Cooking Oil: How To Choose The Best & Highest Quality

Food and Cooking Tips, Gentle Nutrition

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by all the varieties and options of cooking oil? Even when you know what you are looking for it can be tough to navigate through all those bottles and labels!

Well, don’t worry — I’ve got your back!

​First things first, what’s the purpose of using cooking oil?

​​​​Cooking oils are a type of fat, which is a macronutrient. This means that fat is a nutrient that is required in large amounts in our diet. Oil is just one way to meet our fat needs. Other ways would be using foods that are higher in fat content, like nuts, avocado, eggs, fish, etc…
There are different roles of oil in our cooking… 
Cooking oil can add wonderful flavours and aromas (think olive oil, pumpkin seed oil, walnut oil, etc) which can balance out components like vinegar, lime juice or bitter-tasting vegetables. It also aids in the absorption of nutrients, especially fat-soluble vitamins. On top of that, oil can be used as a cooking lubricant when sautéing so that food can be cooked without sticking to itself and the pan.

In vinaigrettes, oil acts as a thickener by creating an emulsion with vinegar. Oil also adheres well to the surface of leafy vegetables allowing it to better coat and evenly distribute over the leaves causing the leaf to darken and its structure to weaken.

​What are the different sources of cooking oil?

Cooking oils can be made from:

  • Nuts and legumes: peanut oil, coconut oil, walnut oil, soybean oil, etc.
  • Fruits: avocado oil, olive oil, etc.
  • Seeds: canola oil, sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, flaxseed oil, etc.
FOODIE FACT: Some oils will need to be refrigerated, like Flaxseed Oil & Walnut Oil, since it would go rancid if left at room temperature. Make sure you read the label! 

Now what’s the deal with refined and unrefined oils?

Refining removes impurities, contaminants and free fatty acids that would otherwise cause the oil to smoke. It does this by heating and often processing the oil with chemicals, which increases the shelf life and smoke point of the cooking oil.  Typically, the more refined an oil is, the higher its smoke point will be. On the other hand, refining results in the loss of vitamins and antioxidants during the processing. It also neutralizes the flavour and odor, and leads to a lighter coloured oil. For example, if you want coconut oil for it’s lovely taste and aroma, make sure you get unrefined coconut oil!

But, what about smoke point?

​Smoke point refers to the temperature where an oil starts to burn and smoke. If you go beyond an oil’s smoke point, the oil will not only have a burnt flavour but it’s beneficial nutrients (found in many unrefined oils) will be destroyed and free radicals will be created. Free radicals can cause damage to your body’s cells, protein and DNA.

There is a wide range of smoke points for cooking oils. This chart is helpful to look at when choosing an oil for cooking.

Oils for high heat cooking:

High heat cooking (> 450 F) includes searing, browning, and deep-frying. Cooking oils best for high heat cooking include avocado oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and refined peanut oil. These oils are higher in monounsaturated fats so their smoke point is much higher.

Oils for medium-high heat cooking:

​Medium-high heat (350 F – 450 F) cooking oils are good for baking, oven cooking, or stir-frying. Canola oil, almond oil,  grapeseed oil, macadamia nut oil, corn oil and refined olive oil are best for medium-high heat cooking.

Oils for medium heat cooking:

Medium heat cooking oils (< 350 F) are best for light sautéing, sauces, and low-heat baking. These oils include extra virgin olive oil (more info for choosing the best olive oil here!), camelina oil, coconut oil, corn oil, hemp oil, pumpkin seed oil, sesame oil, soybean oil, and peanut oil.

Oils for no heat cooking:

It depends what flavour you like and prefer as some oils are more fragrant or have a distinct flavour, such as extra virgin olive oil, truffle oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, pumpkin seed oil, etc…

You can also use chia seed oil, flaxseed oil, walnut oil and wheat germ oil for no heat cooking.

So there you have it!

After reading this I hope you feel less overwhelmed and more confident to pick out a cooking oil from the grocery store!

For more info on choosing the best olive oil, check out this blog post.

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Blog Contributors

​This blog was written with the help of some amazing dietetics & nutrition students: Celine & Vanessa.

References

  • http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/100111p30.shtml
  • https://daa.asn.au/smart-eating-for-you/smart-eating-fast-facts/food-and-food-products/extra-virgin-olive-oil-the-latest-update/
  • https://nutritionstripped.com/cooking-oils/
  • https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/smoke-point-matters-in-cooking-with-oil/article26569060/
  • ​https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/ask-a-health-expert/whats-the-healthiest-cooking-oil/article566592/
  • http://www.fao.org/docrep/v4700e/V4700E0a.htm
  • ​https://www.delallo.com/blog/market-selecting-olive-oils/#
  • ​https://www.veghealth.com/nutrition-tables/Smoke-Points-of-Oils-table.pdf
  • McGee, H. (2004). On Food and Cooking.