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How to Choose Healthy and Tasty Cooking Oils

Vespa's recipes have appeared in "Midwest Living" and "Taste of Home". She belongs to Cook's Recipe Testers for "Cook's Illustrated".

How to Choose Healthy and Tasty Cooking Oils

How to Choose Healthy and Tasty Cooking Oils

How to Choose Cooking Oil

Extra virgin olive oil has sashayed into the limelight. Affectionately nicknamed EVOO, it lavishes flavor on salads and grilled meats and is an essential ingredient in Italian dishes such as bruschetta. Olive oil's flavor has been described as anything from buttery or fruity to peppery or silky and has gourmet followers all over the world.

Did you know that at high temperatures, EVOO transforms into a poisonous pool of free radicals that can ravage and pollute the human body? There are at least three factors to consider when choosing cooking oil: Is it saturated or unsaturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated? What is the smoke point? Jobs such as frying demand oil that can be heated to a high temperature without degradation. Sounds overwhelming, right? Stay with us as we break down each point.

Saturated vs. Unsaturated Fats

Fats fall into two categories: saturated and unsaturated.

  • Saturated fats are mainly animal-based and solid at room temperature.
  • Unsaturated fats can come from both animal and plant sources and are liquid at room temperature.

What are trans fats? Trans fats are produced when liquid oil is made solid through a process called hydrogenation, which increases the shelf life of the fat. Trans and saturated fats raise unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower healthy HDL cholesterol, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

For a healthy lifestyle, it is best to minimize the intake of saturated and trans fats. In this article, we will only discuss the selection of unsaturated oils for healthy cooking.

what-is-cooking-oil

Monounsaturated vs. Polyunsaturated Oils

Unsaturated oils are either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Although they differ in chemical composition, both can help lower blood cholesterol levels. Polyunsaturated oils, such as corn, vegetable and sunflower, reduce both good and bad cholesterol while monounsaturated oils, such as olive and canola oil, reduce only the bad cholesterol without affecting the good cholesterol.

Some unrefined polyunsaturated oils, such as flaxseed oil, contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids which decrease the risk of coronary artery disease and lower blood pressure. These oils, sensitive to high temperatures and highly perishable, are best for salads or other uses which don't require heat. They are best stored in the refrigerator to prevent rancidity. But since even healthful oils can transform into poison at high temperatures, it is vital to know the smoke point before choosing an oil.

What Is Smoke Point? Why Is It Important?

Smoke point is the stage at which heated oils begin to smoke. At smoke point, oils begin to emit unpleasant and often toxic smoke as the molecular structure is broken down. Toxic, bitter compounds are also produced which affect both flavor and nutrition of the food. Smoke point is also dangerously close to flashpoint, which means the oil may quickly catch on fire!

So how can one prevent a healthful oil from becoming a toxic compound and a safety hazard? Oils with a lower smoke point, such as EVOO, are best to sauté foods over low or medium heat. Oils with a higher smoke point, such as peanut oil, are ideal choices for hotter jobs such as frying. The "smoke point" chart and "recommendations" capsule will help you choose the most healthful oil for each job in the kitchen. Note that smoke points are somewhat debatable, depending on information source and methodology.

Smoke Point for Refined Oils

OilType (Poly or Monounsaturated)Smoke Point: FahrenheitSmoke Point: Celsius

Almond

monounsaturated

420

216

Avocado

monounsaturated

520

271

Canola

monounsaturated

400

204

Coconut

saturated

350

177

Corn

polyunsaturated

450

232

Cottonseed

polyunsaturated

450

216

Flaxseed

polyunsaturated

225

107

Grapeseed

polyunsaturated

480

250

Macadamia Nut

monounsaturated

390

199

Extra Virgin Olive

monounsaturated

375

191

Virgin olive

monounsaturated

391

199

Polmace Olive Oil

monounsaturated

460

238

Peanut

monounsaturated

450

232

Safflower (high oleic)

polyunsaturated

510

232

Sesame

polyunsaturated

410

210

Soybean

polyunsaturated

490

232

Sunflower

polyunsaturated

450

232

Vegetable

polyunsaturated

400-450

204-232

Walnut

monounsaturated

400

204

Recommendations

  • Saute: 325–375 °F
  • Stir-fry: 420 °F
  • Deep-fry: 450 °F
  • Grill: 450 °F or higher (brush oil directly onto meat)
  • Popcorn: 450 °F
  • Baking: Canola and vegetable oils are great for their neutral flavor. Coconut oil may be chosen for health benefits.
  • Salads: Canola, safflower or sunflower oils are nice because they don't solidify when refrigerated. Unrefined flaxseed, walnut and extra virgin olive oils are often chosen for nutty/sweet/fruity flavor or for health benefits.
  • Asian stir-fry: Almond and sesame oils are delicious for these dishes.

The greatest gastronomic glory of Lucca is its olive oil, the finest in Italy.

