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.