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An Easy Guide to Choosing Cooking Oils

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When it comes to choosing a cooking oil most people just use “whatever’s around the house.” But this visual guide can put an end to that, making it a cinch to remember which is best for the culinary project at hand.

While some oils are interchangeable in food preparation, each has its own place in the culinary world. The smoke point, the temperature to which an oil can be heated without breaking down its flavor and nutrient profiles, is typically what determines oil choice. Extra light olive oil, for example has a smoke point of 468 °F, making it excellent for sauteing vegetables. Extra virgin olive oil, on the other hand, only has a smoke point of 374 °F, making it a better choice for homemade salad dressings or cooking on lower heat.

Coconut oil has been receiving accolades lately for its ease of use and its brain health benefits. While coconut oil may have received a bad rep in the past, it is now being regarded as a must use health food to use in moderation. It can also be used as an excellent substitute for shortening in baking.

Another shining star that you may have noticed in grocery stores more recently is avocado oil. In terms of taste and use, avocado oil in comparable to olive oil but much more diverse. With a smoke point of 520 °F, avocado oil is a very stable oil that can easily carry other flavors throughout foods without becoming degraded. It can be used in everything from baking to salad preparation and sauteing.

Do you have a favorite oil that you enjoy cooking with?

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10 responses to “An Easy Guide to Choosing Cooking Oils”

  1. David says:

    Excellent article, but one oil that was missing is grape seed oil. I would love to know how it stacks up to the other oils.

  2. Virginia Speaks says:

    This article doesn’t properly print; the chart gets cut off after the first page. Can it be fixed so that we can print this chart? I’d love to have it available in my kitchen.

    • Tim says:

      I had the same problem printing. Live in the Now should add a print feature to their articles without all the additional advertisements included when you print. Haven’t you ever seen ‘Printer Friendly Version’?

  3. Bob Greene says:

    This article is minimally useful.

    In even its potentially helpful chart “Cooking Oils at a Glance”, there seems little consistency regarding what details about an oil are listed. For example, some oils are listed as polyunsaturated fats, another as merely “saturated” and still others carry no comparable distinction.

    Walnut oil is described as “a great way to boost your fatty acid intake”… (but which fatty acid, omega 3 or omega 6? Or both?) “… and it (sic) great to drizzle on salad or main disk proteins.” That chart cell for description tells us absolutely nothing.

    There are also conflicts of fact that should be resolved before publication. For example, olive oil– according to many researchers– is prone not only to rancidification if left out at normal temperatures, but heating the oil sharply accelerates the process. Rancidification is mentioned in regard to some oils, but not others.

    Likewise, the thoroughly negative review of canola oil, including fact it was “banned in 1956”, contains little information about the oil itself, other than it “is typically a GMO”. Canola is considered by some researchers to be unfairly rated, particularly since it has an omega 3 to omega 6 ratio of 1/2, and five times (5/1) the omega 3 content of olive oil, according to the FDA.

    Even more to the point, flaxseed oil is not even mentioned– an inexplicable omission, since the oil is readily available, and contains 3.45 times as much omega 3 as omega 6. When the seed is ground in a motorized coffee-bean grinder, including both seed hull and oil in the resultant paste, there is 4.5 times more omega 3 than omega 6.

    There is simply no consistent basis for comparing one oil with another, which reduces the value of this article drastically. Likewise, it calls into question whether any responsible editorial oversight exists for this website– a major factor in drawing visitors who want value, not discussions of “drizzling” oil, or applying it to the hair or skin.

    • Bob Greene says:

      In third paragraph, that should be “main dish proteins”.

      • Bob Greene says:

        Here, according to WebMD, are the benefits of canola oil, with data from the FDA–
        http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/canola-oil

        Canola oil comes from the canola plant, rapeseed from the rapeseed plant. The bad reputation of rapeseed oil is due to its high level of erucic acid, toxic to humans. By comparison, canola has a relatively high nutritional value.

        Clearly, writer Terry confuses rapeseed oil with canola oil, which calls the article’s research into question.

        • Bob Greene says:

          A final comment regarding flaxseed oil– I understand the article nominally focuses on oils used in the process of cooking food, and flaxseed does not do well under heat. But the article discusses oils in a variety of other ways related to “cooking” as general food preparation (with or without actual cooking).

          In that context, while flaxseed oil is no cooking oil, neither is walnut or olive oil, yet all three are suitable for the kitchen.

          Despite its title, the article quickly became a generalized discussion of oils, not a systematic comparison of traits under heat. With walnut oil, for example, no mention of cooking qualities is found in the chart, at all.

          Obviously, the smoke point is only one measure of suitability for cooking, with others including rancidification in storage, taste imparted to cooked food and even rate of rancidification in cooking.

  4. Terry David says:

    I was interested to see how you reviewed corn oil.

  5. Richard Morgese says:

    You also missed Macademia Nut oil

  6. John Michael Schmidt says:

    Also omitted is rice bran oil, a favorite here in Thailand. the largest producer of rice in the world. Additionally the GMO issue is not addressed here as well as the fact that many naturopaths recommend discarding your cooking oils except for olive and coconut.