What Are the Uses for Different Edible Oils When Cooking?

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Lots of folks are doing much more cooking at home these days, but are still relying on the same cooking oils to get the job done, like butter, shortening, olive oil, and others. Those are marvelous oils, of course, and very versatile in the kitchen. But why limit yourself? There are plenty of other edible oils on the market that offers you different flavors, oils that can be used for baking, salad dressings, and drizzling over veggies and other dishes. The sky’s the limit! But all oils have different chemical compositions, which means one may be great for getting that steak to sizzle, but a different one is needed for a light, zingy salad dressing.

Because so many different cooking oils are available, it can be a bit tricky to know which one to use for which recipe. Although there are plenty of factors to consider – flavor, richness, and other elements – the key issue is the smoke point.

What is the Smoke Point?

The smoke point simply refers to when the oil stops shining and begins smoking; it is also known as a flash point or a burning point.

Cooking food in oil that’s gone past its smoke point creates a burned, charred taste in the food that is unpleasant. It also negates all the healthy nutrients and phytochemicals in the oil, which are destroyed when it’s too hot. Furthermore, if oil overheats it creates free radicals, and those are detrimental not just in food, but in people!

Cooking oils all have vastly different smoke points. How aged oil is, along with color and other factors, all affect the smoke point. To give you an easy-to-follow guide, what follows is a list of the most frequently used cooking oils and their smoke points, so you choose the right one the next time you make a family dinner.

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Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Culinary experts and dieticians agree – extra virgin olive oil is one of the most nutritious, and most adaptable, oils you can cook with. This type of olive oil has lots of healthy, monounsaturated fats, providing its extra virgin. Using this for most of your cooking is a wise choice for your heart’s health.

However, there is a caveat to remember with extra virgin olive oil – it has quite a low smoke point (325 to 375 °F). Consequently, you shouldn’t use it for roasting meat, for example, if it needs to be cooked at a higher temperature. Using EVOO at too high a temperature affects the flavor of your food, too, because its structure and chemicals are interfered with by the heat.

Extra virgin olive oil is ideal for lots of recipes – like sauteing vegetables over low or medium heat. EVOO is also perfect for salad dressings, dipping bread, and making marinades for the barbecue because it has a marvelous, peppery rich flavor and lots of nutrients.

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Regular Olive Oil

This label refers to a blend of virgin and refined olive oil. Most cooks use it when frying food at high temperatures because it can take the heat up to 465 °F.

Unlike extra virgin olive oil, however, this edible oil has a few drawbacks, namely less flavor and fewer healthy fats. That’s why it’s so vital that you read the label! The more you know about your olive oil the better able you are to select the one that’s right for you and your recipes.

To know how olive oil is made, the different types, and their characteristics, you can discover more from our blog post called “The Complete Guide to Understanding All Different Types of Olive Oil”.

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Coconut Oil

This oil comes from the fruit of the coconut tree; it’s white, solid, and is sort of like lard or butter, rather than liquid oils that come in bottles.

Coconut oil is a lot different than other cooking oils, and within it, there are fatty acids you won’t find elsewhere. These acids are almost 90 percent saturated, but because these fats contain lauric acid, it can tolerate very high heat.

Virgin coconut oil has a smoke point of 350 °F, which makes it great for baking and sauteing. If it’s refined coconut oil you’re using, the smoke point is 400 °F, making it perfect for frying or cooking at high temperatures. You can often substitute coconut oil for butter and some cooking oils if, for example, you’re making a batch of fried chicken. Delicious!

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Peanut Oil

This is occasionally called “groundnut oil,” or “arachis oil,” as it comes from the seeds of the peanut plant. Peanut oil can be sweet, nutty mild, or strong in taste, depending on how it’s processed.

Peanut oil that’s refined has a smoke point of about 435 °F, making it hugely popular with folks who use deep fryers. It can take a lot of heat, and has a mild taste, meaning it doesn’t “shed” flavor as much into the food being fried in it. Other oils, like canola, can indeed leave flavors behind in a deep fryer, and that can leave an unpleasant after taste in your food.

Another factor that makes peanut oil unusual is that you can use one serving of it to fry lots of different foods – say chicken, then French fried potatoes. Peanut oil doesn’t allow flavors to transfer from one food to the next, and that makes it an economical choice, as well as a time saver. Many large operations, including fast-food restaurants, often use one batch of peanut oil for several different foods before changing to a fresh batch.

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Sunflower Oil

This oil is made by pressing sunflower seeds, and some health advocates and nutrition experts say it is the best source of vitamin E of all the cooking oils available today.

