Choosing which cooking oil to use for what task in the kitchen is an important component of food preparation. Certainly the flavor an oil imparts on the dish plays a role in which oil you choose, but it’s about a lot more than that. Today’s kitchen hack is about flavor, safety, nutrition, and active disease prevention.
Your Ultimate Guide to Cooking Oil
A super important factor when choosing which cooking oils to use and how to use them is the smoke point.
Smoke point is defined as the temperature at which the oil starts to smoke.
If you heat an oil beyond its smoke point, not only does it make your food taste burnt, but you also run the risk of starting a grease fire in your kitchen. Additionally, you don’t want your oil to smoke in your pan because once it reaches that state, it oxidizes and becomes rancid. The oxidation process takes a perfectly good oil and creates a harmful substance full of free radicals that has lost its beneficial health properties. Oxidized oils result when the glycerol in the oil breaks down to acrolein. Acrolein is a major component of cigarette smoke and is a known carcinogen, so it’s important not to burn your oils while cooking.
To be perfectly honest, when I see numbers in reference to anything other than cooking in an oven (where you actually set the number), my eyes glaze over. But I’m about to throw a few numbers at you, and I also have a chart with lots of numbers at the bottom of this post as your quick, easy reference guide. SO, I’ve borrowed this handy-dandy little list of typical temperatures across all methods of cooking from Tiffany at Don’t Waste the Crumbs. This way, you can have an idea of which methods go with which numbers down below.
Which Cooking Oils Are Best for High-Heat Cooking?
Coconut oil, palm oil, and ghee all have high smoke points and work well as your go-to sauteing, roasting, frying, baking, and even grilling oils. Not only are they stable and medium to high temperatures, they’re also rich in healthy saturated fats, fat soluble vitamins, antioxidants, and valuable compounds for weight loss (CLA in ghee and short- and medium-chain fatty acids in coconut and palm oils).
These oils are actively beneficial for your health in addition to being stable enough to heat at higher temperatures. (Refined coconut oil and palm oil have a smoke point of 450F. Ghee’s smoke point is 485F.) I love using palm oil if I don’t want to impart a coconut-y flavor to my food but still want all the health benefits of using a tropical oil. If you’re using palm oil, make sure you’re using a brand that sources the oil ethically and sustainably. Nutiva red palm oil is a great one to try. As with most things found in nature, the orange-y red color of this oil is an indicator that there are lots of healthy phytonutrients found within.
Click the picture to learn how to make your own ghee at home!
Butter and unrefined coconut oil have a smoke point of about 350F, and both are generally safe to use on the stove top at lower temperatures; just keep the fire down and watch for smoke. It’s much easier to burn butter than it is to burn ghee, so unless there’s a specific reason to cook with the butter instead, opt for ghee. You’ll get the same (or at least extremely similar) flavor without the potentially harmful burn.
Avocado oil is a very stable oil to use for super high-heat cooking like searing, roasting, and frying with a smoke point of 520F. Not only is avocado oil delicious, it’s also able to maintain this high smoke point without refinement (unlike coconut oil). I love coating veggies with avocado oil and roasting them in the oven on 450F.
You don’t typically hear much about tea seed oil,
but the oil that comes from camellia seeds (tea plant) is actually super stable and a great resource for stir-frying at high temperatures. Like avocado oil, tea seed oil can be extracted using cold pressing methods that don’t refine or damage the oil while still maintaining a super high smoke point.
are also great for high heat cooking if they’re sourced from animals living in their natural environment and treated humanely. Tallow from grass fed cows and lard from pigs eating a natural diet all while hanging out in the sunshine and synthesizing vitamin D are both excellent sources of healthy saturated fat. These fats have been shunned by mainstream nutritionists for decades due to the very shaky purported connection between saturated fat and high serum cholesterol levels, but the tides are slowly changing. Fear of saturated fat (and dietary cholesterol for that matter) is beginning to diminish as more studies are showing (and have shown for a very long time) that these foods aren’t the culprits for heart disease or our obesity epidemic. As long as these fats are sourced from happy, healthy animals (not from factory-farmed ones), and they’re included wisely and moderately, they can be valuable components of a healthy diet. (Check out this delicious quiche recipe
that requires healthy lard to make the crust, just like in the old days before Crisco entered the scene.)
