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Oils are a needed part of our cooking life, right? Actually, you may be surprised to find that, no, they’re not necessary. But they are a convenience, something we’ve gotten accustomed to using, and sometimes they add to the flavor of a dish. So they are at the very least important.
Lately, I’ve been seeing so many choices in supermarkets that I’m confused. Because it’s very important to know which oils you should be using and which to avoid, I’ve done research on the 13 healthiest cooking oils to use for baking, sautéing and drizzling here for anyone to read and share.
This grew into a necessity after I walked down the aisle looking for oil one day and realized that I’d been staring for so long at the overwhelming amount of choices that I’d drifted into la-la land. Which one was right for me? Which one was right for my upcoming dish? Not to mention, as a consumer, you’re hit with types of oil becoming “trendy”. That does you no good if that trend isn’t appropriate for you or your cooking.
The last oil to become trendy was coconut oil. But after researching this oil, I realized that it should NOT be used in a lot of my cooking. To be honest, if I were using coconut oil in my vegetarian and vegan dishes, I would be undoing the benefit of the lower fat content I had going for me! So, it’s very important to know your oils. And if you see new ones, do the research about them before purchasing them. You may not like what you see.
You may think twice about buying that product. I mean, some oils are very expensive and you wind up only using them once in a blue moon! Or worse, you purchase an expensive, wonderfully flavored oil, but then don’t store it properly and the shelf life is not long enough for you to get your money’s worth out of it. Some oils lose their health value when processed certain ways, yet advertisers and companies push it into every product they can, because it’s a fad and they want to make money. Please don’t fall for this. As a matter of fact, I’ll help you get the ball rolling.
Since I wanted to research this for my own peace of mind, I’ll share with you what I’ve found. I have my top 13 oils that are usually mentioned in recipes I come across or the ones I’ve seen in grocery stores a lot lately and a few of these, I use myself. I’m also listing vegetable oil as it’s the main oil that most people cook with. I will provide several things in the listing of these oils:
Their means of manufacture – Oils are not only made from a variety of sources, they are also processed in very different ways. Those ways are important to know, because it affects flavor. The basic idea to take from this is that traditionally oils are extracted by crushing and pressing, which keeps their flavors rich. However, that also keeps their smoking point lower than most cooks would like for heavy duty cooking. Not to mention, they are prone to rancidity quicker than highly refined oils. Refined oils may be more neutral in flavor, but they are very convenient because of their high smoking point (and therefore higher flash point) and they’re longer shelf-life. So, Here is a listing:
- Expeller-pressed: Oil is mechanically extracted by squeezing nuts, seeds, fruits, legumes, or grains under very high pressure, without using solvents.
- Cold-pressed: Oil is expeller-pressed, but friction is reduced so the temperature is kept below 120 degrees during processing.
- Refined: Tiny particles may remain in extracted oils; to make refined oils, particles are filtered out. Refined oils may also be bleached and deodorized to create a neutral flavor and color.
- Unrefined: Tiny particles remain in the oil, enhancing flavor, aroma, and nutritional value. Because particulate matter lowers an oil’s smoke point, unrefined oils should only be used unheated or for very low-heat applications.
- Heat extraction: Pressed oils may also be heated during the extraction process to break down the material and allow greater quantities of oil to be extracted.
- Chemical extraction: Solvents like hexane are used to break down plant walls and allow oils to be more easily extracted.
Their shelf life & proper storage suggestions – What is particularly the best thing to do for that particular type of oil, though this usually applies because of the means of manufacture of the oil. I’ll still list it, but keep in mind that no matter the oil, it’s best to keep it in a dark cool place and if it comes in a see-through container, consider putting it in an opaque container so no light gets to it. Either that or wrap the container in foil. And I’ve not seen oils in cardboard containers, but if you know of one that does and you have it, put it in a glass jar and store it instead. Over time, the cardboard will make the oil spoil and taste odd. Some oils may become solid in the fridge, but that doesn’t mean they’ve spoiled. Just sit them out and they will become liquid again.
Their benefits – This consists of what the oil contributes to your body – the science of it all. You may need to dive into further research once you read these things. I found that there are a lot of arguments out there in the world of medical science about these things. But, I can provide you with what I found along the way.
Their smoke point – A.K.A. the burning point – the point at which your oil will begin to smoke and change the flavor of food and possibly become dangerous – see flash point.
The consensus on the flavor from multiple sources (including my own opinion)
What it’s normally used for – like grilling, frying, salad dressings, etc… this is pretty straight forward, don’t you think?
And finally, the breakdown of the types of fat it provides – I could get into an article about the kinds of fats. I won’t go too far here, I promise! Let’s just use a line from MedicalNewsToday.com to sum up what I’ve found. “Overall, saturated fat has a less healthful effect on the body compared to unsaturated fats.” Unsaturated fats are listed as monounsaturated fats (mono) and polyunsaturated fats (poly) below.
Remember that no matter what the oil was, if a product is made from it that goes through a process called hydrogenation – the health benefits have been drastically decreased. As a matter of fact, that’s when a normally healthy to semi-healthy fat becomes a “trans-fat” which is the worst kind of fat for a body to intake. Look at your food label ingredient listing for “partially hydrogenated oil” and if you see it, I would suggest putting it back.
|Oil||Shelf Life||Smoke Point||Mono||Poly||Sat|
|Vegetable Oil||12 months||400°F (204°C)||>=5%||50%||10%|
|Almond Oil||24 months||420°F (215°C)||70%||17%||8%|
|Avocado Oil||9-12 months||Refined: 520°F (271°C)|
Unrefined: 480°F (249°C)
|Canola Oil||12 months||400°F (204°C)||63%||28%||7%|
|Coconut Oil||12 months||Refined: 400° (204°C)|
Unrefined: 350° (177°C)
|Corn Oil||12 months||450°F (232°C)||27%||55%||13%|
|Flaxseed Oil||8-12 months||Do Not Heat||19%||68%||9%|
|Grapeseed Oil||N/A||390°F (198°C)||17%||71%||12%|
|Hemp Oil||14 months||Do Not Heat||14%||77%||6%|
|Olive Oil||24 months||Extra Virgin: 325 -375°F (165-190°C) |
Light: 465°F (240°C)
|Peanut Oil||24 months||Refined: 437-450°F (225-232°C) |
|Safflower Oil||24 months||510°F/265°C||O:75%|
|Sesame Oil||24 months||370-410°F (187-210°C)||40%||42%||14%|
The Standard – Vegetable Oil
Made by: Refined and processed – very highly processed. Most vegetable oils are made from a mixture of canola, corn, soybean, safflower, palm, and sunflower oils. It’s not worse than any other oil out there, it’s just that other oils provide a better health benefit and so medical folks suggest using the latter more often.
Shelf Life/Storage suggestions: 12 months / store in a dark cool place
Benefits: It’s the standard oil of cooking. The only issue with them health-wise are the high omega 6 levels and that it has been processed so much it contained trans-fats.
Smoke point: 400°F (204°C)
Flavor: None – it’s so highly processed that it’s almost completely neutral. So if it has a flavor to it? Something’s wrong.
Uses: Pretty much anything, the high smoke point allows it to be useful for any high temperature frying, including deep frying and stir-frying.
Fats breakdown: % mono, 50% poly, 10% sat
Food labels no longer break down your fatty acids. But this shows a moderate amount of saturated fat in vegetable oil, nothing bad. The problem with vegetable oil is that it can be virtually any kind of oils that the manufacturers have been able to get and then they process those oils until they blend and have a very neutral, almost non-taste. These processes use both hydrogenation or hydrogenated products and so trans-fats are usually present, even those that claim otherwise on labeling have been tested and found to have up to 5%.
Made by: expeller pressing the oil in ground almonds; available refined and unrefined.
Shelf Life/Storage suggestions: 24 months (the high vitamin E content helps protect it from breaking down) / needs to be seals and kept in a cool dark place
Benefits: Increases healthy HDL cholesterol while lowering harmful LDL, supports immune function and liver health, alleviates irritable bowel syndrome, and may reduce colon cancer risk.