— "The Food of Italy" by Waverly Root

Gourmet Olive Oil

Unrefined oils, such as EVOO, each have their own distinctive flavor profile. Whether hailing from Italy, France, Spain or Chile, they are often packaged in bottles as sexy as the oils within. Note some descriptions, not much different from those found on your favorite wine bottles:

"Buttery and smooth with a building bite of pepper in the finish, there are floral notes in its aroma along with herbs and grass. Rich on the tongue, it goes with anything: salads, pasta or even steak."

"It has a pleasing citrus aroma with notes of warm spice, grass and green apple. Its lively olive flavor is very fruity this year, even more than in the past, and finishes with that great green olive bitterness and a bit of a peppery kick."

"The current vintage is colored rich gold, smells softly of wet grass and has flavor that starts buttery, builds to a very mild pepper, then fades slowly, smoothly, leaving your tongue a little tingly."

These oils are best drizzled on leafy salads, steamed veggies, grilled meats and crusty Italian breads so their exquisite flavor can be savored.

making vinaigrette

making vinaigrette

Ina Garten's Vinaigrette

  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, garlic, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. While whisking, slowly add the olive oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified.
  2. Place salad greens in a medium bowl and add enough dressing to moisten. Sprinkle with a little extra salt and pepper, if desired, and serve immediately.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on July 21, 2016:

That´s a good question The Dirt Farmer. Butter has the same smoke point as coconut oil, 350 F. So it all depends on how hot the pan gets and which oil you use to saute the vegetables. As far as flavor goes, I agree that butter is a good choice for low-temp sautees.

Jill Spencer from United States on July 21, 2016:

When sauteeing mushrooms or onions or diced vegetables for gravy, I usually use a mix of oil and butter, thinking that the butter will add flavor while the oil will stand the heat without hitting the smoke point. Is this a good idea?

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on August 08, 2013:

RTalloni, thanks so much for the pin...I learned a lot when I researched for this Hub and ever since, I'm very careful about which oils I use for high-heat cooking. I appreciate your comment, too.

RTalloni on August 08, 2013:

Thanks for this look at choosing cooking oils, you've packed it with helpful info, and for the vinaigrette recipe. It is important to know our cooking oils and you've provided an interesting guide. Pinning to my Ways w/ Food: Assorted Info.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on March 26, 2013:

Ktrapp, I'm glad this information will be useful for sauteeing. There is an art to it! Yes, the dressing is simple but delicious and elegant. Thanks for your comment.

Kristin Trapp from Illinois on March 26, 2013:

This was really helpful information. I was not aware that different oils had different smoke points. Since I have just gotten into learning how to sautee properly, this is information I can most definitely use. The dressing recipe looks simple and delicious; I've never used champagne vinegar before - can't wait to try it.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on March 11, 2013:

Au fait, I'm glad you found this information useful. I still refer to it when choosing an oil. Thanks!

C E Clark from North Texas on March 11, 2013:

Information everyone needs to have and to keep handy for reference!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on November 22, 2012:

Blissful Writer, I noticed you site Wikipedia. Their chart shows both corn and canola oil with high enough smoke points to be safe for cooking. It also lists coconut oil with a low smoke point. Although the smoke points are often debated, I choose not to use coconut oil for high heat cooking. Also, Europeans have used olive oil for high heat cooking for many decades, so even that point is up for debate. However, I choose not to use EVOO for high heat cooking.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on November 22, 2012:

Thank you for the info, BlissfulWriter! I also use coconut oil, especially in baking and when I make granola. I'll check out this information.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on November 21, 2012:

Rajan Jolly, I'm glad you found this information and chart useful. I have it posted on my refrigerator and sometimes refer to it when in doubt, although my main kitchen supplies of oils usually consists of olive oil, safflower oil and soy oil. Thank you for taking the time to comment and vote.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on November 21, 2012:

Very interesting and valid points raised about the necessity of using high smoke point oils while cooking on higher temperatures. The smoke point chart that you provide along with the recommendations chart is indeed very useful. Gave 5 stars.

Voted up, useful and sharing the hub.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on October 16, 2012:

Unknown spy, we live right where they produce olive oil in Peru so it's cheap here. Thank you for taking the time to comment!

Life Under Construction from Neverland on October 16, 2012:

that was great! I used pure vegetable oil now..budget for olive oil is too heavy! :) thanks for these amazing read.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on October 06, 2012:

Marcy, I learned a lot when researching for this hub. If you're roasting at 350F, olive oil is just fine. But if in doubt, it's better to switch to an oil with a higher smoke point like sunflower or soy. They say soy is the best for light frying. It is absorbed less by food, too, which is why it's the oil of choice for Japanese chefs who do tempura. Thank you for coming by and I'm glad this could be of help to you!

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on October 06, 2012:

Such a helpful hub! I did not know of the bad effects of using EVOO at high temps. I use it for all sauté cooking and I brush it over veggies when I roast them. I need to check the temps on those - I always sauté with moderate to low heat, but the oven is pretty hot when I roast veggies. Thanks for this piece! Voted up and up!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on October 05, 2012:

Millionaire Tips, researching for this hub also moved me to make some changes in cooking! I now use a sunflower oil that's good for high temp cooking when necessary, although EVOO is always my favorite for most uses. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Shasta Matova from USA on October 05, 2012:

This is a very helpful guide for choosing cooking oil. The table was especially helpful. I am going to have to change the way I use oil! Vote dup.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on September 15, 2012:

MamaKim, I learned a lot researching for this hub. Thank you for the visit!