Nut oils like walnut, almond, and macadamia are great oils to incorporate into your diet, but because they have very strong “nut” flavor (and are a little pricey), it’s best to reserve them for salad dressings and as toppers to cooked foods. They do have suitable temperatures for medium to high-heat cooking however, so it’s up to you! Try them out if you’re curious to know what walnut zucchini tastes like!
Which Cooking Oils are Not Safe for Cooking?
Olive oil is tricky and from all the sources I’ve seen online, the smoke points can vary wildly.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) (according to the most sources) has a smoke point of only 320F, and should really be reserved for toppers, salad dressings, and dipping bread in order to best preserve all the wonderful health benefits it offers (contrary to many popular recipes).
The smoke point diminishes and the nutrients increase if you opt for an unfiltered EVOO, so please don’t cook with the unfiltered variety at all. You can tell when the oil is unfiltered because it is cloudy and translucent instead of clear. Some sources say the smoke point for unfiltered EVOO can be as low as 200F, but I can’t seem to find a clear answer on it anywhere.
There are other types of olive oil on the market — virgin and refined olive oil — that are more suitable for high-heat cooking (about 400F), however these oils are inferior in nutritive properties. If you do choose to use a lower quality olive oil, just make sure it’s either expeller or cold pressed. Our goal is to avoid anything that’s processed using chemicals (hexane is a common one).
Flax oil and Fish oil are both very beneficial yet very volatile oils that can be used either as supplements or as part of salad dressings orfoodtoppers. These oils have the lowest smoke point of any other oils and should never be exposed to heat or light. In fact, these oils should be stored in the refrigerator in opaque containers whenever possible to avoid damaging their sensitive compounds. Both of these oils are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, of which we are typically deficient in our Standard American Diet, and are beneficial to balancing out the inflammatory response in the body, thinning the blood, and potentially aiding in hormone regulation.
photo used with permission from Creative Commons
A Word on Seed Oils
Seed oils, which are often refined with chemicals, bleaches, and deodorizers, are generally used in high-heat commercial cooking due to higher smoke points and lower cost. Soybean, canola, corn, safflower, and vegetable oils are almost always sourced from GMO plants, and because they’re extracted from such tiny seeds, they’re often so refined using so many chemical extractions that they’re already rancid by the time they reach your shopping cart. (remember that rancid oil = cancer oil!)
Grapeseed oil has been touted as a healthy oil, but it’s actually just as refined as many of these other oils (grape seeds are tiny) using many of the same chemicals, even if it’s less likely to be sourced from GMO grapes.
Sesame and Sunflower oils CAN be part of a healthy diet if minimally processed. Unrefined sesame oil can be used as a topper on already cooked foods, and expeller pressed sesame and sunflower oils are great for high-heat cooking. Just make sure they’re not extracted using hexane or other harmful chemicals.
The problem with seed oils, ultra-refined or otherwise, is that they are a very rich source in polyunsaturated Omega 6 fatty acids. Don’t get me wrong – we NEED Omega 6 in our diets – but the Standard American Diet often contains WAAAAY too much of it. Using these at a minimum and relying mostly on healthy saturated fats and monounsaturated fats will help us take steps to restore the desired balance.
Your Ultimate Guide to Cooking Oil
Keep your healthy oils healthy by ensuring you don’t burn them as you cook. Get your very own CWB Ultimate Guide to Cooking Oil by clicking the image below. Have a reference in your pocket for any cooking occasion!
FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. All opinions are my own.