Smoke point: 420°F (215°C)
Flavor: Light, clean, and mildly sweet; unrefined has a nutty, toasty flavor with buttery undertones.
Uses: The high smoke point of refined almond oil makes it best for stir-frying, roasting, grilling, and other high-heat applications. Use unrefined for salad dressings, in dips, and to drizzle on cooked dishes. This type of oil is also used in cosmetics.
Fats breakdown: 70% mono, 17% poly, 8% sat
Made by: grinding and then expeller-pressing avocado flesh, not the seed. I honestly didn’t realize this! I assumed it was the seed; available refined and unrefined.
Shelf Life/Storage suggestions: 9-12 months / Refrigerate
Benefits: Decreases inflammation and improves cholesterol balance; may increase absorption of antioxidant carotenoids. It also contains vitamin E.
Smoke point: Refined: 520°F (271°C) / Unrefined: 480°F (249°C)
Flavor: It has a rich unmuddled taste. If you think olive oil is too strong, this might be your go-to. Unrefined is emerald green, with a buttery flavor and grassy undertones. Refined has a mild, neutral flavor with the slightest hint of avocado taste.
Uses: Refined: high temperature grilling, frying, baking, or roasting. Unrefined: low to medium temperature sauteing, stir frying, and searing. Also: baking, in salad dressing, in pesto, or as a dip for bread.
Fats breakdown: 71% mono, 14% poly, 12% sat
Made from: rapeseed (not that’s not a typo – check it out – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapeseed), a mustard-family plant; usually chemically extracted using solvents, but also expeller-pressed. Over 80% is GM, so if you care about that, choose organic or non-GMO labeled oil.
Shelf Life/Storage suggestions: 24 months unopened, 12 opened / fridge or pantry in a cool dark place.
Benefits: Lowers total and LDL cholesterol and triglycerides; improves insulin sensitivity.
Smoke point: 400°F (204°C)
Flavor: Extremely neutral but provides a dense mouthfeel; pale color. People use this oil when they want the flavor of the food and not the oil to stand out.
Uses: Good for high-heat roasting, broiling, baking, and stir-frying, or as a blank canvas for creating mayonnaise or salad dressings.
Fats breakdown: 63% mono, 28% poly, 7% sat – canola oil generally has the least amount of saturated fats of all the vegetable oils.
Made by: expeller-pressing virgin coconut oil but it’s also available as refined product.
Shelf Life/Storage suggestions: 12 months / keep it in a cool, dark place.
Benefits: Antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral; it is, however, mostly saturated fat, so use it in moderation.
Smoke point: Unrefined: 350° (177°C) / Refined: 400° (204°C)
Flavor: Unrefined has a creamy, oily texture, caramel -coconut-buttery flavor, and rich scent and taste. Refined is more neutral but with the same smells and flavor, just lighter.
Uses: Refined works great for sautéing, stir-frying, roasting, and grilling. Use unrefined in baked goods, Asian-inspired dishes, or as a spread.
Fats breakdown: 6% mono, 2% poly, 87% sat
Made by: Corn must go through a complex process to produce corn oil. First it goes through hexane extraction, then deodorization, then winterization to remove saturated fats that might allow it to solidify. These processes create certain possible unhealthy Also, most corn oil is GM, so if that matters to you, maybe go for something else.
Shelf Life/Storage suggestions: No matter how it’s stored this oil lasts about 12 months time. But best to keep it away from heat.
Benefits: Contained 13% of RDI of Vitamin E which acts as an inti-inflammatory antioxidant. So, it can help against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and come cancers. Most corn oils are 30-60% linoleic acid, an omega 6, which most people get plenty of, they need more omega 3. Corn oil ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is 46:1 – so be aware of that.
Smoke point: 450°F (232°C)
Flavor: Neutral; hardly any flavor at all, light golden to almost clear coloring.
Uses: is used for a variety of things, not just cooking. Cooking – especially deep frying, is the main use. But it’s also widely used to make cosmetics, as an industrial lubricant, and even to make fuel.
