Coconut, canola, olive, avocado, flax seed, sunflower, sesame. With the many cooking oil options available, choosing the healthiest one can be confusing. The following breakdown will help you understand the different cooking oils, their effects on your health, and which oils you should use.
What Are Cooking Oils?
Cooking oils are fats that can help enhance flavour, improve nutrient absorption, conduct heat, and prevent food from sticking to pots and pans. Each oil has a “smoke point”, a temperature that causes the oil to continuously smoke. When an oil reaches this point, the heat causes the minerals to break down and oxidise. This creates free radicals that can be harmful when consumed. Reaching the smoke point also causes the oil to produce acrolein, a chemical that lends an unpleasant, bitter flavour to foods.
Unrefined vs Refined
Cooking oils consist of two main types: unrefined (cold-pressed) and refined (processed). Refined oils are often produced with chemicals to increase their smoke point and shelf life. However, this process eliminates many of the oil’s health benefits. Unrefined oils do not undergo processing and are usually bottled immediately after they are pressed. To be considered cold-pressed, oils cannot be heated past 120 degrees. Unrefined oils offer robust, strong flavours and higher amounts of nutrients, but they also have shorter lifespans and lower smoke points.
Simply put, refined oils are better for cooking due to their higher smoke point, while cold-pressed oils contain more nutrients but break down at lower temperatures. Read on to see the best ways to use some of the most popular cooking oils.
1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is one of the most popular, widely used oils. It has a great flavour, contains high levels of antioxidants and Vitamin E, boasts anti-inflammatory properties, and has been shown to improve cholesterol levels to support heart health.
Its smoke point is between 160 to 190 degrees Celsius, so it is best suited in low-temperatures recipes such as dips and salad dressings. If you do choose to cook with extra virgin olive oil, be sure to watch it closely during the process and keep the temperature as low as possible.
2. Light or Pure Olive Oil
The title of “pure” olive oil is somewhat misleading considering it is actually a processed version. It has a more neutral flavour, increased shelf life, and a higher smoke point (about 240 degrees C) that makes it better for high-temperature cooking. However, this process also diminishes the vitamins, antioxidants, and others health benefits typically found in the cold-pressed version.
3. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is another popular cooking oil, growing especially well-known in recent years. This flavourful oil is extracted from mature coconut meat.
It is solid at room temperature and doesn’t melt until about 24 degrees C. With a 175 degrees C smoke point, it is wonderful for cooking and baking and lends a sweet, tropical flavour to recipes. Many people also love to incorporate it into their beauty routines, using it as everything from a hair mask to a moisturiser!
4. Avocado Oil
With a neutral flavour and a high smoke point (190 to 205 degrees C), avocado oil is incredibly versatile. The only real downside to this oil is its price, considering it is one of the more expensive options out there. Still, it is an excellent, healthy option to use on occasion.
5. Flax Oil
Although it is a wonderful, vegan source of Omega 3 fatty acids and offers a nutty flavour, unrefined flax oil is a poor option for cooking. Its extremely low smoke point causes it to break down easily when heated. However, it still makes a great option for smoothies and salad dressings.
6. Sunflower Oil
Sunflower oil contains a high amount of Vitamin E and is low in saturated fats. It is a great candidate for a wide range of recipes considering its high smoke point (225 degrees C) and light, pleasant flavour.
7. Sesame Oil
Sesame oil’s strong flavour makes it a great addition to Asian dishes. With a high smoke point, it is excellent for frying veggies on the stove.