If you’re like me, your pantry is overflowing with cooking oils. If you’re like my aunt was, you just slather everything in vegetable oil and call it a day. With apologies to Aunt Ginny, it’s important to choose the right oil for the job. Each reacts differently to heat, seasons your food differently and, perhaps most importantly, affects your health differently. Here’s a quick guide to five of the most popular cooking oils on store shelves today.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Of all the oils in my pantry, EVOO gets the most use. It’s jam-packed with monounsaturated fats that are great for the heart, and it's full of flavor. It’s perfect for sautéing and for drizzling on top of soups, veggies or crusty Italian bread. (Occasionally, of course.)
What it’s not-so-great for is frying and roasting because of its low smoke point. I like to keep a giant bottle of inexpensive EVOO in the pantry for most jobs on the stovetop. Then I also have a smaller bottle of higher-quality EVOO that I save for that aforementioned drizzling.
Canola oil gets a bad rap. Thanks to its high smoke point, it’s an excellent choice for frying food. It has that 400-degree smoke point because it's processed using chemicals.
The thing is, that chemical processing doesn’t really impact its healthiness. It’s still low in saturated fat, and it’s a decent, affordable, all-around oil to keep in your pantry thanks to its suitability not only for frying but also baking and roasting. Just don’t sauté your veggies in it or add it to your homemade salad dressing.
Like its pantry partner-in-crime canola oil, vegetable oil is good for frying because of its high smoke point. It can also be a suitable choice for roasting and baking. It has a neutral flavor, so it won’t overpower whatever you throw its way.
That said, vegetable oil isn’t the healthiest oil of the bunch. Like canola oil, it’s chemically refined. Unlike canola oil, which isn’t impacted by that procedure, the processing of vegetable oil robs it of its naturally occurring minerals.
Coconut oil is quickly gaining in popularity and not just in kitchens. It’s a staple of natural beauty products, especially moisturizers.
Back to the kitchen, though: Coconut oil is extremely high in saturated fat. (Think a whopping 12 grams per tablespoon.) That’s why it’s a solid at room temperature, just like its fatty, creamy, delicious twin, butter.
And, just like butter, if you’re trying to maintain a healthy diet, you should reserve coconut oil only for baking. For other dishes, choose a healthier oil. Extra-virgin olive oil, for example, has a similarly low smoke point while remaining heart-healthy.
If you think everything avocado is just for Millennials, think again. Avocado oil is an excellent alternative to canola and vegetable oils. Like those oils, it has a high smoke point that makes it great for frying. Unlike those oils, it’s full of monounsaturated fats that will make your heart happy, it’s low on saturated fat, and it isn’t chemically processed.
All of that comes at a price, though. Literally. While avocado oil’s flavor is neutral, its cost is usually higher than the other cooking oils on this list. Personally, I think it’s worth the splurge to keep a bottle in the back of my pantry. Even if you can’t afford to use it regularly, swapping it in for canola or vegetable oil from time to time will cut some unwanted chemicals out of your kitchen in the long run.
In many ways, the oil makes the dish. As you stock your pantry, pay attention to labels and choose the oils you need to make your recipes sing and your body strong.