Fats breakdown: 27% mono, 55% poly, 13% sat
Made by: pressing crushed brown flaxseeds, a process that removes healthy lignans. Some brands add lignans back to make “high-lignan” flaxseed oil.
Shelf Life/Storage suggestions: 8-12 months / Refrigerate it in a tightly sealed opaque container.
Benefits: High in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and Omega 3s; may reduce risk of diabetes, cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, and autoimmune and neurological disorders.
Smoke point: Do not heat
Flavor: Warm and nutty with bitter undertones and an aggressive, but not unpleasant, aroma.
Uses: Drizzle on oatmeal or cooked vegetables, use in salad dressings, and toss with quinoa or other grains.
Fats breakdown: 19% mono, 68% poly, 9% sat
Made from: expeller-pressed grape seeds that have been extracted from wine grapes. Sometimes chemical solvents will be used. It’s been suggested that for the best benefits, always choose expeller-pressed.
Shelf Life/Storage suggestions:
Benefits: High in vitamin E; however, contains high levels of omega-6s and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a result of the extraction process.
Smoke point: 390°F (198°C)
Flavor: Neutral in flavor and aroma, with a rich, heavy texture.
Uses: Good for moisture-rich baking, dressings, and mayonnaise, where a neutral flavor is needed.
Fats breakdown: 17% mono, 71% poly, 12% sat
Made by: cold-pressing Cannabis sativa seeds (part of the marijuana family but with no THC, the psychoactive component). Please be careful of any Cannabis sativa product to be absolutely sure there is no THC if you live in a state or work for a company that will drug test and hold it against you. The benefit may not be worth the risk of losing your job – and I’ve seen several cases in which the THC accidentally got through processing, especially in local manufacturing.
Shelf Life/Storage suggestions: 14 months from date of production / will last fine in a cool dark place, make sure it is well sealed.
Benefits: Contains chlorophyll and toco-pherols, antioxidants that support immune function and protect the heart.
Smoke point: Do not heat. Just don’t.
Flavor: Earthy, grassy flavor with mushroom undertones; deep green color.
Uses: Use in dips, dressings, and pesto, or drizzle on steamed kale or sweet potatoes. Refrigerate.
Fats breakdown: 14% mono, 77% poly, 6% sat
Made by several processes: Extra-virgin is cold-pressed from the first olive pressing; “virgin” or “pure” is heat-extracted. Organic or California Olive Oil Council (COOC) labels signal no adulteration with cheap oils.
Shelf Life/Storage suggestions: 24 months / tightly capped and away from light
Benefits: Increases heart-protective HDL cholesterol; contains polyphenols and antioxidants which fight cell damage, it is the only vegetable oil that contains oleocanthal – a potent anti-inflammatory; it’s rich in vitamin K and has been proven to reduce cardiovascular disease.
Smoke point: Extra Virgin: 325 -375°F (165-190°C) / Light: 465°F (240°C)
Flavor: Extra-virgin (Meaning it’s the oil made from the first pressing. The other olive oils are made from subsequent pressings) has leafy, herbal, peppery under-tones. All varieties offer robust flavor, rich texture, and a green-gold hue.
Uses: Grilling, baking, and sautéing. Drizzle extra-virgin on tomatoes and steamed greens. Use any kind in salad dressings. The Extra Virgin Olive oil is fantastic as a dip.
Fats breakdown: 73% mono, 11% poly, 14% sat
Blended Olive Oil
Made by: These oils are blends and so are made by multiple means depending upon the oils within the mixture. Mine just happens to be 20% extra virgin olive oil and 80% sunflower oil. Blended oils can often be cheaper and still be of great quality and benefit. I find them more often in the ethnic food areas of major supermarkets.
Shelf Life/Storage suggestions: 24 months / tightly capped and away from light
Benefits: These oils have similar benefits to the oils they were blended from, but lessened compared to them. But that’s the trade off for blending for a cheaper price.
Smoke point: 370°F (187°C)
Flavor: Milder than a light olive oil, but with the same green-gold hue and rich texture.
