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Cooking Oils Unveiled: A Guide to Choosing the Right Oil for Your Kitchen

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

Christina Ellenberg MS, RD, LDN, CSCS

Publish Date September 5, 2023

Cooking oils are essential ingredients in our daily culinary adventures, but not all oils are created equal. Each type of cooking oil comes with its unique flavor, smoke point, and nutritional profile. In this blog post, we'll breakdown the pros and cons of five commonly used cooking oils, their nutrition benefits, smoke points, and fun facts about each oil.

1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil:

Most individuals know olive oil is a great oil to use for cooking as it comes with many health benefits. It is important to pay attention to which type of olive oil your are buying as they are not all made equally. When buying olive oil, be cautious of oils labeled as "light" or "pure" olive oil, as they are often refined and lack the flavor and health benefits of extra virgin olive oil. Look for certifications such as

  • USDA Organic: Organic certification can provide assurance that the oil meets specific quality standards.

  • California Olive Oil Council (COOC): If you're buying Californian olive oil, look for the COOC seal, which indicates compliance with rigorous quality standards.

  • International Olive Council (IOC): Some reputable brands adhere to international standards and may have the IOC certification.

health benefits of olive oil

  • Pros: Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, particularly vitamin E, which brings many benefits to your skin. It assists in reducing the risk of heart disease and inflammation.

  • Cons: It has a lower smoke point (around 375°F or 190°C), making it unsuitable for high-heat cooking.

  • Nutrition Benefits: Supports heart health, skin health, reduces inflammation all over the body, and provides antioxidants.

  • Smoke Point Recipes: Use EVOO to roast veggies if you aren't exceeding 375°F, in salad dressings, drizzle over roasted vegetables, or as a finishing touch on pasta dishes.

Fun Fact: Olive oil is one of the oldest known culinary oils, with a history dating back over 6,000 years. It has been a staple in Mediterranean cuisine for millennia and was even used as a form of currency in ancient Greece. Olive oil's enduring popularity and versatility make it not only a kitchen essential but also a symbol of cultural heritage and tradition.

2. Avocado Oil:

When searching for a brand of avocado oil, look for avocado oil that is 100% pure avocado oil. Avoid products that contain blends of other oils, as they may dilute the flavor and nutritional benefits.

health benefits of eating olive oil

  • Pros: Avocado oil boasts a high smoke point (around 520°F or 270°C), making it ideal for frying and high-heat cooking. It's rich in monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, and also promotes skin and heat health.

  • Cons: It can be more expensive than other oils. But in my opinion, the health benefits outweigh the cost.

  • Nutrition Benefits: Good for heart health, skin nourishment, and high-heat cooking.

  • Smoke Point Recipes: Use avocado oil for stir-frying, searing meats, or roasting veggies at a higher temp >450°F.

Fun Fact: Avocado oil is one of the few cooking oils that is derived from the flesh of a fruit rather than from seeds, nuts, or grains. Avocado oil is extracted from the creamy green pulp of the avocado fruit, making it unique among culinary oils.

3. Coconut Oil:

Unrefined (virgin or extra virgin) coconut oil is typically considered higher quality because it is minimally processed, retains a coconut flavor and aroma, and contains more of the oil's natural health benefits. Refined coconut oil has a milder flavor and aroma but may undergo processes that remove some nutrients. Choose based on your preferences and intended use.

health benefits of coconut oil

  • Pros: Coconut oil contains healthy saturated fats called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which can boost metabolism and provide quick energy. It has a medium-high smoke point (around 350°F or 177°C).

  • Cons: Some argue that excessive consumption of saturated fats may have negative effects on heart health.

  • Nutrition Benefits: Potential metabolism boost, quick energy source, and suitable for baking.

  • Smoke Point Recipes: Use coconut oil for baking, sautéing vegetables, or making curries.

Fun Fact: Coconut oil has been used for centuries as a natural beauty product, often referred to as "the tree of life" in many tropical regions where coconut palms grow abundantly. It has versatile applications for skincare, including moisturizing, hair conditioning, and even as a makeup remover. Coconut oil's unique combination of fatty acids and its ability to penetrate the skin make it a popular choice for those seeking natural and effective skincare solutions.

4. Canola Oil:

When buying canola oil, it's essential to consider several factors to ensure you get a high-quality product, look for canola oil that is 100% pure and contains no other oils or additives. The label should state "100% pure canola oil" or something similar. Canola currently has a bad reputation for being a " seed oil ," but it is commonly used in cooking.

health benefits of canola oil

  • Pros: Canola oil is low in saturated fat and contains heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. It has a high smoke point (around 400°F or 204°C).

  • Cons: Some people prefer to avoid it due to concerns over genetic modification (GMO) and processing methods.

  • Nutrition Benefits: Supports heart health and suitable for high-heat cooking.

  • Smoke Point Recipes: Use canola oil for frying, grilling, or making homemade salad dressings.

Fun Fact: Canola oil gets its name from "Canadian oil, low acid," reflecting its Canadian origins. It was developed through selective breeding from rapeseed plants to reduce harmful erucic acid and improve oil quality. Canola oil has become one of the most widely used cooking oils worldwide due to its mild flavor, high smoke point, and heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. It's a testament to the power of agricultural innovation in creating healthier and more versatile food products.

5. Grapeseed Oil:

When selecting grapeseed oil, look for grapeseed oil that is 100% pure and contains no other oils or additives. The label should state "100% pure grapeseed oil" or something similar.

health benefits of grapeseed oil

  • Pros: Grapeseed oil is rich in polyunsaturated fats and vitamin E. It has a high smoke point (around 420°F or 216°C).

  • Cons: It may not be as readily available as other oils.

  • Nutrition Benefits: Supports heart health and high-heat cooking.

  • Smoke Point Recipes: Use grapeseed oil for pan-searing, grilling, or as a neutral oil for baking.

Fun Fact: Grapeseed oil is a byproduct of the winemaking industry. It's extracted from the seeds of grapes that are leftover after grapes have been crushed to make wine. Instead of being discarded, these seeds are used to produce grapeseed oil, making it a sustainable and eco-friendly product. This process not only reduces waste but also gives us a versatile and healthy cooking oil with a mild flavor and high smoke point.

why are seed oils bad for you?

Choosing the right cooking oil depends on your culinary needs and health goals. Each oil has its unique characteristics, whether it's the high smoke point of avocado oil for searing or the heart-healthy benefits of extra virgin olive oil for salads. By understanding the pros and cons of various oils, you can elevate your cooking and nourish your body with every delicious bite. Experiment with different oils to discover your favorites and create mouthwatering dishes in your kitchen.

***The smoke point of an oil or fat refers to the temperature at which it begins to break down and produce visible smoke when heated. When an oil reaches its smoke point, it undergoes chemical changes, including the decomposition of fatty acids and the release of compounds that can impart unpleasant flavors and odors to your food.

The smoke point is a critical factor to consider when selecting cooking oils, as it determines the appropriate cooking method for each oil. Oils with higher smoke points are suitable for high-heat cooking methods like frying, searing, and deep-frying, as they can withstand the elevated temperatures without breaking down or producing excessive smoke. Oils with lower smoke points are better suited for gentle cooking methods like sautéing, baking, and salad dressings.

Using an oil beyond its smoke point can lead to off-flavors, the formation of potentially harmful compounds, and a degraded nutritional profile. Therefore, it's important to choose the right cooking oil based on the cooking method you plan to use.***

Do you have any additional questions about cooking oils? shoot me an email:

Christina Ellenberg is a Registered Dietitian and Strength and Conditioning Specialist located in the Atlanta Metro Area.

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