Which cooking oils should I be using?

This is one of the most common questions I get asked as a chef. It can quickly get confusing with the variety of oils on the grocery store shelves. Not to mention, conflicting marketing messaging that can be hard to navigate.

When it comes to choosing the right cooking oil, there are two things to keep in mind: smoke point and nutritional value.

Smoke point

When cooking with oil, it’s important to be aware of its smoke point to preserve quality. The flavors and composition of the oil can break down if heated above its given smoke point.

Some of the most common oils and their smoke point include:

  • Extra-virgin olive oil (cold-pressed): 325 degrees, best used for light sautéing and salad dressings
  • Avocado oil: 500 degrees, neutral in flavor and a fantastic option for roasting and/or broiling
  • Coconut oil: 350 degrees, great for baking
  • Flaxseed, hemp and walnut oil: these oils are very delicate and should not be heated at all. They are considered a finishing oil and can be used to dress vegetables, salads or even added to smoothies.

Health Benefits

When choosing cooking oils, focus on quality. Many low-quality (cheap) vegetable oils are highly processed which can lead to a disproportion of fatty acids, contributing to inflammation, cell damage and heart disease.

Coconut oil has been a controversial kitchen staple due to its high proportion of saturated fats. Unlike many processed foods however, coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which have been linked to heart health benefits.

Aside from coconut oil, other cooking oils that promote cardiovascular health (meaning they contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) include: olive oil, flaxseed oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, almond oil, walnut oil and hemp oil.

Beware of Cooking Sprays

This is one of my favorite tests I put students of my monthly cooking classes through. I present everyone with a few cooking spray options, asking them which ones they would put in their shopping cart.

The point of this exercise is to look past the marketing messaging on the front of the cooking spray and pay attention to the ingredients listed. There should only be one ingredient – the type of oil being used.

What you might not realize is that the cooking spray bottles that look like a spray paint can (aluminum packaging with a small rectangular tip) contains additives that are questionable to your health. These ingredients often includes: soy lecithin, natural flavors and propellant (which is flammable).

I recommend stocking you pantry with two or three high quality oils with various smoke points to use in cooking. My favorites are extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil.

Happy cooking!

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