Types of Cooking Oils

Types of Cooking Oils

The foundation of many good dishes is the oil. However, not all oils are up to the task of high temperature frying, while others have no place being drizzled on your salad. So what should the different types be used for?

Avocado oil

With one tablespoon containing just one gram of saturated fat, and consisting mainly of monounsaturated fat (typically known as ‘good fat’), this health powerhouse should be an addition to your oil cupboard.

With its high smoke point and nutty taste, avocado oil is perfect for stir frying and sautéing. Meanwhile, its high vitamin A, E, D and potassium content makes it a healthy, delicious oil to drizzle over a nut, or even fruit salad.

Aromatic nut oils

Nuts such as hazelnut or walnut are used to make these delicious nutty blends, which are perfectly balanced for use as dressings or to drizzle over dishes for a light finish. Due to their low smoke point you should avoid cooking with them as they can quite easily breakdown and become rancid.

Canola oil

Canola oil, which is extracted from rapeseeds, is a partly hydrogenated oil that is void of taste and smell. Hydrogenation simply refers to a chemical process in which hydrogen is added to the liquid fat, turning it into a solid fat. Hydrogenated and partly hydrogenated oils contain trans fats, which have been linked to various health problems. Nearly all canola oil is heavily processed.

Coconut oil

With its strong coconut flavour, and because it is solid at room temperature, coconut oil is a good substitute for butter when sautéing, baking or frying at low-medium temperatures, as it melts off and leaves a tropical aroma. Be aware, however, that at temperatures exceeding 350°C the oil may break down and go rancid. Coconut is high in iron, vitamin E and vitamin K.

Corn oil

Corn oil is another widely used, heavily processed oil, which lacks any notable taste and aroma. The processing technique also destroys the majority of the nutrients. On the other hand, the high amount of processing increases the smoke point of corn oil, making it a viable option for high-heat shallow frying and deep-fat frying. Corn oil’s cheap price tag makes it a popular choice for pubs and fast food restaurants, and it is a common ingredient in vegetable oil.

Flaxseed oil

Flaxseed oil is a dark gold or light brown oil with a crisp, mild, nutty flavour. This oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids (think cod liver oil tablets), and is also high in potassium. It is important not to cook with flaxseed oil due to its low smoke point. This oil is more suited to drizzle sparingly over foods after they are cooked.

Grapeseed oil

Grapeseed oil, usually made as a by-product of winemaking, is renowned by chefs for its clean, light taste, which lends itself well to salad dressings. In addition to this, it also has a high smoke point of 420°C, which, coupled with its subtle taste, makes it perfect for high-heat frying. It is important to mention that grapeseed oil is high in omega-6 fatty acids, which, in excess, can be detrimental to health, so using it in moderation is important.

Extra virgin olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil, commonly referred to as EVOO, has a fruity, peppery, slightly bitter taste, which lends itself nicely to dipping, drizzling and dressings. In terms of taste, extra virgin olive oil is the gold standard of olive oil, and should be treated accordingly.

It’s best not to waste this oil on frying, especially as its modest smoke point of 195°C means it’s more likely to go rancid at high heats. Store extra virgin olive oil in a cool, dark place, and if it is in a clear bottle consider covering it with brown paper, to help stop the oil going rancid quicker. Extra virgin olive oil contains various nutrients and antioxidants, making it an excellent choice for a number of dishes.

Olive oil and light olive oil

In terms of taste, regular and light olive oil can’t compete against EVOO. The processing that regular olive oil undergoes not only greatly reduces the taste, but also destroys some of the nutrients that make EVOO such a popular product. On the other hand, regular olive oil has a higher smoke point, and coupled with its subtler taste, makes it an excellent option for frying.

Palm oil

Palm oil, which is extracted from the palm tree and is different to palm kernel oil, is a semi-solid oil at room temperature, and present in many processed foods. Palm oil is high in beta-carotene (the red pigment also found in carrots), which is converted to vitamin A when in the body, making palm oil an excellent source of Vitamin A.

Palm oil can be good for frying as it has a smoke point of over 230°C. Although it is a great addition to any cooking oil set, using palm oil sparingly, or buying ethically sourced palm oil, is a must. This is because of the levels of deforestation occurring in Malaysia, Indonesia and now central Africa as a result of increased palm oil demand.

Peanut oil

Peanut oil’s (refined) neutral taste, combined with its high smoke point of 232°C, makes it an excellent choice for pan frying and even deep frying foods, as it won’t impact the flavour, and can be used multiple times before it goes rancid.

Safflower oil

Safflower oil, obtained from the seeds of a thistle-like plant, lacks any notable flavour or aroma, and has a smoke point exceeding 200°C. This makes it a good oil for frying, sautéing and roasting. Safflower oil is also high in polyunsaturated oil, making it a healthier choice.

Sunflower seed oil

Sunflower seed oil is a very common oil that has a high vitamin E content, a subtle flavour and no aroma. The high smoke point of more than 230°C makes this oil an excellent choice for sautéing, frying, baking and deep frying.

Sesame oil

Sesame oil, derived from the sesame seed, is a staple in Asian cuisine. Sesame oil can be extracted from raw seeds, or from toasted seeds. Plain sesame oil from raw seeds has a high smoke point, making it a good cooking oil, whereas toasted sesame oil is much better suited to drizzling over salads and other foods.

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