The secret weapon of a chef is cooking oils. There are so many options, it can be difficult to pick the right cooking oil. Our Test Kitchen can answer your most basic cooking questions.
Oil is essential for almost all cooking methods, including sautéing, marinating and drizzling, as well as roasting, roasting and frying. Although the differences may not seem significant, it is important to understand that not all cooking oils will be equal. There are so many cooking oils available. Where do you begin?
This helpful guide will help you understand vegetable oil, coconut oil and olive oil. Let’s get the confusion out of your head once and for all.
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It is important to remember three things when choosing oil to use for cooking:
- Point of sale
Some oils can withstand high temperatures while others are not able to withstand it. Some oils are sensitive to heat and lose their flavor when heated. Some oils come in cut-glass bottles, while others are kept in plastic jugs at the back of your pantry for many years.
What is smoke point?
Understanding the smoke point is key to choosing the right cooking oil. This is the temperature at where oil begins to burn and smoke. Each cooking fat, such as butter, margarine, or canola, has a smoke point. It will taste rancid or scorched if you exceed the smoke point. Use an oil that has a high smoke point if you cook with high heat. You can use an oil that has a lower smoke point if you cook with low heat. Stay safe with our guide to preventing kitchen fires.
Common cooking oils
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Vegetable oil has a smoke point of between 400o to 450o making it the best choice for deep-frying. It is a neutral oil that has been made from many ingredients, including soybeans, sunflower seed, corn, canola and sesame. It imparts little or no flavor and allows for crispy, crunchy textures.
Canola, another neutral oil is the master of all trades in the oil aisle. This oil is great for frying, browning, roasting and searing. It has a smoke point at 400o. Canola, a variety of the rapeseed plants, was created in the 1960s through natural crossbreeding.
The most important factor in choosing the right oil to use for a particular dish is flavor. Who doesn’t love dipping crusty bread in salty, rich, herb-infused olive oil or spreading softened butter onto grilled sweet corn? Certain fats are more fun when they’re the main attraction. Olive oil is one of the most unique cooking fats. It comes in many flavors, textures, and colors. Some oils are green and grassy, while others are dark and golden.
Extra virgin olive oil is known for having one of the lowest smoke points, at 325o. It’s great drizzled on light salads or grilled vegetables. Virgin olive oil, at around 420o, has a lower smoke point. Extra light olive oil, however, has a much higher smoke point.
It is one of few cooking oils that remains solid at room temperature. This makes it an unsuitable choice for vinaigrettes and other dressings. In the past few years, coconut oil has experienced a surge in popularity thanks to its purported health benefits. Coconut oil is a popular alternative to butter in baked goods due to its similar texture and slight coconut flavor. It can also be used as a substitute for vegetable-based oils when making stovetop popcorn.
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Butter is the creamiest, most salty and meltiest cooking fat. Butter is the foundation of many culinary styles and plays an important role in many of the most delicious foods around the globe. (Hello, pastries!) It’s no secret that nearly all baked goods, sauces and sautes are better with a dollop of butter. Butter can be used warm or cold, but it should always be kept at a low heat during cooking as it burns at 350o. Butter’s smoke point is ideal for roasting, poaching and sauteing.
Clarified butter, unlike its unclarified counterparts, can withstand high temperatures and has a smoke point at 450o. Made by stripping butter of its water and milk fats, clarified butter, also known as ghee, is less likely to burn or scorch but keeps the rich buttery flavor we all know and love.
Is cooking oil good for you?
The general recommendations for which fats are best for health have not changed in recent years, despite the increasing popularity of various types of fats found on supermarket shelves. Monounsaturated and multiunsaturated fats are better for you and should be eaten more than trans and saturated fats. (Here’s the difference between good fat and bad fat.()
The World Health Organization, American Heart Association and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics support this general recommendation. However, it is important to remember that fats are calorie-dense. This is why you need to be careful to maintain a healthy weight. Are you eating enough healthy fat?
Which cooking oils are worth paying more?
You can spend a lot on cooking oils, but you won’t have to sacrifice flavor if you are smart about where you shop. Here are a few helpful tips on how to save money at the grocery store.
When to Save:
Although it may sound appealing, avoid marketing tricks like fancy bottles of oil or creative packaging. These could increase the cost of your oil. The best brands often use the simplest packaging.
When it comes to olive oil for day-to-day sauteing, Taste of Home Culinary Director Sarah Farmer recommends buying a mid-range variety “I don’t care if it’s extra virgin,” she says. “Most of my time, I use regular old grocery-store canola oils.”
For deep-fried favorites like our best-ever fried chicken, don’t grab a pricey oil–look to the reliable and stable canola oil. Although it may not be the most fancy oil, it does the job.
When it’s okay to indulge:
Our Test Kitchen experts agree that it is worth spending a little more to get a good-quality bottle of EVOO. You can choose a Best Oil for Frying Black Friday Deals 2022 flavor that you like (many gourmet shops will let you test it before you buy). Sarah says, “Save the best stuff for dressings and drizzling, and bread-dipping.”