How to Choose The Right Cooking Oil

August 15, 2019
by Kevin RR Williams

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

You do not need to be a woman to love nutrition or cooking. 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
FatQualityCelsiusFahrenheit
Almond oilOmega-6220°C430°F
Avocado oilRefined270°C520°F
Mustard oil250°C480°F
Butter150°C300°F
Butter (Ghee)Clarified250°C480°F
Cannabis oilCannaoil140°C280°F
Canola oil220–230°C430–445°F
Canola oil (Rapeseed)Expeller press190–230°C375–450°F
Canola oil (Rapeseed)Refined205°C400°F
Canola oil (Rapeseed)Unrefined; Omega-6105°C225°F
Castor oilRefined200°C390°F
Coconut oilRefined; Omega-6230°C450°F
Coconut oilUnrefined, dry expeller pressed, virgin175°C350°F
Corn oil230-240°C445-460°F
Corn oilUnrefined; Omega-6175°C350°F
Cottonseed oilRefined, bleached, deodorized220–230°C430–445°F
GheeClarified butter250°C480°F
Flaxseed oilUnrefined; Omega-6105°C225°F
Hemp seed oil165°C330°F
LardAnimal fat190°C375°F
Macadamia nut oil200°C390°F
MargarineHard150°C300°F
Olive oilRefined200–240°C390–470°F
Olive oilVirgin210°C410°F
Olive oilExtra virgin, low acidity, high quality; Omega-6205°C405°F
Olive oilExtra virgin160–190°C320–375°F
Palm oilFractionated235°C455°F
Peanut oilRefined230°C450°F
Peanut oilUnrefined; Omega-6225–230°C440–445°F
Peanut oilUnrefined160°C320°F
Safflower oilUnrefined105°C225°F
Safflower oilSemi-refined160°C320°F
Safflower oilRefined265°C510°F
Sesame oilUnrefined; Omega-6175°C350°F
Sesame oilSemi-refined230°C450°F
Soybean oil235°C455°F
Sunflower oilNeutralized, dewaxed, bleached & deodorized250–255°C485–490°F
Sunflower oilSemirefined230°C450°F
Sunflower oil225°C440°F
Sunflower oilUnrefined, first cold-pressed, raw; Omega-6105°C225°F
Sunflower oil, high oleicRefined230°C450°F
Sunflower oil, high oleicUnrefined160°C320°F
Grape seed oil215°C420°F
Vegetable oil blendRefined220°C430°F
Walnut oilRefined205°C400°F
Walnut oilUnrefined; Omega-6160°C320°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.

Simply put, refined cooking oils are stable at higher temperatures. Unrefined oils have more flavor, hence more expensive.

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?

On the table, 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. Quickly extinguish pan fire by covering with a lid.

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. This explains why some people rave over bread with (unrefined) olive oil while to others (refined) olive oil tastes greasy.

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. Unrefined imparts coconut flavor. Refined has no scent.

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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Kevin Williams is a health advocate and writer of hundreds of articles for multiple websites, including: A Bit More Healthy, KevinMD, and Sue’s Nutrition Buzz.