Cooking Oil: Pros and Cons of Your Go-to OilsJan. 10, 2020 - Amanda Beaver
Our options in the cooking oil aisle have expanded dramatically over the last few years. Extra-virgin olive oil has long been regarded as the gold standard for cooking oils — but is it still the best choice even with the new contenders that have entered the market?
If you ask me what is the best oil to cook with, I will say it depends! Every cooking oil is different. Before we dive into which to choose, we first need to talk about what makes a good cooking oil.
Choosing the right cooking oil depends on a few factors
In addition to how you're cooking your food (or if you're baking), consider these factors before you pick a cooking oil:
The healthfulness of the oil. Not all fats are created equal! Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are healthy fats, while it is recommended to limit saturated fat. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends replacing saturated fats in your diet with unsaturated ones.
How hot or how long you will be cooking the food. Each type of fat behaves differently when heated. If heated at too high of a temperature or for too long, some fats can degrade and oxidize — producing compounds that may be detrimental to our health. This may also change the way they taste, making them taste worse. Polyunsaturated fats oxidize more readily compared to saturated and monounsaturated fats.
Smoke point of the oil. The smoke point of a cooking oil is the temperature the oil begins to smoke at while it's being heated. If your oil begins to smoke in the pan, throw it out! This is a sign that the oil has begun to degrade and produce unhealthy compounds. Unrefined cooking oils generally have lower smoke points than refined oils, making them less ideal for high heat cooking.
The flavors you are going for. Each cooking oil has a different flavor profile, which may affect how your meal tastes. These flavors range from rich and buttery to fishy.
Pros and cons of popular cooking oils
Now that we know what makes a cooking oil a good cooking oil, let's compare the fat composition, ability to withstand heat and flavor profile of common options you'll find in the grocery store.
Extra-virgin olive oil
Extra-virgin olive oil is my top pick for a cooking oil. I recommend choosing extra-virgin olive oil as your kitchen workhorse — using it for everything from sautéing to roasting, as well as the base of your salad dressings.
As the darling of the Mediterranean diet, extra-virgin olive oil is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and it contains polyphenols — the antioxidant compounds believed to contain some of the heart healthy benefits of extra virgin olive oil.
How it stands up to heat:
A recent study found extra-virgin olive oil to be one of the most stable oils when heated, and it's believed that the antioxidant polyphenols found in extra-virgin olive oil help protect the oil during heating.
Extra-virgin olive oil has a rich, fruity, buttery flavor that enhances the taste of almost any dish.
Coconut oil is one of the new kids on the block when it comes to cooking oils. It's regarded with a health halo, but many of its claims to fame are overhyped. I would recommend coconut oil when trying to create a rich mouthfeel in recipes or if you're looking for a vegan replacement for butter in baked goods.
Coconut oil contains fats known as medium chain triglycerides, which have been shown to have health benefits. However, these fats make up a small percentage of coconut oil and it would take very large amounts of this oil to reach real health benefits. The large majority of the fats found in cooking oil are saturated fats, which the American Heart Association recommends limiting.
How it stands up to heat:
Since it contains very little polyunsaturated fats, which tend to oxidize more quickly than saturated and monounsaturated fats, coconut oil has been found to be very stable when heated.
It may sound obvious, but keep in mind that coconut oil may impart a slight coconut taste to recipes.
Safflower and sunflower oil