The Different Types of Cooking Oils and Their Uses
Cooking oil is a fat that's made from plant or animal sources and are a great way to add flavour and nourishment to your cooking.
But which type of oil should you use for which job? Let's take a look at some plant-based cooking oils and find out!
Different Features of Cooking Oils
1. Saturated or Unsaturated Oil
Cooking oils have different traits, so it is good to pay attention when you're using them in the kitchen for how they affect what you are making.
Oils can be either saturated or unsaturated. Saturated oils are solid at room temperature and are found in animal products like butter, cheese, and meat. Unsaturated oils can be either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated, depending on the number of double bonds that they have in their chemical structure.
Polyunsaturated fats include Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation. Monounsaturated fats lower LDL cholesterol levels while increasing HDL cholesterol levels.
2. Smoke Point
All oils have a smoke point. This is the temperature at which it starts to break down and release free radicals, which can then react with oxygen in the air diminishing the quality and flavour of the oil. So this is something we want to avoid when cooking with them. That's why some oils are better for frying or roasting, while others are better used for non-heated purposes like salad dressings.
3. Refined and Unrefined Oil
The way an oil is made can influence the smoke point. Refined cooking oils are oils that have been processed in a way that removes impurities and creates a more consistent product which has a higher smoke point.
Unrefined cooking oils are extracted more manually, so the are likely to have more nutritional compounds left in them. Unrefined oils have a lower smoke point than so will be better suited to cooking methods that are not overly heated.
Varieties of Cooking Oils, their Flavour and Uses
The type of oil you choose to use will often depend on the dish you are making, how you intend to cook with it, and your personal taste preferences. Let's roadtest a few.
1. Olive Oil
You may know that olive oil is made from olives, but you might not know that it's one of the oldest oils.
Olive oil comes in many varieties, so it’s really versatile. It’s smoke point can vary (between 160- 200°C) depending on how refined it is. So it can be used for anything from salad dressings to roasting. Olive oil may not be suitable for all cooking purposes as it has a distinct plant flavour to it so this will be a matter of personal taste. I find olive oil one of the best for salad dressings it provides the right amount of flavor and texture.
2. Canola Oil
Canola oil is made from a variety of rapeseed and is a good choice for high-temperature frying because it has a higher smoke point (approx 210°C) than other oils. It is also very neutral in flavour.
3. