Veteran Move #8: Choosing Cooking Oils

In most cases you should use Olive Oil or a good vegetable oil like Canola Oil… period
In most cases you should use Olive Oil or a good vegetable oil like Canola Oil… period

Choosing the right cooking oil is actually an important step for anyone who’s taking over in an established kitchen or just starting out as a home cook. If you’re inheriting a kitchen chances are an inventory of oils similar to the photo above is already on the shelf. You may see Olive Oil, Canola Oil, Coconut Oil, Avocado Oil or even Corn or Sunflower Oil. If you’re just getting started in the kitchen only one or two of these should be your ‘go to’s’ and here’s why:

Whether you’re stir frying, sautéeing, baking or, drizzling, you’re going to need to use some kind of oil as a medium to transfer the heat needed to cook your food. One popular choice is called ‘Vegetable Oil’. You’ll no doubt see it in stores and kitchens but understand that it’s actually a highly processed blend of some or all the oils mentioned above. Each batch may actually have different concentrations of component oils which, coupled with its highly processed nature, makes it generally a poor choice. Just which plant your oil of choice is made from is actually very important.

When choosing a cooking oil you need to consider how hot your pan will be and whether or not you want to augment its flavour. You want to understand whether your oil has a high or low smoke point: the point at which oil starts to burn and smoke. Some oils have low smoke points while others have high smoke points. If you heat your oil past the smoke point you’ll hurt the flavour of your dish. Also, the oil starts to break down, lose its nutritional value, and even release harmful compounds.

So, if you’re cooking foods that need relatively low heat, you can choose an oil that has a low smoke point… usually a sauté dish… relatively low heat over a longer period of time. Conversely, stir fried dishes use higher heats and shorter cooking times so an oil with a higher smoke point works.

Once you’ve established what kind of dish you’re preparing, the final consideration breaks down to ‘what is the safest, most nutritious oil to use?’ There are many to choose from as the photo above attests. Read on to see why Olive Oil and Canola Oil should be your workhorses.

Most nutritionists agree that Olive Oil is the safest, most nutritious, most versatile cooking oil
Most nutritionists agree that Olive Oil is the safest, most nutritious, most versatile cooking oil. It has a relatively low smoke point so should be used in moderate heat applications. It also contains a large amount of monosaturated fats and only some polystaurated fatty acids which taken together makes it very healthy.
One important tip: choose Extra Virgin Olive Oil or EVOO. Extra Virgin means the oil has not been refined or overly processed which is critical when choosing an oil.
For my money, Canola Oil, made from rapeseed, a flowering plant, is the best of the vegetable oils to cook with.  Of the alternatives, I like its healthy balance of monosaturated fats, polysaturated fatty acids and saturated fats
Vegetable Oils generally have higher smoke points so are particularly useful when cooking in hotter pans. Vegetable oils usually have little to no flavor and so don’t affect the dish you’re preparing. For my money, Canola Oil, made from rapeseed, a flowering plant, is the best of the vegetable oils to cook with. Of the alternatives, I like its healthy balance of monosaturated fats, polysaturated fatty acids and saturated fats. But, one important thing to consider is that Canola Oil tends to be heavily processed which strips it of nutrients. So, as a food source taken of itself its not as string as it’s Olive Oil cousin
I've seen a variety of brands offering a combination of Canola Oil and Olive Oil. It seems to be the best of both worlds
Of late, I’ve seen a variety of brands offering a combination of Canola Oil and Olive Oil. It seems to be the best of both worlds… raises Olive Oil’s smoke point while adding nutritional value to Canola Oil. I’ve used it successfully but still tend to choose one or the other depending on the application so I don’t think I’ll use it very often
Coconut Oil is a popular cooking oil option. But, it's almost 100% saturated fat which is problematic so, I only use it in certain recipes.
Coconut Oil is a popular cooking oil option. At room temperature it’s a solid and melts once in the pan. It’s proponents try to make a case that coconut products in general are super foods. The science doesn’t really back it up though. It’s almost 100% saturated fat which is problematic so, I only use it in certain recipes.
Avocado Oil is actually an excellent choice for a cooking oil offering significant nutrient value with no discernible taste to interfere with any dish. It has a higher smoke point than Olive Oil. It's main problem is price.
Avocado Oil is actually an excellent choice for a cooking oil offering significant nutrient value with no discernible taste to interfere with any dish. It has a higher smoke point than Olive Oil and is usually bottled cold-pressed and ‘Extra Virgin’ meaning it has not been processed. It’s main problem is price… it’s just not competitive enough for me to use it in place of its Mediterranean cousin.
Most grocery stores offer cooking oils in handy spray form.  I use these generally only in special applications like when I'm baking or want to use only a little oil in a recipe
Most grocery stores offer a variety of good cooking oils in handy spray form. I use these generally only in special applications like when I’m baking or want to use only a little oil preparing a pan for a recipe
Butter is also a viable cooking oil.  
Solid at room temperature, it is actually more nutrient dense than olive oil and has a higher smoke point.  As an animal product though butter tends to be higher in cholesterol than plant-based options like Olive, Avocado or Canola Oil.
A final note… butter is also a viable cooking oil.
Solid at room temperature, it is actually more nutrient dense than olive oil and has a higher smoke point. As an animal product though butter tends to be higher in cholesterol than plant-based options like Olive, Avocado or Canola Oil and has a much more recognizable flavour all its own. It’s often added to an oil when cooking dishes, in particular vegetables, because it brings a richness to the final dish.

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