Culinary Arts

Cooking 101: How to Cook With 16 Different Oils, Plus the 5 Healthiest Cooking Oils

Written by MasterClass

Jun 25, 2019 • 7 min read

Beyond olive oil and vegetable oil, there are many cooking oils to choose from, especially with the rise in popularity of health-driven oils like coconut, ghee, and avocado. It can be difficult to decipher which ones are best to use for sautéing versus baking versus frying. Some oils are neutral and good for subbing into any recipe, some are healthier than others, and some are best reserved for drizzling over finished dishes. Here’s an easy guide to help you understand them all.

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16 Types of Cooking Oil and the Best Uses for Each

  1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Extra-virgin olive oil is the most common household cooking oils. Many people use it daily, sautéing with it and drizzling it over a variety of foods. As a cooking oil, it has a lower smoke point (325-375°F) and should be used when frying at low or medium-high temperatures. The olives in different finishing olive oils are pressed at different stages. Some oils made from still-green olives can be spicy and peppery whereas oils from more mature olives can be sweeter. Taste-test various olive oils and take notes on their flavor profiles. Best Uses: Sautéing, sauces, and salad dressings.
  2. Light (also called “Pure”) Olive Oil: Light olive oil is lighter in taste and color than EVOO. It has a higher smoke point of 465-470°F, which makes it ideal for high-heat cooking. Best Uses: Sautéing, roasting.
  3. Avocado Oil: Pressed from fresh avocado pulp, which is up to 25 percent fat, avocado oil has the highest smoke point of all plant-based cooking oils (510 to 520°F). It's over 50 percent monounsaturated fat, which makes avocado oil less prone to oxidation than polyunsaturated oils, but still liquid at room temperature (unlike saturated fats). Best Uses: Sautéing, frying, sauces, and salad dressings.
  4. Grapeseed Oil: Neutral-flavored grapeseed oil is versatile with a medium-high smoke point (390°F). It is a by-product of winemaking and can be used in salad dressings, but also works for sautéing and baking. Best Uses: Sautéing, frying, and dressings.
  5. Flaxseed Oil: Nutty tasting flaxseed oil, also known as flax oil or linseed oil, is made from flax seeds that have been ground and pressed to release their natural oil. Flaxseed oil should not be used for cooking, as it does not have a high smoke point (225ºF). It is best taken as a supplement or added to dips and dressings. Store it in the fridge. Best Uses: Finishing oil for dips, dressings, smoothies.
  6. Coconut Oil: Coconut oil comes in both virgin and refined options and is solid at room temperature. Extra virgin will have a coconutty taste, while refined is more neutral. It has a low smoke point of 350°F, but works wonderfully for sautéing meats and vegetables and can be substituted for butter in baking. Best Uses: Thai and Indian food, frying, sautéing, and baking.
  7. Peanut Oil: Peanut oil has a mild nutty flavor and high smoke point of 448-475°F, which makes it great for deep-frying and a range of other cooking methods. It's made from pressed steam-cooked peanuts and is widely used in Asian cuisine. Best Uses: Frying, roasting, and grilling
  8. Ghee: Ghee is a class of clarified butter originating from India with a deep nutty flavor. It is made by melting butter, which separates into liquid fats and milk solids. Once separated, the milk solids are removed, which means that ghee has less lactose than butter. Traditionally, ghee has been used as a cooking oil in Ayurveda cuisine. Best Uses: Sautéing, roasting, and baking.
  9. Sesame Oil: Sesame oil has a neutral flavor and high smoke point of 410°F. It’s a great all-purpose oil, but if you’re looking for big flavor use nutty toasted sesame oil. It works wonders drizzled over a stir-fry, in marinades, or salad dressings with ginger and soy sauce. Best Uses: Asian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern foods,
  10. Safflower Oil: If you’re looking for a cooking oil that’s suitable for high heat, safflower oil may be the right choice for you. It has a higher smoke point (440-520°F) than many other oils and a mild flavor, making it an ideal choice for many recipes. Its high polyunsaturated fat content means that safflower oil remains a liquid even when refrigerated, making the virtually flavorless vegetable oil a good option for salad dressings and other cold preparations. High-oleic versions of safflower oil, which have more monounsaturated fats and a higher smoke point, are considered better for high-heat applications such as deep frying. Best Uses: Baking, frying, and dressing.
  11. Hemp Seed Oil: Hemp seed oil has a nutty, rich flavor and dark green color. It's too sensitive to be heated, so instead use it as a finishing oil for soups and salads. If using it in a vinaigrette, combine it with a neutral oil. Store it in the fridge. Best Uses: Finishing oil, marinades and dressings.
  12. Walnut Oil: This delicate nutty oil has a low smoke point, but is big on flavor. It’s a rich addition to soups and salads and should be used sparingly. Best Uses: Finishing oil, marinades, and dressings.
  13. Almond Oil: Almond oil is often found in two different forms: refined and cold pressed. Full of monounsaturated fatty acids, almond oil may help elevate the levels of "good” cholesterol, or high-density lipoproteins. Enjoy its mild nutty flavor by using cold-pressed almond oil, but restrict it to cold dishes and drizzling over salads. Best Uses: Salad dressing or as finishing oil.
  14. Palm Oil: Palm oil comes from palm trees native to Africa, where it has been consumed for thousands of years. It is semi-solid at room temperature (like coconut oil). It’s often used for sautéing or frying because it has a high smoke point of 450°F and holds up to high heat. Best Uses: Curries and other spicy dishes.
  15. Sunflower Oil: Sunflower oil comes from pressed seeds of sunflower. It is commonly used in food as a frying oil. This oil is high in vitamin E; one tablespoon contains 28 percent of a person’s daily recommended intake of the nutrient. It has a high smoke point and neutral flavor, which means it won’t overwhelm a dish. Best Uses: Baking, frying, and salad dressing.
  16. Corn Oil, Vegetable Oil, and Canola Oil: These oils are best suited for frying and deep frying. They have a smoke point of 400-450°F and have a neutral flavor. Healthwise these are high in fats without many nutrients, which makes avocado oil a pricier but healthier option. Best Uses: Frying

