All About Oils

In today’s modern grocery stores, there are many choices when it comes to oils.  What are the differences and which one is right for you?  It all depends on what type of cooking you are doing.  Each oil has its own flavor and smoking point.  The smoking point is the temperature at which the oil starts to burn.  Burning oil not only harms the flavor, but it also degrades many nutrients while releasing harmful chemicals called free radicals.  There are many type of kitchen oils to choose from.

Olive Oil

Both cooking and nutrition experts agree that one of the most healthy and versatile oils to use for cooking and on the table is extra virgin olive oil.  “Extra Virgin” indicates that the olive oil is not refined, which is better for you, and contains monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fatty acids which have been linked to better heart health.  Since olive oil has a lower smoke point compared to other oils, it’s best for use in salad dressings, dips, etc., and only low or medium-heat cooking.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is a saturated fat.  Because saturated fats is “bad” for health, many experts say that other non-saturated fat oils should be used instead.  However, there are other groups that now embrace the use of coconut oil as an oil that is great for your health.  Even science is starting to suggest that coconut oil’s saturated fats have health benefits.  Saturated fats are healthier to use for very high heat cooking or frying as it is very stable at high heat.  They won’t break down and create “free radicals” as other low heat oils.

Vegetable oil

Vegetable oil refers to any oil made from plant sources including canola, soybean, corn, safflower, palm and sunflower.  Experts suggest the use of olive oil as a substitute of these oils whenever possible because of olive oil’s benefits.  Vegetable oils are refined and processed, therefore, lack nutrients and flavor.

Canola oil

Canola oil, derived from rapeseed, a flowering plant, contains monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. It tends to have the least amount of saturated fats compared to other vegetable oils. With its high smoke point, it can be used for high-heat cooking. However, canola oil is highly processed with fewer nutrients overall.

Avocado oil

Avocado oil is a great choice because it is unrefined, but still has a higher smoking point for higher heat cooking. It does not have much flavor, so it is a good option for stir-frys.  Avocado oil has one of the highest monounsaturated fat contents among cooking oils, and vitamin E as well. Although it tends to be a little more expensive, it is well worth it if you can afford it.

Sunflower oil

Sunflower oil is high in vitamin E.  One tablespoon contains 28% of a person’s daily recommended intake, and it has a mild flavor with a high smoke point. However, the downside of sunflower oil is that it has a high level of omega-6 fatty acids which are believed to be inflammatory to your body.  Without omega 3s to balance the omega 6s, excess inflammation could occur in your body, so if you use sunflower oil, moderation is advised.

Peanut oil

Among cooking oils, peanut oil has one of the highest monounsaturated fat content. It’s flavorful, nutty, and handles high heat well.

Walnut oil

Walnut oil should not be used for cooking as it has a low smoke point.  However, it can be used on freshly cut fruit, ice cream, pancakes, or in coffee as examples.  It has a good ratio of omega 3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids, so inflammation is held in check.

Flaxseed oil

Although flaxseed oil is high in omega 3s, it has a very low smoke point.  Therefore, it should not be used for cooking.  It can be used for dressing, and should be store in the refrigerator.

Sesame oil

Sesame oil is frequently used for its stronger and unique flavor.  Only a little is usually required, and it has both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.  Although it does not have many other nutrients, it has a higher smoke point for use in high-heat recipes.

In summary, there are many types of kitchen oil to choose from with varying smoking points, content of types of fat, and flavor being the differentiating aspects.