How to Choose The Right Cooking Oil

Inability to cook olive oil over high heat is a myth.

Heart-Healthy Mediterranean Cooking

There are quite a few cooking oils from which to choose. Topping the list of healthy oils are avocado, olive, almond, sesame, and tea seed. Which ones you use depends on how you plan to prepare your food. Most people want to maintain or lose weight. Mediterra­nean cooking, which generously uses olive oil, is highly recom­mend­ed for this. Many people enjoy dipping bread into olive oil, sometimes mixed with balsamic vinegar. But not all olive oils are equal. In fact, there is a rumor that it is an unsuitable cooking option.

“When heated, olive oil is the most stable fat, which means it stands up well to high frying tempera­tures. Its high smoke point (410ºF or 210ºC) is well above the ideal tempera­ture for fry­ing food (350ºF or 180ºC). The digesti­bility of olive oil is not affected when it is heated, even when it is re-used several times for frying.” —International Olive Oil Council

Typically, as a person interested in this topic, you will stock several different oils for various purposes. Some oils are best suited for frying, sautéing, marinading or use in salad dressings. the robust flavor of sesame oil is some­times mixed with another oil. Often times the maxi­mum tempera­ture oils can sustain is an important factor in selection.

Cooking Oil Temperatures

When it comes to frying foods, whether tempura vege­tables or fish and chips, the ideal frying tempera­ture is between 350° and 375°F (175–190°C). Measure with a clip-on or candy thermo­meter. Cooking on average home stoves, sautéing, pan-frying, and stir-frying over medium-high heat, is typically between 250° and 400°F (120–205°C). Oven roasting is 425° to 440°F (215‑225°C). On an electric stovetop, the setting is near “medium.”

There is a reason why stovetop consumer woks are more show than go. Professional Asian Chefs cook with a table­spoon or two of oil that is 20 times hotter than a gas stovetop—850° to 900°F, according to Grace Young—author of The Breath of A Wok. The mas­sive amount of heat for the best stir-fries requires knee-valves to control gas output and oxygen to burn faster and hotter. A Western skillet is for even heat, while a profes­sional wok for fast heat.

Table of cooking oil temperatures
Cooking Oil Smoke Point
Fat Quality Celsius Fahrenheit
Almond oil Omega-6 220°C 430°F
Avocado oil Refined 270°C 520°F
Mustard oil 250°C 480°F
Butter 150°C 300°F
Butter (Ghee) Clarified 250°C 480°F
Cannabis oil Cannaoil 140°C 280°F
Canola oil 220–230°C 430–445°F
Canola oil (Rapeseed) Expeller press 190–230°C 375–450°F
Canola oil (Rapeseed) Refined 205°C 400°F
Canola oil (Rapeseed) Unrefined; Omega-6 105°C 225°F
Castor oil Refined 200°C 390°F
Coconut oil Refined; Omega-6 230°C 450°F
Coconut oil Unrefined, dry expeller pressed, virgin 175°C 350°F
Corn oil 230-240°C 445-460°F
Corn oil Unrefined; Omega-6 175°C 350°F
Cottonseed oil Refined, bleached, deodorized 220–230°C 430–445°F
Ghee Clarified butter 250°C 480°F
Flaxseed oil Unrefined; Omega-6 105°C 225°F
Hemp seed oil 165°C 330°F
Lard Animal fat 190°C 375°F
Macadamia nut oil 200°C 390°F
Margarine Hard 150°C 300°F
Olive oil Refined 200–240°C 390–470°F
Olive oil Virgin 210°C 410°F
Olive oil Extra virgin, low acidity, high quality; Omega-6 205°C 405°F
Olive oil Extra virgin 160–190°C 320–375°F
Palm oil Fractionated 235°C 455°F
Peanut oil Refined 230°C 450°F
Peanut oil Unrefined; Omega-6 225–230°C 440–445°F
Peanut oil Unrefined 160°C 320°F
Safflower oil Unrefined 105°C 225°F
Safflower oil Semi-refined 160°C 320°F
Safflower oil Refined 265°C 510°F
Sesame oil Unrefined; Omega-6 175°C 350°F
Sesame oil Semi-refined 230°C 450°F
Soybean oil 235°C 455°F
Sunflower oil Neutralized, dewaxed, bleached & deodorized 250–255°C 485–490°F
Sunflower oil Semirefined 230°C 450°F
Sunflower oil 225°C 440°F
Sunflower oil Unrefined, first cold-pressed, raw; Omega-6 105°C 225°F
Sunflower oil, high oleic Refined 230°C 450°F
Sunflower oil, high oleic Unrefined 160°C 320°F
Grape seed oil 215°C 420°F
Vegetable oil blend Refined 220°C 430°F
Walnut oil Refined 205°C 400°F
Walnut oil Unrefined; Omega-6 160°C 320°F

