We can all agree that olive oil is amazing. But there’s a whole world of oils out there. If you’re limiting yourself to olive oil, you’re not getting the most out of your cooking experience. Diversifying your oil repertoire can lead to tastier food and better health.
Keep reading to learn more about the wide world of cooking oils. Then discover how to get adventurous with smart oil swaps to amplify your next meal.
What You Need To Know About Cooking With Oil
Olive oil is a cook’s best friend and research suggests it has robust health benefits. For example, it’s rich in compounds that promote the body’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory responses. However, it may not be the answer to all of your cooking needs.
Oils have different smoke points. The smoke point is the point at which the oil goes from a beautiful, shimmering, ready-to-sauté liquid into a sender of smoke signals. The higher the smoke point, the higher the temperature at which the smoke starts billowing. Generally, the more refined an oil is, the higher the smoke point.
While smoking hot isn’t always bad, when oils start to break down, they release chemicals that can turn food acrid. Plus, when oil starts to smoke, it starts to lose its nutritional value.
Olive oil has a medium-high smoke point. That makes it a less than ideal choice for deep frying, but a great choice for roasting veggies. Walnut oil is a no-heat oil, so it doesn’t work for roasting but is perfect for drizzling and salad dressings.
When you reach for your favorite oil, you may also consider the health impacts of each. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend people limit fats that are high in saturated fats, like palm oil and butter. A helpful trick to know if a fat is saturated is to check whether it’s solid at room temperature. Saturated fats raise the cholesterol level in your blood and may contribute to heart disease and stroke.
Most experts agree that the healthiest oils are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Examples of these include vegetable oil and olive oil. Unlike saturated fats, these types of oil may help lower your risk of heart disease.
Which Oils Work Best?
Now that you know a bit about smoke points and healthy oils, let’s dive into which oils to reach for when you’re cooking something delicious.
When you’re cooking at very high temperatures, as when you’re frying, choose an oil with a high smoke point. Here are two great choices.
Sunflower oil doesn’t smoke until it reaches 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Its mild flavor won’t interfere with what you’re cooking. Plus, it’s high in antioxidants and vitamin E.
Avocado oil can reach 500 degrees before hitting its smoke point. It has a mild taste and is a good source of monounsaturated fat. It also has vitamin E, oleic acid, and lutein, a pigment that protects eye health.
Stir-frying or oven roasting
When stir-frying or oven roasting, you’ll want oils with a medium-high smoke point. Try one of these options.
Peanut oil has a mild flavor and a high smoke point, around 450 degrees. It’s also high in antioxidants and vitamin E.
Yes, we keep singing olive oil’s praises. It’s praiseworthy! Olive oil has a distinctive but mild flavor and is loaded with healthy monounsaturated fats. Olive oil not only helps lower cholesterol, but studies also show that it lowers the risk of some cancers and may lower the risk of cognitive decline. Its relatively high smoke point of 350 to 410 degrees Fahrenheit also makes it a great option for stir-frying or oven roasting.
Light sautéing or making a sauce
When you’re only lightly sautéing, you can try an oil with a medium smoke point. Here are delicious and healthy options.
Pumpkin seed oil has a rich, nutty flavor, making it ideal for sauces. It has a relatively low smoke point so should only be heated sparingly. Heating will impact its health benefits, which may include lowering blood pressure and even hair growth.
A mainstay of Asian cooking, sesame oil — particularly toasted sesame oil — has a rich, nutty taste. Toasted sesame oil has a low smoke point, making it a good choice for a drizzle in a sauce or a light sauté. Research links sesame oil to lowering cholesterol, combating inflammation, and lowering blood sugar levels.
Salad dressings or dips
You should avoid heating some oils at all because high temperatures damage their nutritional value and flavor. These oils are great for salad dressings, drizzling, or dips.
Flaxseed oil is a no-cook oil. It will go rancid if heated. But when left raw, flaxseed oil adds flavor and a nutritional punch to your food. Research suggests the benefits of flaxseed oil may include reducing cholesterol levels, lowering blood sugar levels, and potentially relieving menopausal symptoms.
With its low smoke point and strong taste, walnut oil is best for drizzling. With its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, its health benefits may include better heart health, lower blood sugar, and anti-cancer effects.
Yes, let’s keep the olive oil! But next time you’re in the oil aisle, don’t hesitate to reach for another healthy alternative as well.