Cooking Oils 101

Posted On: March 19, 2015

With so many oils to choose from, it’s hard to pick which ones should be used in which scenarios. What’s the difference? Which one is healthiest? Which one is BEST? We hope this guide will help you decide for yourself.

Face the Fats

There are “good” fats, called monosaturated fats. These are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which promote brain health and lower blood pressure. Then, there are unsaturated fats, which are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which have a relatively neutral effect on the body. Lastly, the “bad” fats are primarily unsaturated and trans fats. With that in mind, let’s examine five of the most common cooking oils.

Olive Oil

This is one of the most widely used oils, known for its high amount of monosaturated fats, making it one of the healthiest oils to eat. While there are variations on types of olive oil, extra virgin olive oil is the one I’ll be referencing. Extra virgin means it is unrefined and completely natural. It has a smoking point of about 325 – 375 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning that it begins to burn around that temperature range. This oil is best used for salad dressings and vinaigrettes, sautéing, and stir fries. This is also one of the most versatile oils, as the flavor goes well with a wide variety of foods. It is considered high in flavor.

Canola Oil

Canola oil has a mild flavor that blends seamlessly into other foods, which makes it one of the most commonly used oils. It is second in “good” fats to olive oil, but has a much higher smoking point, making it more flexible for cooking temperatures. Because it burns around 425-475 degrees, it can be used for deep frying, baking, sautéing, and stir frying. However, canola oil tends to be genetically modified, so practice caution when choosing which one to buy.

Grapeseed Oil

Originally a by-product of winemaking, grapeseed oil is now universally used in baking, sautéing and making salad dressings. It’s fairly high smoking temperature means that it can be used for just about everything but deep frying. This oil is high in omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential for brain growth and development. These are not as important as omega-3s, but definitely have their place in any diet.

Peanut Oil

Peanut oil has a wonderful nutty flavor that makes delicious salad dressings and stir fries. It also has one of the highest smoking points, making it ideal for deep frying. It is more flavorful than canola, but more nutritious than grapeseed. It does not have many trans fats, but has a relatively even amount of monosaturated and unsaturated fats, making it a fairly healthy option in the kitchen.

Vegetable Oil

Unknown to most, this is actually a blend of several oils – namely corn, soybean, palm, and sunflower oils. Vegetable oil doesn’t have an overpowering flavor, and has a relatively low smoking point, so its primary use is baking. These oils differ in mixes and ingredients, so it is best to refer to individual types. A word of caution – many contain genetically modified ingredients.

Oil Smoking   Point (F) Flavor Health Frying Baking Sautéing Salad and   Vinaigrettes Stir   Frying
Olive 325-375 High Best X X X
Canola 425-475 Low Great X X X X
Grapeseed 425 Low Okay X X X
Peanut 440 High Good X X X
Vegetable 325 Low Okay X


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