The Best Oil for Cooking? The Debate Rages On

Remember when butter was the thing your grandmother cooked everything in? Then butter was the enemy and margarine was king. Then, of course, someone figured out that margarine was killing you and you floundered around until the food network introduced you to extra virgin olive oil (EVOO in case you’re food network savvy).

The best oils for cooking

Olive oils from Turkey, Italy, Spain, and Greece

So the problem is, how do you know what to use? How do you know what is best for you? I’ll try to give you the most complete answer I can, but honestly a lot of days I feel like I’m not 100% sure of anything. I’ve had a ridiculous amount of nutritional education, along with chemistry (sorry – we’re going to have to get into chemistry too) but the truth is we’re still learning about how different oils and fats act with heat and also what they do in your body. So I’ll give you the best answer I have now, and I’ll keep updating as I find new and more complete information.

Here are the Things I Know For Sure:

  1. Don’t Overheat – All fats and oils become harmful if they are cooked at too high a temperature, but the temperature that they can withstand is different for every fat or oil.
  2. If It’s Smoking It’s Bad – Generally you know you’ve over heated an oil if it starts to smoke in the pan. The smoke forms when the oil starts to burn and change into something harmful. The temperature at which an oil begins to smoke is called it’s ‘smoke point’ and is a great way to evaluate it’s heat stability.
  3. More Solid is Usually More Heat Stable – Usually the more solid a fat or oil is at room temperature, the hotter you can cook it without it turning bad.
  4. Every Natural Oil Is a Mixture of Different Types of Fats – lard isn’t just one type of molecule, it’s many types of molecules so there is no fat that is 100% good or 100% bad. Every natural oil is mixed.
  5. Extra Refining Can Make Oils More Heat Stable -  I don’t like refining as a rule because often some of the nutritional value is refined out of the oil and the oil has to go through chemical processes to be refined, but if you’re planning on cooking at high temperatures a more refined oil can be a really good thing.

Smoke Points of Cooking Oils:

Unrefined Flaxseed, Safflower, Sunflower, Canola Oil: 225 *F, 107 *C
Unrefined Corn, Peanut, Soy and Walnut Oil: 320 *F, 160 *F
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO): 320 *F, 160 *C
Butter, Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, Unrefined Sesame Oil: 350 *F, 177 *C
Lard: 370 *F, 182 *C
Macadamia Nut Oil: 390 *F, 199 *C
Refined Canola Oil, Low Acidity EVOO: 400 * F, 204 *C
Sesame Oil: 410 *F, 210 *C
Cotton Seed Oil, Grape Seed Oil, Virgin Olive Oil, Almond Oil: 420 *F, 216 *C
Hazelnut Oil: 430 *F, 221 *C
Peanut Oil, Sunflower Oil: 440 *F, 227 *C
Palm or Palm Kernel Oil, Refined Peanut, Safflower, Soy, High-Oleic Sunflower, Coconut Oil, : 450 *F, 232 *C
Extra Light Olive Oil: 468 *F, 242 *C
Ghee (Indian Refined Butter): 485 *F, 252 *C
Refined Soybean or Safflower Oil: 495 *F, 257 *C
Avocado Oil: 520 *F, 271 *C

So What is The Best Oil For Cooking?

Times like this I wish I had THE answer, not just an answer.  Sauteing or pan frying usually happens at temperatures around 500* F, which means a very heat stable oil like avocado oil, ghee or refined coconut oil is a good idea.  I love the flavor of butter and virgin or extra virgin olive oil, and virgin coconut oil but obviously those are only suitable for lower temperature cooking.  So the best solution to me is to keep a variety of oils handy.  I still use butter (organic) for baking, EVOO in salad dressings and dipping sauces, and a variety of nut and coconut oils for higher temperature cooking depending on what flavor I’m looking for.  Avocado oil I reserve for sauteing because it is stable at such a high temperature (and so wonderful for you).

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