Explaining Cooking Oils

Explaining Cooking Oils

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There are a vast variety of cooking oils suited for different purposes and preferences. This is a breakdown of some (but certainly not all) of your options.

Neutral High Heat Oils

Let’s start with neutral high heat oils. These are well suited for cooking over high heat, as they have a high smoke point. The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil begins to burn and become bitter. We’ll list some general smoke points, but these temperatures vary from brand to brand depending on how they are processed. These oils are good options for searing proteins, frying or sautéing without adding much flavor to the food you are cooking.

Avocado oil - Avocado oil, known for its mild flavor and high smoke point, is perfect for high-heat cooking. It is my personal favorite and is a source of good fat. 520ºF smoke point.
Grape seed oil - Grape seed oil has a light, neutral flavor and a 420ºF smoke point. Ideal for sautéing, frying, and making dressings.
Canola oil - This is a more processed oil with a smoke point of 400ºF-450ºF. A very common oil with variations. This crosses over into the flavored oil section, but one of my favorite canola oils is Chile oil that has been infused with chiles and garlic.
Corn oils - Corn oil, with its mild taste and high smoke point, is perfect for frying, baking, and general cooking. These oils are also often more processed. 400ºF-450ºF smoke point. 
Safflower and sunflower oils - These oils have a subtle, neutral flavor and a smoke point of 450ºF+.

Now for some more flavorful oils. These are a couple that I return to time after time.

Coconut oil - Mild to heavier coconut flavor, depending on how refined the product is. Good for dishes where that flavor is desirable, like curries and personally, popcorn. 350ºF smoke point. 

Olive oils - Some are more refined with a less prominent flavor and a higher smoke point (400ºF+). Extra Virgin Olive Oil has a more distinct, but desirable flavor. Smoke point is 325ºF-375ºF. These oils are full of antioxidants and good fats, among other health benefits.

With their aromatic profiles and versatile culinary applications, nut oils were an obvious choice for this list as well.

Peanut - This is another fairly neutral flavored oil and could fit into that category, as it has a smoke point of about 450ºF.

Almond - Almond oil, prized for its subtle nutty flavor and subtle aroma, is perfect for adding a touch of richness to salads, baked goods, and homemade dressings. 430ºF smoke point. 

Walnut - This oil has a more distinct flavor. It's better suited for salad dressings and sauces that aren’t cooked at high heat. 320ºF smoke point.

Pistachio - Another flavor-packed nut oil with a vibrant green color and a smoke point of 250ºF.

Pecan oil - Slightly rich, buttery flavor but still neutral enough to take on other flavors, with a high smoke point of 470ºF.

On to more delicate oil choices.

Sesame oil - This has a very distinct flavor. Well suited for Asian dishes. The more refined the higher the smoke point, but generally best used in sauces, dressings and as a finishing oil. Toasted sesame oil tends to be even more flavorful and can be used sparingly. Refined 410ºF. Unrefined 350ºF.

 

Wrapping it All Up

In conclusion, the world of cooking oils is wonderfully diverse, offering something for every culinary need and personal preference. From neutral high-heat oils like avocado, grape seed, and canola oil, which are ideal for frying and sautéing without overwhelming your dish with flavor, to more characterful options like coconut, olive, and various nut oils, each one brings its unique charm to the kitchen. Whether you're looking to bring out the best in a simple sauté or add a rich, nutty depth to a salad dressing, there's an oil perfectly suited to your needs. By understanding their smoke points and flavor profiles, you can choose the right oil to not only enhance your cooking but also bring joy and satisfaction to your culinary adventures. Here's to discovering your favorite oils and making every meal a delicious experience!