil providing the strongest taste and aroma due to it being the least processed of the three. Melt this oil on the stove or in the microwave and add it to your baked goods for a new taste, smell, and texture.
- Source: Coconut flesh extract
- Flavor profile: Various levels of coconut flavor and aroma, depending on the type
- Smoke point: 350 (virgin); 400 (refined); 320 (fractioned)
- Great for: Baking
Caring for Cast Iron
Cast iron skillets are a frequent companion to these oils when you’re working in the kitchen. To learn how you can extend the life of this important tool, read our article “Tips to Make Your Cast Iron Skillet Last Forever.” With proper skillet care and the right oils, you can transform your kitchen and create exciting culinary experiences.