Temperatures are rounded to nearest 5°. This table is not com­prehen­sive and actual smoking point has many variables. An oil can vary ±70°F (20°C) in smoke point tem­pera­ture, depending on the age of the oil, field condi­tions, season, varietal, the level of refine­ment or filtra­tion, fatty acid composi­tion, etc. Storing oils in the light decreases shelf life. Dark glass bottles or cans are preferred above white or clear plastic bottles. The hemp seed smoking point is 330°F (165°C), but the oil can with­stand tempera­tures up to 475°F (245°C) for no longer than 30 minutes. Combining hemp seed oil with temperature-stable oils increases the smoke threshold of hemp seed oil.

French fried potatoesAmong many health reasons for avoiding fried foods is calories. A small baked potato (100 grams) contains 93 calories and 0 grams of of fat. The same amount (100 grams) of french fries contain 319 calories and 17 grams of fat.

A high-temperature oil prevents burning, which affects flavor and destroys inherent nutrients. This releases free radicals and a substance called acrolein. Acrolein is toxic and irritates the skin, eyes, and nasal passages. The acrid smell of burning fat when cooking oil reaches its smoke point is caused by glycerol in the fat breaking down into acrolein.

Notice on the accompanying table that most refined avocado, canola, coconut, corn, rice brand, sesame, peanut, and sunflower oils are stable at temperatures higher than 400°F (205°C). There is considerable variability with olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil, in general, has a lower burn temperature than virgin olive oil. Unrefined canola, safflower and sunflower oils begin smoking above 225°F (105°C).

How to Choose The Right Cooking Oil

Are Low Smoking Point Oils Bad?

Notice on the accompanying table that refined oils have higher smoke points. Refining is like pasteurizing milk or fruit juices. To elevate the smoke point, manufacturers use industrial-level refinement processes like bleaching, filtering, and high-temperature heating to extract and eliminate extraneous compounds. The result is a neutral-flavored oil with longer shelf life and higher smoke point. For safety, be careful with hot oils which can burn skin or ignite.

For more natural flavor, people choose unrefined oils. Generally speaking, for better resistance to heat, cooks choose refined oils. Unrefined oils impart more flavor. The majority of flavorful oils are expeller-pressed, costly, have shorter shelf life, and are less common on supermarket shelves.

Cooking With Fats

Fat content affects cooking oil selection. Some fats have positive health benefits while others do not. Omega-6 polyunsaturated fat is an essential fatty acid that our bodies need, but cannot make. The more unsatu­rated fats there are, the more quickly they go rancid.

There is some controversy with coconut oil since it is actually a saturated fat. Though we many urge us to use saturated fats with caution, research has explored coconut oil’s beneficial use. Coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids or medium-chain triglycerides (also known as MCTs) that may not become stored within fat cells like long-chain fatty acids.

Replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats is good for the heart because it decreases the levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and as well as fats in the blood called triglycerides, both of which are risk factors for heart disease. For extensive charts about cooking oil fats, visit the Skills You Need website. This information should help you to cook A Bit More Healthy. Now, which oils do you plan to add to your shelves?

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August 15, 2019 by Kevin RR Williams