How to choose which cooking oil to use
Whether sautéing and stir-frying or adding to a finished dish, a tasty drizzle of oil can help enhance your meal's flavor and texture. But what are the options and which oil is best for which type of cooking?
Why is the oil you choose important?
When used correctly, cooking oil can improve the way your food heats, boost its taste, and even bring some health benefits. But some oils are better suited to certain dishes than others.
Vegetable oils have varying properties, consistencies, and flavors. Choosing a suitable oil for your dish and heating it to the right temperature will help you get the most out of it and make sure your food is safe.
For cooking, there are lots of oils that can do the trick. Many have neutral flavors which won't impart a strong taste to your dish. You might find that oils with intense flavors work best for dressing and garnishing meals after cooking. An oil pourer with a flow control spout can help you add the finishing touch to salads without the risk of spilling too much.
What is the smoke point?
The smoke point is the temperature at which an oil starts to burn and break down. Every oil type has a different smoke point, so it's important to be aware of which you're using and what temperature you're heating it to.
Nobody likes a cloudy kitchen and setting the smoke alarm off, but there are bigger risks to consider, too. Once the oil starts to break down, it releases free radicals, which can damage the body's cells and cause illness and ageing. Keeping your oil below its smoke point threshold will ensure your food is as safe as it is delicious.
Olive oil is one of the most popular and versatile cooking oils. Used abundantly in Mediterranean dishes, chefs hail olive oil as one of the healthiest culinary oils. High in antioxidants and Omega fatty acids, it's thought to be good for the heart and brain. Unlike many other oils, it is low in saturated fats, making it a great option if you're conscious of weight gain.
When it comes to cooking, olive oil has a fairly low smoke point of 160℃ (320°F), so it isn't suitable for methods such as deep frying.
However, olive oil can add a wonderful texture to salad dressings and is ideal for drizzling over cold dishes. Extra virgin olive oil is cold-pressed and retains a distinctive flavor and aroma at low temperatures. A generous glug of extra virgin olive oil mixed with a squeeze of balsamic vinegar makes a delightful dip for toasted ciabatta or other bread starters.
Olive oil also works well for sautéing and roasting at low or medium temperatures. It's best to store it in a dark glass or opaque bottle to keep the oil protected from the sun or any direct light. Our elegant 2-in-1 Pourer is the perfect choice for transferring your olive oil straight from the kitchen to the dining table.
All the oils on this list come from plant sources, so they are technically vegetable oils. However, bottled vegetable oil generally refers to a blend of different oils. Most often, vegetable oil consists of a mixture of canola, corn, palm, sunflower, safflower and soybean oils in varying proportions.
Vegetable oil's smoke point of 220℃ (428℉) is higher than that of olive oil, so many people prefer to use it for cooking dishes at hotter temperatures. If you're looking to pan-sear meat or stir-fry at a high heat, vegetable oil could be your best bet.
It also has a milder flavor than olive oil, making it a good choice for cooking without imparting flavor. For example, vegetable oil is often used for popcorn.
If you want to reduce the amount of oil you use in dishes like stir-fries, an oil mister can help you get a light, even coating.
Canola oil comes from a type of rapeseed plant. Its origin lies in Canada, and the name contracts ‘Canadian oil’ and ‘low acid.’
Similarly to vegetable oil, canola oil has a neutral taste, so it’s suitable for cooking without imposing on the flavors of the other ingredients. Depending on whether you go for refined or unrefined, canola oil has a smoke point of 220 to 230°C (428 to 446℉). It can withstand higher temperatures than olive oil, so it works well as a base for grilling, sautéing or stir-frying.
However, canola oil’s low flavor level also makes it a popular choice for marinades, salad dressings, and sauces. You get a good liquid consistency, but your other ingredients’ aromas and tastes will still be able to shine through.
Unlike canola oil and olive oil, coconut oil has a solid consistency at room temperature. When cool, its texture is more like butter than liquid oil, and it has a long shelf life. It starts to melt at around 25°C (78℉).
The consistency of coconut oil at low temperatures means it isn’t the best choice for salad dressings or cold dishes. However, coconut oil makes a great dairy replacement in baking and can be used for roasting and sautéing at low to medium temperatures. If you’re looking to grease baking trays without butter, coconut oil can make a good alternative. Because of its distinctive flavour, it also works beautifully in sweet cakes and muffins. Alternatively, it can really complement a creamy Thai green curry.
Coconut oil has quite a low smoke point of 176℃ (350°F), so, similarly to olive oil, it isn’t safe to use for deep frying or heating at high temperatures.
Over the past few years, there has been some controversy around cooking with coconut oil. It contains high levels (86%) of saturated fat, which can impact heart health and cholesterol. However, the general consensus appears to be that coconut oil is safe to use in moderation.
If you’d prefer to minimize your use of coconut oil in cooking, you can still make the most of its beauty benefits for hair and skin!
With a smoke point of 226℃ (440°F), peanut oil is more suitable for deep-frying food than alternatives such as olive oil. It’s also a good option for stir-frying at a high temperature or roasting dishes in the oven.
In larger commercial kitchens, peanut oil is a popular choice for frying as it doesn’t absorb the flavors of the foods it’s cooking. This means that chefs can fry multiple ingredients and food types in the same oil without any flavor cross-contamination.
As for its own flavor, refined peanut oil varieties are neutral or mild. However, roasted peanut oil has a more robust, nutty taste and is best suited for pouring over meals after cooking. It can add a delicious twist to marinades, dressings, and sauces.
If you’d like to create a zesty peanut vinaigrette to bring a crunchy salad or stir fry to life, you can blend peanut oil, lime juice, ginger, soy sauce, and a sprinkle of sugar. Mix it up using a handy salad dressing shaker, and you’ll have a smooth, zingy sauce all ready to go.
In comparison to other oils, avocado oil has a high smoke point of 270℃ (520°F). It’s a great oil to go for if you need to cook at really high temperatures — whether that’s searing, frying, sautéing or roasting.
Avocado oil has a light, buttery flavor, which can add a tasty dimension to marinades. It also contains healthy fats and oleic acid, so it can be a nutritious oil alternative for homemade mayonnaise or aioli.
Avocado oil can come with a heftier price tag than other vegetable oils, so some people like to use it as more of an occasional treat.
Sesame oil is a popular ingredient in Asian-inspired dishes. It has a smoke point of 210 to 230℃ (410 to 446°F), making it suitable for cooking at high temperatures and a good alternative to blended vegetable oil.
Regular sesame oil is light in color and has a relatively neutral flavor. In contrast, toasted sesame oil has a darker color and provides a strong nutty flavor that can add an umami depth.
Although sesame oil makes a good all-rounder for roasting, grilling, sautéing and frying, the toasted variety can overpower some ingredients. For this reason, toasted sesame oil is often used later on in the cooking process or added as a dressing at the end.
Whether you’re roasting, sautéing, or deep-frying, knowing which cooking oil to use can help you get the most flavor and nutrition out of your meals. Using an oil pourer gives you control over the flow to make sure you drizzle just the right amount for your dish.