Uses: It has a decently high smoke point and therefore can be used in pretty much anything regular olive oil is used for, with the exception of using it as a dip and expecting that normal robust flavor. It has a much weaker flavor.
Fats breakdown: % mono, % poly, 11% sat
I wanted to include this even though I couldn’t find the exact fatty acid breakdown of this oil. Why? Because these oils are out there and sometimes they are marketed to look deceivingly like regular olive oil. They are not. And studies show that the percentage of olive oil to the other oil included matters; the more olive oil, the better. Now, I knew what I was getting when I bought this. I wanted something cheap and decent for simple sauteing and this is fine for now.
Made by:several methods – therefore we list two different smoke points below. Refined peanut oil is refined, bleached and deodorized, which removes the allergenic parts of the oil. It is typically safe for those with peanut allergies. Cold-pressed peanut oil retains much of the natural peanut flavor and more nutrients than refining does. Gourmet peanut oil is considered a specialty oil, this type is unrefined and usually roasted, giving the oil a deeper, more intense flavor than refined oil. It is used to give a strong, nutty flavor to dishes like stir-fries. Peanut oil blends are often blended with a similar tasting but less expensive oil like soybean oil. This type is more affordable for consumers and is usually sold in bulk for frying foods.
Shelf Life/Storage suggestions: 3 years in the pantry 24 months otherwise / best stored in a room temperature or cooler, dark place.
Benefits: high in vitamin E, may help reduce heart disease risk because of thelowering the LDL levels and triglycerides, may help improve insulin sensitivity.
Smoke point: Refined: 437-450°F (225-232°C) / Unrefined: 320°F(160°C)
Flavor: flavorful nutty taste and smell.
Uses: Cooks well with high heat, used especially in the cooking industry for batch frying and deep fried menu items like french fries and chicken.
Fats breakdown: 48% mono, 31% poly, 20% sat
Made by: cold-pressing or an extraction followed by refining of the ripe seeds of the safflower plant (Carthamus tinctotius, not related to saffron at all…)
Shelf Life/Storage suggestions: should last 24 months unopened, 12 if opened but not refrigerated. In the fridge is the best place for it, to extend life to 24 months.
Benefits: the two types of safflower oils contain very high levels of mono and poly saturated fats, which can help improve blood sugar, help the body better absorb vital vitamins and minerals, and lowers cholesterol.
Smoke point: 510°F/265°C
Flavor: Unrefined have a mild nutty/earthy flavor with a dark yellow-orange color while refined are more neutral in taste and color.
Uses: With the high burn point, it’s used for high temperature cooking like making curries & stir-fies as well as baking, and deep frying.
Fats breakdown: high oleic – 75 % mono, 13% poly, 8% sat
linoleic – 14% mono, 75% poly, 6% sat
Made by: expeller-pressing or chemically extracting oil from sesame seeds; available refined or unrefined. Seeds roasted before pressing yield fragrant, toasted sesame oil.
Shelf Life/Storage suggestions: Sesame oil lasts about 24 months unopened and the same if refrigerated after opening.
Benefits: Rich in antioxidants and abundant in lignans and phenols, which may ease diabetes symptoms. It’s fat breakdown is good, but it’s not rich in anything else, really.
Smoke point: 370-410°F (187-210°C)
Flavor: Light and nutty; toasted sesame oil is dark brown, with a distinctive roasted scent. It has a very potent sesame flavor, so a little goes a long way.
Uses: Ideal for broiling and high-temperature stir-frying. Unrefined works well for light sautées, tossed with grains, or in salad dressings. Lightly drizzle toasted oil over finished dishes. It can also be used to mix into certain condiments to add flavor.
Fats breakdown: 40% mono, 42% poly, 14% sat
If you want me to provide you with other types of oil and their information, please add to the comments or send us an email and we’ll be happy to provide a “part deaux” to this already long article! If you feel I’ve gotten anything incorrect, let me know which part, because I want to look it up and make sure I’m giving out the most accurate information I can. I learned a lot from this research and I will be applying that new knowledge in my own kitchen.