Different types of oil serve various functions. If you ask any chef, they probably can’t tell you which is the best type of oil to cook with. After all, cooking oils perform specific culinary tasks – some for frying, others for finishing.
Some cuisines are even defined by the oil they use – like olive for Italian or sesame for Chinese. It takes some practice and study, but using the correct type of oil can improve the quality of your dish and give you the best results possible.
Here is a list of the 10 best cooking oils, plus how and when to use them.
1. Olive Oil
The first oil you probably think of. Olive oil can be further broken down into three types of oil:
Extra-virgin olive oil
Or EVOO for short, is a flavorful oil full of antioxidants and heart healthy fats. It is made by crushing olives into a paste and extracting the oil from it. It ranges from spicy to fruity or grassy, depending on where the olives were grown. EVOO does not go through any heat treatments or have any added chemicals to it, keeping it as pure and natural as possible. All of these qualities make it a healthy oil with quite a high price tag. Because of its natural qualities, EVOO has a lower smoke point than other oils, meaning it burns at high temperatures.
So, save this fancy stuff for making vinaigrettes or dipping your bread into instead. Do not use it for any high-heat cooking or deep-frying. But if it is all you’ve got, you will be fine using it for sauteing, just keep things below 340°F (170°C).
Light/pure/regular olive oil
Alternatively, this stuff is EVOO that has then been processed with heat to neutralize flavor and make it last longer. Because of this, it has a higher smoke point(around375-405°F or 190-207°C), which makes it fine to use in high-heat cooking or baking. Consider using this to drizzle over your vegetables before putting in the oven or for making a sofrito.
Pomace olive oil
Pomace is a much less popular olive oil than the above varieties. Although it’s still made from olives, the processing that it goes through, and thus the final product, is dramatically different. Once the olives have been pressed (and EVOO and regular olive oil have been extracted), all that is left is pulp. This pulp is mixed with chemicals to extract what is known as pomace olive oil. This process is controversial because of the added chemicals, as well as the potentially harmful by-products that it creates. However, it is a significantly cheaper alternative to regular olive oil and has a higher smoke point.
2. Vegetable Oil
Another very popular choice is good-old reliable vegetable oil. It has a neutral flavor and smell, and has a high smoke point of about 392°F (200°C), making it suitable for frying and sautéing. Vegetable oils usually comprise a blend of many different refined oils, which is why it’s so cheap. This is a major plus because you need a lot of it if you’re looking to deep-fry something.
This type of oil works for fried chicken, fried fish, or even fried ice cream! If you want to experiment with the latter, choose something extra thick and creamy like Selecta Super Thick Super Chocolate so it keeps its shape even when you fry it in hot oil.
3. Canola Oil
Canola oil has gained popularity in recent years as people become health-conscious. It is similar to vegetable oil in terms of flavor, usage, and smoke point, plus offers other heart-healthy nutrients. This oil is made purely from crushed canola seeds. It is low in saturated fat. Studies also show it’s chock-full of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which can help with cancer, arthritis, and asthma.
Be sure to store canola oil in a cool, dark place to preserve its quality. Toss it after about a year or when it smells rancid.
4. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has also been trendy recently due to its many benefits, spanning cooking to beauty. It’s full of healthy fats that convert easily into energy, which can boost metabolism and aid in weight loss. Unrefined or virgin coconut oil has a strong coconut flavor with a smoke point of around 338°F (170°C). On the other hand, refined coconut oil has a neutral taste and a higher smoke point of 339°F (204°C).
You can replace heavier fats with coconut oil. It can boost flavor and nutritional value. Try it instead of butter. Or, add more depth to dishes like curries or stir-fries. Note that it does become solid at cooler room temperatures, so avoid using it as a salad dressing or in vinaigrettes.
5. Sesame Oil
Many countries across Asia use sesame oil to add that distinctly delicious nutty flavor to their dishes. Think Chinese fried rice, Korean bibimbap, or Japanese tempura. It is loaded with antioxidants and vitamin K.
Refined sesame oil has a high smoke point of around 410°F (210°C) and does not have an overpowering flavor, which makes it ideal for most types of cooking. However, if you are looking for a real punch of flavor, opt for toasted or cold-pressed sesame oil. Drizzle it over dishes or use it for dipping.
6. Peanut Oil
Similar to sesame oil, peanut oil also comes in refined and unrefined varieties. The latter has a strong flavor, smell, and a lower smoke point of 338°F (170°C) compared to the former. Refined peanut oil is great for deep-frying. If it's good enough for Five Guys’ fries, it's good enough for yours. Use the unrefined stuff for marinades or dishes that require an intense peanut flavor, like a Thai larb or an Indonesian satay sauce.
7. Grape-seed Oil
Grape-seed oil doesn’t have a distinct flavor, making it a great vehicle for other ingredients to stand out. An alternative to olive oil, it has a high smoke point (419°F/215°C). You can use it for all-around cooking.
8. Sunflower Seed Oil
With one of the highest smoke points (449°F/232°C), sunflower oil is ideal for searing, sautéing, and creating a crispy finish. It has a mild flavor but is not an overpowering one. It is also high in vitamin E and other antioxidants that can improve heart health, lower bad cholesterol, and boost energy.
9. Avocado Oil
Avocado oil is considered one of the healthiest cooking oils due to its high monounsaturated fat (read: healthy fat) content and anti-inflammatory properties. It also has a higher smoke point than most plant-based cooking oils, making it a versatile option for your general cooking needs. Its mild buttery flavor plays well in both sweet and savory dishes. Try it for sautéing, roasting, grilling, and drizzling.
10. Other Nut or Seed Oils
Think oils from toasted nuts or seeds, like walnut, pistachio, or pumpkin. Heating these delicate oils lets them lose their nutritional value and alter their original flavor. Save these expensive oils for special meals and primarily as a finishing drizzle or a dressing. You can also combine it with a neutral-tasting variety to stretch the bottle.
There are many types of oil, but if you want to play up the varieties in your pantry, start with these 10.