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What’s the Best Cooking Oil?
Getting busy in the kitchen? You're going to need a little bit of fat to add flavor and moisture and keep food from sticking in the pan. While some fats can handle the heat, others don't fare so well, losing their original taste and nutrition content in the cooking process. Those that do hold up (aka have higher smoking thresholds) tend to be best for cooking, at least for those of us who prefer our meals without a side of char. Read on to find out how to pick the best fat for cooking any dish.
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Oils tend to handle higher temperatures better than solid fats, which burn more quickly. Additionally, cooking with oil versus butter or lard is generally a better (and often times more flavorful!) option for those trying to minimize saturated fats .
Olive oil takes first place in the Great Oil Marathon (yes, we’re making that a thing). It’s most flavorful in its raw, uncooked form, but it’s also a winner for cooking, too. Olive oil is extremely rich in monounsaturated fats and a great source of phytochemicals, which might help prevent some types of cancer. And compared to other fats, research suggests extra virgin olive oil was more likely to increase a person's feeling of fullness after a meal. Some recent research indicates that the Mediterranean diet staple might even make us happier. Olive oil is best consumed “cold-pressed” (literally pressed out of the olive, with minimal heat involved), so avoid “pure olive oil,” “light olive oil,” or simple “olive oil” labels for maximum flavor and nutrition, at least when eating it cold. And while heating olive oil will strip it of some flavor and enzymes, a high-quality bottle is a cooking essential.
A heat/cooking-friendly and budget-minded staple, canola oil is also a great source of essential fatty acids like lineoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha linolenic acid (omega-3). The body can’t make these compounds on its own, so it’s ultimately up to our diets . While most people get their share of omega-6s from everyday meals, it’s less common to get enough omega-3s, which have been linked to the prevention of heart disease. In addition to fatty fish and canola oil, other sources of omega-3s include flax, walnut, and hemp oils, though canola can handle the heat and is still tops for cooking.
This kitchen all-star can withstand some seriously high heat, making it a go-to for frying. And while it has a high amount of saturated fat, coconut oil has been tentatively linked to overall reductions in blood lipid content (including excess triglycerides, the clog-happy stuff rolling around in our blood vessels) . Coconut oil has numerous other health benefits (like promoting weight loss and a healthy digestive tract) and can be a useful tool when applied in moderation . And don’t worry about making the kitchen smell like Gilligan’s Island— the “virgin” variety is virtually scent-free.
Want to get off the beaten track? Explore cooking with slightly more exotic options, like safflower, avocado, sesame, sunflower, grape seed, and almond oil. Many alternative vegetable oils are high in polyunsaturated fats, which can lower blood cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease. The downside? These fancy groceries tend to be a bit on the pricey side, so use sparingly.
When it comes to incorporating cooking oil into an everyday diet, it all comes down to heat. To retain their fatty acid content and avoid burning, flaxseed, walnut, and hemp oils should only be used as condiments or in salad dressings, while the ones listed above are all cooking-friendly. And if experimentation with these oils in the kitchen doesn't quite go according to plan, rub them on the face for a moisturizing facial and call it a day. Though maybe that's an entirely different article.
What's your favorite oil to cook with? Share in the comments below or get in touch on Twitter @Greatist.
Originally published December 2011. Updated October 22, 2013.
- Dietary fat and weight gain among women in the Nurses’ Health Study. Field, A. W., Willett, L., Lissner, G., et al. Children’s Hospital Boston, Division of Adolescent Medicine. Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA. Obesity (Silver Spring), 2007 Apr; 15(4):967-76.⤴
- Nutrition concerns and health effects of vegetarian diets. Craig, W. Andrews University Nutrition and Wellness, Berrien Springs, MI. Nutritional in Clinical Practice, 2010 Dec; 25(6): 613-20.⤴
- Beneficial effects of virgin coconut oil on lipid parameters and in vitro LDL oxidation. Neving, K., T. Rajamorhan. Department of Biochemistry, University of Kerala, Kariavattom, Thiruvananthapuram, India. Clinical Biochemistry, 2004 Sep; 37(9): 830-5.⤴
- Weight-loss diet that includes consumption of medium-chain triacylglycerol oil leads to a greater rate of weight and fat mass loss than does olive oil. St-Onge, M.P., Bosarge, A. Columbia University. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2008 Mar.⤴
Comments Leave a comment
Regarding the following:
"Additionally, cooking with oil versus butter, lard, or animal fat is great for those trying to minimize saturated fats"
When and why would someone want to avoid saturated fats?
And Canola (rapeseed) oil... I think it would be worth it to mention that the high heat used for extraction, as well as the high sulfur content, cause it to go rancid very quickly.
Pro-top: Ask your co-bloggers about their "healthy fats" article that was posted and then quickly removed following some enlightening comments.
And when I say "rancid," I don't just mean that it spoils. The bonds are compromised.
Billyjake, we always appreciate differing opinions-- especially those comments that come from an informed opinion as yours typically have. But, at the very least, we expect any criticism to be constructive. We're all in this together-- and all of us at Greatist are trying to do the right thing and be as informed as possible.
If you've got issues above and beyond the articles specifically, I'd absolutely love to hear what you think. Don't hesitate to email me anytime at derek [at] greatist with any issues. Would be more than happy to discuss.
And, either way, we're looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the future-- but in a positive, productive, proactive way. Otherwise, our comments section isn't the place for it. So, email me! Any further discussion of an unrelated topic to cooking oil will be deleted from this post-- and so will this post reply within the next few days. Thanks,
Dont forget Macadamia Nut Oil! I have been using it for months and it is a great altenative to Olive Oil if you need to cook something with high heat. It also adds a light nutty flavor to foods and is great as a salad dressing. I have even read that it had a higher content of Omega-3's and Fatty Acids (The good stuff) than Olive oil.
The "takeaway" part of this article is spot on... however, just some constructive criticism with this article... it goes under the assumption that saturated fat is bad for us, which has been proven a false hypothesis by nutritional biochemists:
I'd also have to disagree about canola oil...there's certainly nothing healthy about canola oil... see article here:
My take on the healthiest cooking oils needs to factor in the %'s of polyunsaturated, mono, and saturated fats, as that is the order of least stable to most stable under heat. You can see full explanation here:
Definitely enjoy your site overall, but I felt this article needed some additions to this topic.
Thanks for the comments. In the article, we haven't assumed saturated fat is a culprit (and, indeed, we agree it's worth mentioning the potential benefits of coconut oil); for those trying to minimize saturated fats (which certainly not everyone is trying to do), we simply provide some suggestions.
And I enjoyed your article on canola oil, but we're not saying it's flat-out healthier than any other option. You bring up some great points, and we'll definitely be considering them in future updates of this article.
Thanks again for reading, and we hope you continue to enjoy the articles on Greatist.com. We always appreciate thoughtful, constructive comments like yours!
Editorial Director, Greatist.com
Good article but just a quick comment- olive oil does not stand up in high heat temps. It's best to use coconut, avocado, peanut, or sesame oils for high heat cooking. Olive oil is best as room temperature marinades and dressings.. xx
Definitely, olive oil isn't always the best option for cooking (especially if it is high heat). However, for a lot of dishes and pan cooking, it's a popular, flavorful, and effective go-to. Just don't try using it for deep frying and the like!
Did not think sesame oil was for cooking, just cold dressings.
Actually, oils tend to go rancid more than saturated fats. And canola oil has more omega-6 than omega-3.
I am from Mediterranean and we prefer olive oil cold. Cooking on sunflower. or goose fat..seriously.