The 5 Healthiest Oils

  1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) comes from olives and contains a large amount of monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which may be linked to better heart health. It also contains vitamins A, D, E, K, and beta-carotene. It's rich in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant. “Extra virgin" means it's an unrefined oil that isn’t treated with chemicals or heated.
  2. Avocado Oil: Avocado oil is high in monounsaturated fat (aka oleic acid), which is considered more heart healthy than saturated fat due to its shape—zigzag rather than straight—while being slightly more stable than the polyunsaturated fats typically found in vegetable oils. It’s also a good source of omega-9 fatty acids, the anti-inflammatory antioxidant vitamin E, and lutein (which promotes vision), but you’ll get the most out of avocado oil if you consume it raw, in cold-pressed form, since fats tend to break down with cooking.
  3. Grapeseed Oil: Grapeseed oil is a healthy cooking oil derived from grape seeds. Grapeseed oil is high in vitamin E and antioxidants. Studies have found consuming grapeseed oil improved insulin resistance in the body. Use cold-pressed or expeller-pressed oil for the best health benefits.
  4. Flaxseed Oil: Flaxseed oil boasts the highest alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) omega-3 content of all oils, which is important for heart health. Use in recipes for dips and dressings or try drizzling a teaspoon into your morning smoothie to boost your nutrition.
  5. Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is extracted from coconut flesh. You can buy unrefined extra-virgin coconut oil or refined coconut oil for a more neutral flavor. Health benefits include boosting your body's "good" HDL cholesterol and metabolism and protecting brain health. Coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids, which make it easier for us to digest than other types of oil.

What Are the Best Oils for High-Heat Cooking?

The best oils for standing up to high heat during frying are avocado, peanut, canola, sunflower, and sesame oil. These oils have a high smoke point (400°F and higher), which means they are better suited for cooking at higher temperatures.

For sautéing, try avocado, canola, coconut, grapeseed, extra-virgin olive oil, sesame, and high oleic safflower and sunflower oils. Unrefined oils such as flaxseed oil, wheat germ oil, and walnut oil have a low smoke point and should not be heated. Learn more about high-heat cooking by consulting our oil smoke points chart here.

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