All month we’ve been talking about macros. This week we talked ALL ABOUT FATS. In continuing the conversation about fats, I want to give you a quick guide to cooking with oils.
Oils are tough because there are SO many of them. If you’ve ever stood in the aisle at the grocery store looking at the oils, you know they are endless. They can (and should) be used for different things, but how do you know which to choose? Some oils are better for cooking at higher temperatures, some are better for their flavor, and some you should just stay away from completely. Today’s post will provide you with a quick reference guide to what oils you should include in your arsenal, what to use them for and which ones to eliminate.
OILS: THE BASICS
First of all, let’s take a second to talk about how oil is made. Most all oils are created through the process of extraction, which includes a lot of heating and pressing. Many are extracted from nuts or seeds or the flesh of the fruit (like with olive oil or coconut oil), which is typically where they get their name from.
You’ve also probably heard of refined and unrefined oils. Refined means these oils are chemically processed. Because of this, refined oils have higher smoke points and are more neutral flavor, making them good for roasting, sautéing or frying. Unrefined oils have a lower smoke point and are often more flavorful, making them better for dressings and adding a touch of flavor to finish a dish.
THINGS TO LOOK FOR WHEN CHOOSING OILS TO COOK WITH
Heating temperature | this is also known as the smoke point. The smoke point is the temperature where the oil begins to smoke and essentially becomes ineffective. A high smoke point is considered above 375 degrees. It’s important to note that smoke point is always an estimated number.
Flavor | what does your recipe call for and/or are you looking to add flavor to your dish or are you in need of something more neutral in taste.
Use | what are you using the oil for? This goes hand-in-hand with smoke point and flavor, but you’ll want to choose an oil with a higher smoke point and probably a neutral flavor if you’re sautéing veggies versus an oil you would use for dressing a salad.
Fat content | and of course you want to pay attention to the unsaturated/saturated/trans fat ratios of the oils you’re using - as I’m sure you know, not all oils are created alike and even the ones with ‘good’ fats should still be using sparingly as they pack a big punch when it comes to fat content.
Now that you have a little more background on oils and what to look for when choosing one, let’s take a look at some of the ones you should have in your pantry and a few you should stay away from. I purposely tried to keep the list short and sweet. There are really an endless amount of oils, but I wanted to provide you with some staples and give you some guidance on ones that you probably already have.
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL (EVOO)
Olive oil is made from pressing whole olives into a paste and extracting the oil from the flesh. It’s touted as a ‘good’ fat because it’s high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Light olive oil is not less in calories, it’s simply lighter in taste and color. EVOO is the most flavorful, however it has a lower smoke point, so it’s not ideal for high-temperature cooking. If you love the taste of olive oil and want to use it for high temps, choose pure or light olive oil.
SMOKE POINT | 325 (higher for light and pure kinds)
WHAT IT’S GOOD FOR | adding flavor, dressings, low-temp sauteing
WHAT IT’S BAD FOR | frying, roasting, baking
There are recent debates about whether coconut oil is as good for you as some think it is. It is solid at room temperature, which indicates it’s higher in saturated fat. Even so, there are still health benefits to coconut oil, like the medium-chain fatty acids it contains. It has a lower smoke point, so it’s not great for roasting, but its sweeter flavor makes it great for baking, especially for vegan and paleo recipes.
SMOKE POINT | 350 degrees
WHAT IT’S GOOD FOR | baking (especially vegan and paleo recipes), roasting at lower temps
WHAT IT’S BAD FOR | frying, dressings
Avocado oil is becoming the new coconut oil. It’s extracted from the flesh of the avocado, not the seed and this oil doesn’t have as much saturated fat and is full of healthy monounsaturated fats. It’s unrefined yet has a neutral flavor without the chemical processing (often found in canola oil and vegetable oil). Because it seems like a dream come true, the catch is it’s a little more expensive.
SMOKE POINT | 450+ degrees
WHAT IT’S GOOD FOR | roasting, sauteing, frying, dressings
WHAT IT’S BAD FOR | cooking on a budget
TOASTED NUT & SEED OILS
Think walnut, sesame, pistachio, etc. These kinds of oils are great for adding flavor to your dishes. They tend to be expensive, so I recommend using them as a garnish to finish off your dishes or to top off a dressing recipe. Most of them have a low smoke point and shouldn’t really be heated at all.
SMOKE POINT | > 300 degrees
WHAT IT’S GOOD FOR | adding flavor, dressings
WHAT IT’S BAD FOR | frying, roasting, baking (anything high heat)
Canola oil is pressed from rapeseeds and is low in saturated fat, making it a seemingly healthy choice; however, it is a refined oil, meaning it’s chemically processed. Most canola oils are also made from GMOs, so if that’s something you have eliminated from your diet, you want to choose another option. It has a neutral flavor, high smoke-point and is relatively inexpensive, making it appealing, but there are better options out there.
SMOKE POINT | 400 degrees
WHAT IT’S GOOD FOR | roasting, frying or baking
WHAT IT’S BAD FOR | dressing, adding flavor to a dish
Vegetable oil simply refers to any vegetable-based oil and is usually a combination of refined oils. It is heavily processed, giving it a neutral flavor and high smoke-point, however it is at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to healthy oils (read: don’t use it if you don’t have to).
SMOKE POINT | 400+ degrees
WHAT IT’S GOOD FOR | all-purpose - frying, roasting, baking
WHAT IT’S BAD FOR | adding flavor
So there you have it, a simple breakdown of oils and how to choose the best ones for your dishes. Do you have a favorite? Share with me in the comments below!