Sasha Kim on September 15, 2012:

A wonderful and extremity helpful guide to cooking oils. It is definitely important to know the smoke point. Voted up and shared!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on September 06, 2012:

Molometer, I'm glad you found this information useful. I agree that lard is not a healthy choice for cooking. Although it extends the shelf-life of baked goods and tastes delicious, it clogs arteries. Sunflower is a good choice in the UK since you can't find canola. Sunflower oil is high in polyunsaturated fats and has a light, subtle taste and a high smoke point, making it a versatile cooking oil. Be sure and buy high oleic sunflower oil, as the regular variety is high in saturated fat. Thank you for your meaningful comment.

Micheal is from United Kingdom on September 06, 2012:

I have been using EVOO and peanut oil for many years now. I was relieved to know that I am using them at the right temperature. Thanks for putting this together.

When we were in SA we could get Canola oil which was great for making home made chili oil. I haven't been able to find it in the UK. Have you an alternative oil, that I could use.

I recall when I was a kid 'nobody' in the UK used olive oil. Mostly we used lard.

Strangely Lard is making a comeback. I believe that Lard is a hard fat and very unhealthy.

'What is cooking oil', is an excellent resource hub which I will bookmark it for future reference.

Voted up interesting and useful. Sharing.

Katherine Olga Tsoukalas from New Hampshire on August 24, 2012:

I have never had Peruvian olive oil - I bet it's lovely. It's much easier for me to get European olive oil since I live in Germany at the moment. ;-) And, you're welcome!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on August 24, 2012:

Kohuether, Cretian olive oil sounds wonderful! I also enjoy olive oil. It's cheap here because it's produced in this part of Peru. On the rare occasion I'm able to enjoy an imported olive oil from Europe, it's a real treat! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

Katherine Olga Tsoukalas from New Hampshire on August 24, 2012:

I use olive oil all the time when I cook and it is a staple for me. This was a very helpful article! My favorite olive oil comes from Crete and this is likely because I like Crete so much. :-)

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on August 15, 2012:

Alocsin, I also love olive oil and use it most of the time, except when frying or grilling at high temperatures. Thanks for the vote and comment.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on August 14, 2012:

I'm a big fan of olive oil, but you've pointed out some info that I didn't know about, such as the smoke point. Voting this Up and Useful.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on June 03, 2012:

I'm glad you enjoyed the information, Peggy W, and am happy to hear you have such healthful eating habits in your home. Thank you for commenting!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 03, 2012:

We use the different types of olive oil in our home almost exclusively but never deep fat fry anything. I found this article to be useful and interesting and voting it so. Thanks!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on June 01, 2012:

You're welcome, Angela Brummer. Thank you for stopping by!

Angela Brummer from Lincoln, Nebraska on June 01, 2012:

I had always wondered this? Thanks for sharing beautiful hub!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on May 23, 2012:

Thank you for coming by, articlesking, and for the follow!

articlesking from London on May 23, 2012:

Very useful article. vote up.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on May 22, 2012:

I'm glad you found this hub informative, Olde Cashmere. It's always nice to hear from you.

Olde Cashmere on May 22, 2012:

I learned a lot from this hub and thank for you laying out such great detail. I'm going to utilize this information from now on and improve my cooking. Rated 5, useful, interesting, and awesome :)

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on May 22, 2012:

Jackie Lynnley, I hope you enjoy the vinaigrette and I'm happy you already enjoy the benefits of EVOO. Thank you for coming by and commenting!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on May 22, 2012:

Rochelle Frank, I'm happy to hear you enjoy the benefits of EVOO. Yes, grapeseed oil is praised its neutral flavor and high smoke point. Thank you for stopping by and I'm glad you found the information useful!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on May 22, 2012:

Rebeccamealey, I still have a place in my diet for butter. After all, what would scones be without it?! Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on May 21, 2012:

This is a totally awesome explanation of the different fats. I think we need a little of them all. Even butter, or omega-6s give us some health benefits, like blood clotting. Voted up and Shared for sure. Great Hub!

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on May 21, 2012:

Thank you for the detailed information. I have printed it out to use for reference.

I use EVOO only for dressings and other raw uses. Quite a while ago I changed to grapeseed oil for sauté at high heat and browning uses-- it was quite a bit cheaper than olive oil, but the best thing was that it did not smoke up the house.

Though my palate is not too sensitive, I cannot detect any flavor in the grapeseed oil... but that is fine. it does the job and there are other ways to add flavor.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on May 21, 2012:

Sounds like a great dressing. I have heard many cooks say olive oil is not good for deep frying. I rarely use anything but EVOO, but I never deep fry anything anymore.