Your guide to cooking oils

Friday, 26 August 2016 | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Last week's post about olive oil got me thinking about all the other kinds of cooking oils in my cupboard and how to use them best. Because there is no one type of oil for all cooking and baking. Unsure of when to use palm oil over peanut? Read on.

In choosing the right oil for the task, one should consider three things: smoke point, flavour and cost.

Smoke point is the temperature at which the oil begins to break down. You’ll know it when it occurs because the oil starts to smoke and it’ll taste awful (and so will whatever you’re cooking). All oils and fats have a smoke point beyond which, not only does it taste rancid, but any nutritional benefits begin to diminish. As the temperature rises the oil breaks down into free fatty acids and glycerol. As it breaks down further it turns into acrolein, which is toxic in high doses.

If you’re planning on deep frying, broiling, grilling or roasting at a high temperature, you’ll need an oil with a high smoke point. Peanut, palm, avocado and grapeseed oils all have high smoke points. But you also have to consider the flavour of the oil and how that will impact your final result.

Peanut oil, for example, has quite a strong flavour so consider the ingredients you’ll be combining it with. Asian dishes are a popular reason for cooking with peanut oil and some cooks swear by it for french fries. Conversely, grapeseed oil has a very mild flavour, which makes it incredibly versatile as it can stand up to relatively high temperatures but it’s also light and mild enough for salad dressings. It’s a workhorse in my kitchen.

Oils that have a medium smoke point are good for sautéing and roasting at medium heat and include coconut (use it for baking) or pure olive oil (which has a higher smoke point than extra virgin) and oils that are best used for finishing and vinaigrettes include premium extra virgin olive oil, hemp seed, pistachio and flax (which has a distinct nutty taste that takes a funky turn if over used.)

This guide may help make things clear. (Keep in mind, the more refined the oil, the higher the smoke point. Read the label.)

Pure olive oil

  • smoke point 450 degrees F
  • use it in a wide range of dishes that call for roasting and frying
  • mild in flavour and good for use in salad dressings which are then finished with extra virgin olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil

  • smoke point 400 degrees
  • given the high cost of the premium brands it is best used for finishing dishes, but can hold up to some heat
  • looses flavour and starts to turn rancid after a few months

Peanut oil

  • smoke point 450 degrees
  • stronger, nutty flavour
  • use it in asian cuisine, french fries, fried chicken
  • goes rancid in a few months so only buy what you need
  • costly

Corn oil

  • smoke point 450 degrees
  • neutral flavour
  • low cost
  • excellent for french fries

Coconut oil

  • smoke point 350 degrees
  • solid at room temperature
  • good for baking
  • distinct flavour and scent

Palm oil

  • smoke point 440 degrees
  • partially solid at room temperature
  • a saturated fat

Canola oil

  • smoke point 400 degrees
  • neutral in flavour
  • goes rancid in about a year
  • often combined with a more expensive oil like extra virgin olive for making salad dressings


  • smoke point 420 degrees
  • mild, clean flavour
  • combines well with other flavours


  • smoke point over 500 degrees
  • distinct flavour
  • a monounsaturated fat
  • good for high heat cooking as well as vinaigrettes


  • smoke point 225 degrees
  • don’t cook with it! Use it for finishing only

Sunflower seed

  • smoke point 440 degrees
  • goes rancid within a year


  • smoke point 410 degrees
  • neutral flavour unless you’re using toasted sesame oil, which has more oomph

(Here is a more complete list of oils and their smoke points from wiki)

Cost is also a major factor in choosing which oil to use, especially since there are several oils that can do the same job. To save a few pennies on that special extra virgin olive oil that broke the bank, try cutting it with a bit of grapeseed, canola or pure olive oil when making salad dressings or vinaigrettes. And of course don’t waste the good stuff on dinner guests who aren’t worthy!





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