Choosing the Best Cooking Oil for You
Do you enjoy cooking your own meals at home? The freedom to develop your own dishes, the giddy sense of joy as you throw together spices, herbs and ingredients in a bid to create your own unique dish and the comfort knowing because you cooked, somebody else has to clean up. But did you know one of the most important ingredients in your meals is probably the one you consider the least? The different types of cooking oils may seem bewildering at first, especially to the dedicated olive oil user, but there’s a world of choice out there, and every different kind of oil carries its own unique set of benefits and problems.
What is the Best Cooking Oil?
There are many aspects to consider when picking your go-to cooking oil. The most obvious consideration are the health benefits of the oil; but other aspects to take into account include; cost, its adaptability in cooking and its overall shelf-life. While there’s no objective answer to this question, I’ve listed below the top 5 cooking oils that you should have in your kitchen at all times.
1. Olive Oil
Despite a range of worthy competitors, olive oil is a clear winner for best cooking oil. Perhaps the best known of the oils, olive oil has become a household favorite due to its cardio-friendly health benefits. It is one of the most widely used cooking oils today, and with good reason.
Olive oil is a staple facet of the Mediterranean diet, and with good reason. It’s been proven to help lower levels of oxidized LDL (bad cholesterol) and increase levels of HDL (good cholesterol), and its popularity in Western culture makes it one of the cheapest and most accessible oils in stores today. Olive oil also contains high levels of mono-unsaturated fats, which can benefit your heart and immune system when consumed in moderation, as a replacement for other food high in saturated fats.
I love using olive oil in the kitchen. It’s smooth texture and silky taste make it ideal for salads and glazes, but it thrives as a frying oil, giving all your dishes a distinctly Mediterranean aroma that compliments almost everything, particularly when combined with garlic and sweet red capsicum.
Goes well with: It works with almost everything, but olive oil fares particularly well when used with creamy pasta dishes. The fragrance of the olives adds a depth to the dish while accentuating the taste of chicken or rich feta cheese.
Despite the numerous health benefits associated with olive oil, it is still a fat and one tablespoon contains around 120 calories. When overused, it can lead to weight gain due to its high calorie count. Try to limit intake to two tablespoons daily. Its relatively low stability also means it’s more prone to oxidizing.
The Bottom Line
After sampling a range of different olive oils, it became clear that the ideal choice depends on what you want from the oil. If you are looking for something cheap and dependable, the Zoe: Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a very popular choice. If you’re after something with a little more of a sophisticated taste and don’t mind spending a bit more, then look no further than The Olive Ranch and their California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Not only does it contain more anti-oxidants and nutrients than refined olive oil, but the smooth and rich palate gives you a true taste of the Mediterranean.
2. Coconut Oil
The health benefits of this oil stem from the high level of lauric acid and metabolism-boosting fatty acids. In addition, refined coconut oil has virtually no taste or odor, allowing it to be used in various cooking dish without altering taste.
Unlike the majority of other oils on this list, coconut oil contains a large percentage of medium chain triglycerides, which your body metabolizes differently to other fatty acids. Despite being high in saturated fatty acids, the lauric acid content found in coconut oil that makes it different from other typical high saturated-fat oils. There have been various studies that prove the ability of coconut oil to reduce blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Those who are trying to lose weight often eat food cooked with coconut oil.
The benefits of coconut oil are not only limited to the kitchen. The oil is often used in face-masks and skin lotion applications to revitalize and tighten up the skin. It is also used by many on hair, teeth and nails as a cleansing product.
Goes well with: Coconut oil is such a valuable cooking aid because it’s so versatile. It goes particularly well with citrus curries, but it really thrives in Thia dishes. The fragrant aromas blend with the tangy appeal of Thai yellow curry and Phad Thai, bringing the tropical taste to the fore and guaranteeing no sour aftertaste.
Using coconut oil for salad dressings can be tricky. I recommend only using it if the ingredients in the salad warrant it. A capsicum, lemongrass and basil salad becomes a spectacular dish when combined with a flavorsome coconut oil salad dressing, but be careful to use only minimal amounts to limit the vibrant coconut flavor.
Despite the positive aspects of using coconut oil, unrefined coconut oil inherently possesses a distinctive coconut odor, which not many will like. Those who want to avoid the odor can go for the refined version, although it offers less health benefits than virgin coconut oil. It also solidifies easily, especially in cold weather, due to its low freezing point.
There are hundreds of different brands of coconut oil out there, but for taste, value and health benefits, Viva Labs Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil is the winner. This brand is used by hundreds of thousands around the world and has excellent reviews. It spreads smoothly and goes great with a range of hot and cold foods, lending every dish a distinctly exotic, nutty taste. Just a small amount (in comparison to other, less established coconut oils) gave my cooking the refreshing zing missing from other oils.
3. Palm Oil
This vegetable oil is derived from the pulp of the fruit of the oil palms. Palm oil is particularly popular in South East Asia, Africa and parts of South America. The high beta-carotene content means it is often cited as a good oil type for restricting the development of cataracts, but in truth little to no evidence has been found to prove this theory.
Palm oil may lack the healthy medium-chain triglyceride contents of coconut oil, but it’s still lower in polyunsaturated fats than other commercially popular choices. It also has higher levels of vitamin A and E when compared to other plant-based oils and is easily digested. Due to its widespread availability around the world, palm oil is cheaper than coconut oil. If you’re looking for a healthy but cheaper alternative to the more traditional choices, palm oil is the oil to go for.
The palm oil is a truly diverse oil when it comes to cooking dishes due to its neutral flavor and low cost. The rich taste stems from the high levels of carotene, providing extra nutrients and a great balance to mildly spicy dishes. Curries like pathia and korma feel more full-bodied when cooked using palm oil. The only real downside to it is the lack of adaptability when used as a dressing, with garlic, honey and mustard tasting somewhat flat when combined with palm oil.
Goes well with: Palm oil is great for use in curries, with the nutty carotene tinged flavors adding a robust depth to any dish. It goes particularly well with milder curries, blending well with almonds, mango and cream. The distinctive taste, however, means only a select few will find it pleasant as a spread.
Palm oil is relatively high in saturated fats, making it unhealthy to be used on a regular basis. It can raise cholesterol levels and lead to heart problems when overused.
The Bottom Line
After trying a variety of different palm oils in a range of dishes, I’ve concluded that Palm Oil by Wilderness Family Naturals is the only choice you need. This brand clearly stands out from the rest due to its superior processing. Whilst this is one of the more expensive brands for palm oil, the airtight tub and high quality blend gives it a longer shelf life than some of its rivals. After trying it in different dishes for several months, the health benefits include an increased immune system, better vision and healthier skin.
4. Macadamia Oil
Macadamia oil is great to cook with because it is high in mono-unsaturated fats, whereas the majority of nut oils are high in polyunsaturated fats.
Macadamia nut oil is renowned for its unique taste and high smoke point. Due to its low levels of polyunsaturated fats, it is more stable than olive oil and contains several key nutrients and antioxidant polyphenols, such as squalene. The oil’s anti-inflammatory properties can also help with asthma and memory functions. Some people have even used macadamia oil topically for medical purposes.
I loved the unique taste macadamia oil offered to my dishes. It won’t work with everything in your kitchen, but it adds to the smoky texture of red meat very well. The macadamia taste can be overpowering when used as a dressing on salads, so it’s best to utilize its unique taste in frying and roasting. The lack of versatility prevents macadamia oil from scoring high, but when used in the right dish it can complement your dish perfectly.
Goess well with: Macadamia nut oil is popular worldwide, contributing its uniquely nutty aroma to all kinds of dishes. Many French dishes such as hachis parmentier (a kind of French shepherd’s pie) are enhanced by the addition of just a little macadamia nut oil.
The prominent macadamia taste may not be for everyone, so I save it for occasions when I know my fellow diners will enjoy the nutty aroma.
The Bottom Line
After sampling all the popular brands for macadamia oil on the market, my top pick would be Swanson Efa’s Macadamia Nut Oil, which offers a rich and inimitable taste. If you’re choosing to expand your culinary horizons, however, you may want to opt for the organic choice and buy from Life-Flo, who offer a rich, albeit more pricey Life-Flo Organic Pure Macadamia Oil.
5. Canola Oil
Canola oil is derived from the rapeseed, but involves a complicated process of extraction and processing in order to make it edible.
Unlike rapeseed oil, canola oil is relatively mild, due to the removal of euric acid. It is believed to be one of the most heart-healthy oils with the exception of the olive oil. This is due to its extremely low saturated fat content – half the amount found in olive oil. This, in turn, reduces cholesterol levels. The fatty content in canola oil is believed to boost endorphin production (helps alleviate depression) and can benefit people with joint pain or arthritis.
Thanks to its uniquely mild impact, canola oil is great for baking. Pastries and cakes thrive when cooked using canola oil. Fried potato skins with just a little dash of coriander and garlic taste amazing when cooked in canola oil. The oil can withstand high temperatures as well, making it ideal for high-temperature frying and grilling.
While canola oil has ideal fat contents, it contains only low amounts of important major vitamins and minerals. Some people also argue that consuming canola oil is unnatural as the majority of the oil is obtained from genetically modified crops.
Goes well with: The unique taste of rapeseed goes well with fish dishes, but with canola oil, the oil is sweeter and can be used in a variety of combinations. Adding some rosemary, lemon juice and garlic to a fish cooked in canola oil will heighten the taste and allow you to get the most out of the oil’s delicate flavor. You can learn more about canola oil here.
The Bottom Line
Following several months of using canola oil in a variety of dishes, the best choice in terms of taste and value for money is Crisco’s Pure Canola Oil. If you want to opt for something a little more up-market, then Loriva’s Canola Oil will deliver a more polished taste.