In today’s foodie consumer culture, we are inundated with choices. Why get normal table salt when you can get Himalayan sea salt? Why eat white rice when you can eat basmati rice or quinoa? Another area of food that has gotten rather crowded lately is cooking oil. Gone are the days when you could drizzle generic vegetable oil over everything and call it a day. Whether you’re trying to provide the healthiest options for your family or just trying to improve your culinary skills, it can get confusing to navigate all of the available choices. With so many options ranging from nut-based oils like almond and peanut to fruit varieties like avocado and coconut oil, how do you know what to choose? Read on for the low down on 11 different oils that help you take control of the grocery aisles and your kitchen!
1. Almond Oil
If you are a fan of toasted almonds, you’ll like the subtly nutty and golden flavor of almond oil. Keep it cool when you’re using almond oil over heat, because high heat will destroy the nuttiness that is this oil’s signature. In fact, if you have gourmet cold-pressed almond oil, reserve it for topping salads or adding flavor to already cooked dishes. Almond oil will bring out the dormant flavors in your food in a way that butter and olive oil can’t, so try drizzling it over veggies like brussel sprouts or green beans. If you’re using refined almond oil, try using it when baking to add a warm toasty flavor! It can be used in place of butter, and taste great in everything from muffins to cinnamon rolls to cakes. An easy substitute that adds a healthy taste upgrade to your baked goods!
2. Sunflower Seed Oil
Made from pressed sunflower seeds, this oil is known for its high smoke point and light flavor. A great oil for high heat, use this oil for all of your sauteing and pan frying needs. You can also use it without heating, in salad dressings and even condiments like homemade mayonnaise! Since refined sunflower seed oil is generally considered tasteless, also feel free to use it while baking, wherever it calls for vegetable oil, butter or shortening. Sunflower seed oil has the most Vitamin E out of any vegetable oil, which makes it a healthier choice than some of the other all-purpose oils out there.
3. Olive Oil
A classic favorite, olive oil is made from pressing whole olives. Olive oil is a great all-purpose oil that can be used regularly for a variety of dishes. Confused by the different names? Extra virgin olive oil means that the olives were cold pressed without any chemical alteration. While retaining a lot of its natural flavor, making it a great choice for dips or salad dressings, it has a low smoke point so should not be used for high heat frying or sauteing. Its rich flavor is great for balancing out the acid flavor profile of foods like lemon juice and tomatoes. Refined oil on the other hand, can withstand high heats and also has a long shelf life. It’s the cheaper and less sensitive choice. Try keeping both kinds in stock to cover all your bases!
4. Grapeseed Oil
Fun fact: grapeseed oil is made by pressing grape seeds, so it is a byproduct of wine-making! If you want to avoid strong oil flavor in your foods, reach for this oil — its neutral flavor makes it a subtle choice. On the flip side, you’ll want to avoid this oil for dishes that call for oil flavor, such as a citrus and olive oil cake. With a high smoke point of 420 degrees, grapeseed oil is a great choice for high heat frying or grilling. Because of its light and anonymous flavor, it brings out the flavor of your stir fried or grilled veggies front and center.
5. Canola Oil
Canola oil is a vegetable oil made from rapeseed, a yellow plant that’s a member of the mustard family. This oil has a neutral flavor that is great for when you want your oils to keep a low profile. It’s a solid choice for salad dressings, marinades and baking. Try canola oil when baking dense cakes and quick breads, but avoid them for recipes that call for creaming the oil with sugar (i.e. fluffy cookies). It’s a great substitute for shortening, butter or margarine. With a high smoke point, this inexpensive oil is also great for cooking over high heat. Canola oil can keep for a year, so it’s a great all-purpose oil to keep in your pantry.
6. Sesame Oil
A long-time favorite in Asian cooking, sesame oil has a very distinct and strong umami flavor. There are two types of sesame oil: toasted and light. Toasted sesame oil is made from toasting sesame seeds and boasts a stronger, nuttier flavor as well as a darker complexion. Mostly used for seasoning purposes, avoid using this oil to cook with as its slightly bitter flavor may be overpowering. Try this oil on top of Asian stir fry or noodle dishes for the best results. Light sesame oil is made from untoasted sesame seeds and is best used for salad dressings, as a cooking oil or for deep frying.
7. Avocado Oil
Made from pressed avocado pulp, avocado oil can run a bit on the pricey side, a fact that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has ordered guacamole at Chipotle. For fans of onion rings and egg rolls, here’s an oil you can deep fry with to your heart’s content! Able to withstand temperatures of over 500 degrees, this oil is a high smoke point superstar so use it without guilt for all your stir frying, grilling and roasting needs. Its light yet buttery flavor also earns high marks for baking (substitute for oil and butter) as well as salad dressings, marinades and sauces (avocado aioli anyone?).
8. Peanut Oil
The oil choice of deep frying franchises like Chik-Fil-A and Five Guys, peanut oil’s high smoke point and neutral flavor makes it a prime choice for high heat dishes. Make your deep-fried goods healthier by swapping out unhealthy animal fats for this oil made from pressing raw peanuts. Deep frying at high heat will keep out the grease, making your meal even healthier. Peanut oil doesn’t absorb flavor, so you don’t have to worry about your french fries tasting like the onions you fried earlier. Bonus: even people with peanut allergies can enjoy this oil because the finished product doesn’t contain any peanut proteins!
9. Red Palm Oil
Palm oil is made from the fruit of the oil palm and has been used for thousands of years in West African cooking. [Note: do not confuse with palm kernel oil which is derived from the seed or kernel of the palm] Its high smoke point of 437 degrees makes it a solid choice for all kinds of cooking, especially because it doesn’t lose any of its nutritional value when heated. Its high melting point means that it is solid at room temperatures which make take some getting used to. Red Palm Oil has a distinct savory taste that enhances the flavor of your foods just like butter does, and is great in everything from curries to fish dishes to sauces. A relatively new product for the Western world, the carrot-like flavor and red tint might be a bit different but add it to your arsenal for a healthy and unique oil choice!
10. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is very “in” at the moment, and has been heralded as everything from a vegan butter replacement to a natural skin moisturizer. Coconut oil is made from the kernel or meat of the coconut and can be refined or unrefined. Unrefined coconut oil has the same smoking point as butter, which makes it an easy butter substitute in your recipes. Its apparent sweet flavor adds a unique dimension to your desserts, but might not be the best choice for savory dishes. Refined coconut oil, on the other hand, has a subtler flavor that might not be as obtrusive. Its high smoke point of 400 degrees also renders it useful for frying purposes. A popular and traditional choice for tropical climates, use coconut oils next time you’re whipping up some Asian or South American food to add a hint of authentic ethnic flavor.
11. Soybean Oil
Extracted from soybean seeds, this oil is one of the most widely used cooking oils. Included in everything from margarine to mayonnaise, this oil is commonly just referred to as vegetable oil. Its relatively high smoke point of over 400 degrees makes it a great all-purpose choice for sauteing and stir frying. Its neutral flavor and lack of odor is great for when you don’t want your oil to add any flavor to your dish. Substitute it for butter and shortening in your baked goods for a healthier product and use it for stir frying to bring out the natural flavor of the veggies.