What are healthy cooking oils and how to use them?
There is a wide array of cooking oils available but how do we know which is the healthiest?
Healthy cooking oils perform differently and have a variety of flavours. Some have high smoking points, which makes them perfect for frying, wokking and sautéing, and others are super flavourful and best used in cold recipes.
Oils do not contain protein or carbohydrates and are not a significant source of vitamins and minerals. They are very high in calories and a good source of energy.
Many questions should be asked before choosing the healthiest oil for you. How can you differentiate between them all? How do you store them? How long can you keep them?
Research from the Sydney Diet Heart Study, published in 2013, found replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats ‘did not provide the intended benefits, but increased all cause mortality, cardiovascular death and death from coronary heart disease’.
Other studies show a higher risk of arthritis and cancer, as well as increased rates of obesity the more a person uses polyunsaturated vegetable oils.
Which oils are best to use in your kitchen?
1. Avocado Oil
It is said to be the healthiest oil of all cooking oils. Derived from the flesh of pressed avocados, it is perfect for all cooking uses because of its extremely high smoking point and the very mild, neutral flavour.
Avocado oil is low in polyunsaturated fats and has one of the highest levels of healthy monounsaturated fats of all oils. It also has a beneficial effect on your skin and hair when consumed regularly. Oil from avocados that are cold pressed is also a good source of fat soluble antioxidants that protect your body from free radical damage like vitamin E, beta-carotene and lutein for healthy eyes.
It is not a low budget oil, but if you apply avocado oil with a spray bottle, you can control the use.
Use for pan-frying, wokking, roasting and baking.
2. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
For olive oil to be certified extra virgin, it must first be cold pressed, which indicates that the olives never exceed 26.5°C (80°F) during the pressing process. Keeping the olives cool ensures maximum quality with less acidity, and most of the natural flavour and aroma is retained.
Olive oil, known for its role in the Mediterranean diet, is abundant in healthy monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants. Some studies state that regular use of extra virgin olive oil reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. The Mediterranean diet also has been linked to weight loss and a boost in longevity overall.
Extra virgin olive oil has a relatively low smoking point, and should only be used for sautéing over medium heat. It is however great for salad dressings and to finish dishes.
Use for sautéing over medium heat and drizzling.
3. Flaxseed Oil
This interesting, less known oil has interesting characteristics and it is only good for cold preparations. Due to the sensitivity and low smoking point it oxidizes and goes rancid quickly.
Flaxseed oil is a great source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids which can be interesting for vegetarians, or vegans who never eat fish. It has a slightly nutty flavour and should only be used in small quantities.
We advise buying a small bottle and storing it in the refrigerator.
Use for salad dressings and drizzling it over dips.
4. Walnut Oil
This is another oil which is best used for cold preparations. It is mostly sold unrefined or semi-refined and retains the natural nutrients of the product. Walnut oil is also an excellent source of plant omega-3, but it has a very low smoking point.
This oil is only available in small quantities, not only because of the higher price but it shouldn’t be kept for too long. Once opened it is best to store it in the refrigerator or freezer.
Use for salad dressings, drizzling over pasta or finishing a soup.
5. Peanut Oil
Peanut oil is very flavourful with a particular nutty scent and taste and it is mostly used in Asian dishes. There are different types and a range of flavours on the market. Depending on the different techniques for making peanut oils can be mild and sweet or strong and nutty.
This oil is a great source of vitamin E with 11% of the recommended daily intake and it has one of the highest monounsaturated fat contents among cooking oils.
The relatively high smoking point makes it ideal for searing meats, grilling, and stir-frying.
Use for stir-frying, sautéing and even deep-frying tempura.
6. Sesame Oil
This flavourful oil is used in small quantities and contains sesamol and sesamin which are powerful antioxidants. Sesame oil is rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and also low in saturated fat. It is said that this oil can potentially reduce blood pressure as well.
There are 2 kinds of sesame oil; cold pressed sesame oil is extracted from the seeds at a cooler temperature, while toasted sesame oil involves seeds that are roasted beforehand. The extraction process is the same and this unrefined oil adds even more flavour to your dishes.
It is a great alternative to peanut oil if you don’t like the flavour or if you have an allergy and it is often used in Chinese and Japanese cuisine. It has a lower smoking point and can’t be used over high heat.
Use for sautéing, stir-frying, frying.
7. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is often referred to as the healthiest oil and is often used by those on keto diet and vegan diets. However further research is needed to know the true effects of coconut oil on health.
It is made by pressing fresh or dried coconut meat and is firm at room temperature because it is composed of 90% saturated fat and lauric acid. It becomes liquid at 24°C (75°F) and if the lauric acid is removed it will stay liquid. Coconut oil is a rich natural source of medium-chain triglycerides.
Despite popularity, it is lower in healthy unsaturated fats than all the other oils on this list.
It’s good to use for quick sautéing or for baking, but it is not advised to use over very high temperatures. Coconut oil has a higher percentage of fat solids and you need 25% less of it when substituting it for butter.
Use for baking and sautéing.
8. Canola Oil
Rapeseed is the base for making canola oil which has a high smoking point and a neutral flavour, so it can be used in a variety of ways including stir-frying. It’s budget friendly and low in saturated fats and relatively high in monounsaturated fats.
It is important to look for a good brand of cold pressed canola oil because most canola oils are processed.
Use for roasting, stir-frying and baking.
9. Vegetable Oil
Vegetable oil usually follows a chemical process and is often a blend of various plant-derived oils, like soybean and canola. It contains the highest levels of polyunsaturated fats compared to olive, coconut, and canola oil. It’s versatile with a neutral flavour, affordable, and has a similarly high smoking point to canola oil.
However, vegetable oils have low levels of antioxidants and can release potentially harmful compounds when heated. Researchers have linked these compounds with various forms of cancer as well as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Use for stir-frying, roasting, and baking
10. Safflower Oil
Safflower oil is less well known but an overall good choice. It is very high in monounsaturated fats and low in saturated fats, has a neutral flavour and the highest smoking point of all oils. Safflower oil is sold in two versions, chemically processed and cold-pressed, with both versions holding the same high smoking point.
Use for frying and sautéing.
Storage and tips for cooking with healthy oils
Some oils have distinctive flavours, and you will need to try them to discover which ones you prefer. Your choice will depend on your type of cooking methods so you might want to have a few different types of oil at hand.
- Oils are best kept in dark, cool places and they are mostly sold in dark-coloured bottles or in tins to protect them from light. This prevents them from going rancid.
- Storing them in cool places will prolong their shelf life. If oils are stored too long, they can oxidize and turn bad and will give off a strong smell meaning they are not good to use.
- Buy oils in small quantities to avoid waste. If stored correctly they can be kept for up to one year maximum.
- All oils start to degrade when reaching their smoking point. If you let the oil smoke or catch fire, throw it away and start again.
- Never re-use or re-heat any cooking oil.
- Also check our recipes in which we use healthy oils
Healthy cooking oils can provide beneficial fatty acids to healthy diets. Choosing oils with unsaturated fatty acids will provide the best health benefits.
Keep track of the smoking points for the different oils and the different cooking methods that work well with different oils.
As earlier said, some oils have distinctive flavours. Try them to discover your favourites.