From Our Chefs

Cooking Oil Explained: What’s The Best Option for You?

There are a multitude of cooking oils to choose from. How do you know which oil is right for you?

These days, looking at the shelves of your local grocery store can be overwhelming. It seems like there’s a million choices and two million brands selling the same product. Oftentimes we short circuit, and reach for the same old product that we always do.

This tactic may work with your favorite cereal but many ingredients require more nuance. We’re here to demystify the process of choosing your cooking oil.

By this point, anyone who’s slightly health conscious has surely made olive oil a staple in their pantry. But, depending on what you’re cooking, it may not actually be the best choice.

Olive Oil
Photographer: Roberta Sorge | Source: Unsplash

The Rundown

Before we dive into our favorite (and least favorite) cooking oils, we’re going to give you a rundown on how to pick the healthiest option for what you’re making.

First, it’s important to pay attention to an oil’s smoke point. This is the breaking point when the oil starts to burn and smoke. It’s important because at this point, not only is the flavor altered, but harmful free radicals are released and many of the positive nutrients degrade.

If you’re drizzling:

Here, flavor matters most. If you’re dressing the oil directly on top of your dish, go for extra virgin olive oil or flaxseed oil.

If you’re sautéing or searing:

A low smoke point and lots of flavor are best. The classics are canola oil or extra-virgin olive oil. Have some fun playing with the bold flavors of peanut oil, sesame oil and safflower oil.

If you’re baking:

With baked goods, the oil is a minor character in the show. You should reach for a neutral option such as coconut oil, vegetable oil or canola oil.

If you’re frying:

This is where smoke point gets really important. Because of the high temps, you’ll want to reach for an oil with a neutral flavor and high smoke point such as canola oil, olive oil, avocado oil, vegetable oil, safflower oil or peanut oil.

“Oils with high smoke points are typically those that are more refined, because their heat-sensitive impurities are often removed through chemical processing.”
Cooking Mushrooms in a Frying Pan with Kukuvaja Olive Oil from Greece
Photographer: Kukuvaja Feinkost | Source: Unsplash

A Note on Fat

Just because a fat is deemed “healthy,” it doesn’t mean it’s calorie free. As we love to preach at College Chefs, every body is different and health can be a relative term.

But, in general, healthy fat refers to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats while the bad fat usually refers to trans and saturated fats. These good fats have a positive effect on your heart health and lower LDL cholesterol (the type that clogs your arteries).

Trans fats are known to raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol. The research on saturated fats is a bit more complex. Old research said they were very bad for cholesterol levels, but new research suggests the relationship is more neutral or complex. However, the experts still recommend limiting your intake and opting to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Photographer: Jessica Lewis | Source: Unsplash

Next week, we’ll spill our personal favorites to use in our dishes and the pros and cons of each. Don’t forget to keep up with our team of culinary geniuses on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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