There are a lot of choices available when purchasing oils lately, and it can be hard to decide which oil is best for your health, cooking technique, and wallet. Here are some points to consider:
Type of Fat: Oils are made up a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Saturated fats are known to contribute to heart disease and are solid at room temperature. Unsaturated (including both mono and polyunsaturated) fats are considered to be heart healthy when they are used in place of saturated fat.
Smoke Point: This is the temperature when oil starts to smoke which can not only make food taste bad but can also destroy beneficial nutrients and create harmful free radicals.
Unrefined vs Refined: Unrefined oils taste more like the seeds, nuts, or fruits they come from and have lower smoke points since they are minimally processed. Refined oils are more processed, have more neutral tastes, and have higher smoke points.
Storage: Oils can degrade and become rancid over time, especially unrefined oils. All oils benefit from storage in a cool and dark place since light and heat can cause oils to degrade more quickly. Some delicate oils such as sesame, walnut, grapeseed, and flaxseed need to be refrigerated. Only buy what you think you might use within a year or less and throw out any oil that smells “off”.
Best Choices for High Temperature Cooking
Canola Oil – Low in saturated fat, has some heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, neutral flavor, and inexpensive. Can be used in any type of cooking and flavor is neutral enough to bake with or use in dressings. Choose organic if you want to avoid GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
Avocado Oil – High in heart healthy monounsaturated fats and Vitamin E, slight nutty/avocado flavor, but tends to be more expensive than more commonly used oils.
Best Choices for Sautéing/Medium Temperature Cooking
Olive Oil (Virgin, Light, or Pure) – Best for sautéing or roasting and high in heart healthy monounsaturated fat and antioxidants.
Grapeseed Oil – Made from a byproduct of winemaking, high in polyunsaturated fats, neutral taste and can handle medium/high heat. This is another versatile oil that can be used for roasting, sautéing, or in salad dressings. Choose organic versions to avoid possible polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which non-organic grapeseed oil can be exposed to during the drying process.
Best Choices for Finishing or Dressings
Walnut or Flaxseed Oils – both oils have heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids and nutty flavors. Store in the refrigerator.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – made from the first pressing of olives and has a stronger, fruitier taste than virgin or light olive oils. Best used to finish dishes or dress salads that can be enhanced by the flavor. Tends to be more expensive than more refined oils.