How to Choose the Right Cooking Oil
Most of us grab a bottle of oil from the cupboard and start frying when we’re cooking. Giving little thought to why we’ve chosen that oil, besides it’s the one we usually use.
But did you know that cooking oils actually have a range of different applications and tastes. These can alter the results we get?
Today, we’ll guide you through everything you need to know about how to choose the right cooking oil.
Want to skip ahead?
- Does it matter which oil I use
- What does smoke point mean?
- Which oil has the highest smoke point?
- Which oil has the lowest smoke point?
- How does oil affect the taste of foods?
- How to choose the right cooking oil
- Can I cook without oil
- Can cooking oil go off?
You don’t need a cupboard full of every type of cooking oil available just to cook dinner every night. After all, you’ve probably gotten along perfectly well until now with just a couple of oils.
Whether you use sunflower oil or olive oil to fry your sausages won’t make a whole lot of difference.
But that’s not to say that you won’t see benefits from being a little more selective about the cooking oils you use.
Oils have different smoke points, which means some are better to cook certain foods with than others.
Some oils also have a much stronger taste (such as extra virgin olive oil and sesame oil). And so are better in certain dishes than others.
“Smoke point” is the temperature at which an oil starts to smoke. You may have seen this if you set up a pan with oil. And then got distracted by doing another task. The pan looks fairly dry and there’s a little “smoke” above the pan when it reaches this point.
So, why does smoke point matter? When an oil reaches its smoke point it has essentially burnt. The elements within the oil have started breaking down and there’s nothing beneficial left in it.
If your food is in the pan when this happens, your food may have a bitter or burnt taste.
When you’re cooking recipes that require high heat, you need an oil with a high smoke point so you can keep the food at a high temperature for as long as you need without the oil burning.
Avocado oil has the highest smoke point and is a good choice for recipes that require high temperatures, such as stir-fries and seared steaks. Avocado’s smoke point is 270C.
Other cooking oils with a high smoke point include coconut oil and canola oil
Oils with low smoke points include walnut oil, pumpkin seed oil, and flaxseed oil, which are best used for salad dressings instead of frying.
If you do use them for cooking, you’ll need to use them at low (below 220C) temperatures.
Yes, though some will make a larger difference than others. Vegetable oil (a catch-all that usually contains rapeseed oil and sunflower oil), rapeseed oil, and sunflower oil are fairly neutral oils that won’t give your food a strong flavour.
However extra virgin olive oil and nut oils such as sesame oil and peanut oil will add some flavour to your food.
How do I choose the right cooking oil?
If you’re following a recipe, most will suggest what oil to use. If you don’t have that type of oil to hand or if it’s not specific, sunflower oil, vegetable oil, or vegetable oil is a good default to fall back on for most recipes.
You may want to add a little flavour to your food, consider what flavour profile an oil may add and experiment!
The healthiest oils are those that have had to go through the least amount of processing, and so are oils like extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil.
These oils retain a lot of the nutritional benefits of their whole form, so are a great choice for cooking healthy meals.
Generally speaking, no matter what oil you use you should try to only use as much as is necessary for the recipe. We often forget that cooking oil adds fat (and calories) to our food and so you should keep an eye on how much you’re using.
As in all other areas of cooking and baking, remember you can always add more but you can rarely take away!
If you can, sunflower oil is best for baking since it has such a neutral flavour profile, but you can also use nut oils if you don’t mind a slightly nuttier flavour (or coconut oil for a hint of coconut).
Unless the recipe calls for a lot of oil, it shouldn’t alter the finished flavour strongly, even if you’re using something like walnut oil.
Can I cook without oil?
If you’re in a pinch and don’t have any cooking oil to hand. You’ve got two options if you need to fry something:
- Use butter or spread: butter and spread (essentially solid oil) are both great options and can add even more flavour to your meals. Just make sure you keep the heat a little lower so you don’t burn your butter.
Use water: this is certainly not a particularly flavourful option, but is healthy and will get the job done. Add enough water so it covers the entire pan for just a few millimeters and then add whatever you’re frying.
Heat the pan as normal and monitor what you’re frying, adding more water if necessary (if the food starts to stick to the bottom of the pan before it’s done cooking).
Can the oil used in cooking go off?
Yes, but it won’t go noticeably bad like other foods unless you’ve somehow got other food particles into the bottle.
If stored at room temperature, an opened bottle of oil can last for up to 18 months. But it’s best to throw it away a year after you opened it if you haven’t finished it.
An unopened bottle of oil can last about 2 years.
Usually – cooking sprays typically contain less fat and control how much of it you use. Meaning you can use a very light touch and keep your meals as healthy (and calorie controlled) as possible.
That said, if you’re looking to add flavour to your foods. Or fry something properly, you’ll need to use bottled oil.
Using a variety of cooking oils is a great way to bring more flavour to your meals. And see better results when cooking foods at high temperatures.
If you’ve never tried a different cooking oil, why not try using sesame oil in your stir fries. Or a little walnut oil in your salad dressing?
Experimenting with different oils can open up a whole new world of possibilities for your recipes.