Sunflower oil is one of the best, most versatile cooking oils because it won’t burn even under high temperatures. It has a smoke point of 450 °F and a flavor that’s gentle, so it won’t “take over” the other flavors in your dish. You can use it for frying, sauteing, baking, and even deep-frying. It’s truly versatile!

A word of caution about sunflower oil: some experts say that consuming too many omega-6 fatty acids without balancing your intake with omega-3s can cause inflammation, like Arthritis, to worsen. Use a moderate amount of this cooking oil, just to be on the safe side.

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Avocado Oil

This edible oil is made by pressing the flesh of the avocado fruit. It’s loaded with lots of beneficial nutrients that combat “bad” cholesterol, and it’s chock full of antioxidants like lutein, beta carotene, and vitamin E that are so good for your heart and overall well-being.

Furthermore, avocado oil has one of the highest smoke points of any edible oil on the market. For refined, it’s 520 °F, and for unrefined, the smoke point is about 480 °F. And because it doesn’t have a lot of natural flavors, it’s the ideal choice for frying, grilling, and searing, when you want to let the food’s natural flavors shine through. It is expensive, however, so best not to use it as your “everyday” oil – save it for a special occasion, and then indulge in a bottle.

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Sesame Oil

Sesame oil – zhīma yóu (芝麻油) in Mandarin – was once a staple in only Asian kitchens, but now it’s hugely popular the world over. The toasted version is dark and rich in color, while the non-toasted is paler, more like vegetable oil in color.

Both varieties have a strong flavor, so a small amount goes far. Its smoke point is somewhere between 350 to 400 °F, making it perfect for stir fry and sauteing. And if someone in the family is allergic to peanut oil, this is a good alternative.

Asian, middle eastern, and Indian cooks prize sesame oil’s aroma and flavor and sometimes use it as a condiment on top of foods, too. This is an expensive edible oil too, however, so don’t use it too frequently – only when you’re making a dish that expressly calls for it.

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Canola Oil

This cooking oil is made from rapeseed, which is a flowering plant that has some – but not a lot – of monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, which means it’s one of the healthiest of the vegetable cooking oil options.

It has a smoke point of 400 °F and a very mild taste, and these factors make it a perfect cooking oil to use almost every day. You can roast with it, fry with it, and bake with it, but the flavor is too innocuous for salad dressings, sauteing, or marinading – anything that calls for “oomph” in your oil!

Canola has other drawbacks, too – it’s highly processed, which always takes away nutrients from the final product. Still, it has some uses, so be sure to look for “cold-pressed” canola oil that’s a really good brand. It’s harder to find, but worth the extra effort.

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Grapeseed Oil

This comes from – not surprisingly – grapeseeds that have been pressed. This edible oil is loaded with omega-6 fatty acids and can be a heart-healthy alternative if your recipe calls for an oil that’s high in trans fats, like butter or lard.

Its smoke point is about 420 °F, and it’s got a clean, pure flavor, so this is a good choice for many different dishes. But it’s very high in polyunsaturated fats, and those interact with oxygen at high heat. That combination results in harmful free radicals and other compounds, so do not use grapeseed oil when you’re frying – it’s simply not a healthy choice!

But you can use it guilt-free for salad dressings, pasta sauces, and baked goods.

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Vegetable Oil

Because vegetable oil has a high smoke point – 400 °F – it’s a terrific choice for any dish that you’re popping in the oven. The term “vegetable oil” often means a blend of different edible oils from plants, like canola, corn, palm, and sunflower oils.

Vegetable oil has no distinctive flavor, and that means it’s ideal for whatever is going in the oven – whether it’s baked goods or roasts. Soybean oil, for example, doesn’t have a strong taste that stands out, so it’s perfect for salad dressings and sauteing vegetables, particularly when you’re using lots of garlic, onion, or other spices. Furthermore, it’s not expensive, and that makes it an economical choice when you need a lot of oil for deep frying.

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How to Store Cooking Oils

There are some cooking oils that should go in the fridge – like sunflower oil and sesame oil. Read the label and you’ll know just how and where to store the cooking oil you buy, and it will last a long time and taste wonderfully fresh each time you use it. And don’t forget to close the lid tightly every time you use it so that light and heat are kept at bay. A stainless steel oil container that lets in little or no light can be a good choice.

Keep them cool: Edible cooking oils that don’t go in the fridge should be kept as cool as possible – a dark, dry pantry is the perfect spot, providing it’s a good distance away from the oven.

You can use some cooking oils every day, while others should be used only occasionally, as a special treat. Either way, knowing which one to buy and how to store it is vital for getting the most flavor out of your cooking oil. Oils are a healthy, delicious alternative to butter and shortening, and deserve pride of place in your pantry and on your dinner table!

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