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Types of Cooking Oils & How to Use Them

Choosing the Best Cooking Oil for Your Kitchen Needs

There are all sorts of edible oils out there, each with a unique flavor, nutritional profile and culinary use. And, while having options is a good thing, it can also be overwhelming. (Nobody enjoys staring blankly at a full grocery shelf, unsure of what to buy!) Your Food Town is here to take the mystery out of selecting the best cooking oil for family mealtimes.

Here, we’ve pulled together some important points to consider when shopping for the best cooking oil for your needs. From ideal uses to flavor profiles and how to determine the healthiest options to cook with, we’re covering what you should know. Let’s get to it!

Why Do We Use Cooking Oils?

Before we get into the “how” of shopping for cooking oils, let’s discuss the “why.” There are several key reasons cooking oils have their place in so many culinary techniques. They help keep food from sticking to frying pans, for one, and distribute heat to encourage quicker, more even cooking. They can also add great flavor. There are a few key factors to look at when considering which of the countless varieties of oils on the market you should purchase.

  • The Fat(s) Contained
  • Flavor
  • Smoke Point (the temperature at which the oil starts to break down, making it unhealthy)

Understanding Four of the Healthiest Cooking Oil Options

Healthy eating is important to many people these days, and it can be difficult to know how cooking oils factor into a balanced, nutritional diet. The American Heart Association recommends replacing “bad” fats (saturated and trans fats) with “good” fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), and being smart about your oils can be a great way to do just that. Let’s take a closer look at some of the healthiest cooking oil options out there.

  • Olive Oil: The gold standard for cooking oils, this versatile and popular option is rich in vitamin E and high in monounsaturated fat, a healthy fat also known as oleic acid. Olive oil is made by pressing whole olives, and it boasts a rich, mildly peppery or grassy flavor. You can use this oil for baking, sautéing or in cold dressings. There are three grades of olive oil: refined, virgin, and extra virgin, also called EVOO. EVOO is the healthiest option, as it’s full of antioxidants that provide health benefits such as lowering one’s disease risk.
  • Avocado Oil: Extracted from the fruit’s flesh, avocado oil has a neutral taste that makes it perfect for sweet or savory cooking. It goes great in salad dressings and is also a go-to for marinades. Its nutritional makeup is close to that of olive oil, and avocado oil has a high percentage of heart-healthy oleic acid.
  • Sunflower & Safflower Oil: Sunflower and safflower oils are polyunsaturated fats with a high percentage of heart-healthy oleic acid. This makes them healthier than corn or soybean oil options. Although the two are largely interchangeable, sunflower oil is best reserved for low-heat uses, while safflower oil is touted as an ideal choice for high-heat cooking or deep frying.

The healthiest cooking oil varieties can be used in any number of ways. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Fresh homemade salad dressings, marinades, dips and sauces
  • Added flavor when lightly drizzled over meats and vegetables
  • Great for grilling, stir frying, baking or roasting meals
  • Keeping foods from sticking to cooking pans
  • Substitute for butter, margarine or solid fats

Interested in trying some of the healthiest cooking oil options in the kitchen? Whip up this crowd-pleasing recipe for Garlic Olive Oil Dip!

Other Good Cooking Oils Common Among Home Cooks

As anyone who has ever gone grocery shopping can tell you, there are all sorts of good cooking oils on the market today. Here, we’ll talk through some other common varieties you’ll likely see on store shelves and delve into the details savvy shoppers should know.

  • Vegetable Oil: Often a blend of numerous oils such as soybean, corn, and sunflower, vegetable oil is incredibly versatile. Its neutral flavor and low price point make it a great option for frying, baking, and general cooking. Nutritional information, such as the amount of saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats present, will vary based on the types of oils included in a particular blend.
  • Canola Oil: Made from crushed canola seeds, it is a heart-healthy choice due to its low saturated fat and higher monounsaturated fat levels. It is also a good source of vitamins E and K. With its neutral flavor, canola oil is great for frying, baking, and mixing up salad dressings.
  • Corn Oil: With its mild flavor and high smoke point, corn oil is a great option for frying, baking and salad dressings. Although it does contain healthy components such as vitamin E and phytosterols, it remains high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, which health professionals recommend keeping to a minimum in the average diet.
  • Soybean Oil: Extracted from soybean seeds, versatile soybean oil boasts a neutral flavor that makes it great for frying, baking, and making sauces. It can withstand high heat and has been linked to health benefits for the heart, skin, and bones. While it contains a quality amount of omega-3 fatty acids, it also contains omega-6 varieties, and use should, therefore, be limited.
  • Peanut Oil: Derived from peanuts (as you might have guessed), peanut oil is known for a high smoke point which makes it ideal for deep frying. It adds a nutty flavor to dishes and is a good source of vitamin E. 
  • Sesame Oil: Available in toasted and untoasted varieties, sesame oil has a strong, nutty flavor. It’s common in Asian cuisines, often used for stir frying, dressings and marinades. Its antioxidants and other plant compounds may benefit heart health, reduce arthritis symptoms and aid in treating gingivitis.
  • Grapeseed Oil: Extracted from grape seeds left over from the winemaking process, grapeseed oil has a light flavor and high smoke point that makes it suitable for frying, sautéing and baking. It’s a staple in many people’s at-home beauty arsenal, thought to be good for the skin and hair, although there are no clinical studies that currently prove its effectiveness.
  • Coconut Oil: Created from — you guessed it — the coconut, this option has a distinct coconut flavor and is commonly used in baking, frying and as a dairy-free alternative in cooking. While many people praise the health benefits of coconut oil, its saturated fat content means it should be used in moderation. Coconut oil maintains non-food benefits, serving as a great moisturizer for skin and hair.

Looking for a quick and tasty dressing to add a punch of flavor to your next salad? Try this Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette, which uses corn oil!

Cooking Oil Tips for the Kitchen

Ready to try your hand at some of the oils you’ve learned about here? Want to position your kitchen attempts for success? Here are a few cooking oil tips from your friends at Food Town.

  • Use healthier oils when you can. These oils are generally safe at higher temperatures, and they’re better for your body.
  • If your oil starts to smoke or catch fire when you incorporate it into specific cooking techniques, don’t use it. Oil starts to degrade once it reaches its smoke point. Refer to the information above to determine the best uses for various types of cooking oils.
  • If the oil smells bad, don’t use it and throw it out. When stored too long, oil can become oxidized or rancid. It will have a distinct smell and add a different flavor profile to your food. Depending on the type of oil, once you open it the oil can last several months or up to a year.
  • Buy oil in smaller containers if you don’t use it frequently. This way you’re more likely to use it before it expires.
  • Store your cooking oil in a dark, cool place to extend its lifespan.
  • Never reuse or reheat cooking oil, as cooking it will change its composition, potentially creating free radicals that can be harmful to your health.
  • If cooking oil catches fire, extinguish it by removing the flame’s oxygen. Options include turning off the heat, covering the flame with a cookie sheet, lid or towel, pouring baking soda on it or spraying it with a Class B chemical fire extinguisher. REMEMBER, YOU SHOULD NEVER USE WATER TO EXTINGUISH AN OIL FIRE.

As for which is the best cooking oil? That will vary based on your recipe, cooking techniques and nutritional needs. If you want to learn more about these handy kitchen accompaniments, however, your Food Town’s aisles are filled with all sorts of options. (And we have every other ingredient required for your family’s mouthwatering meals, too.) Stop by your nearest neighborhood store and see us soon! Happy cooking!

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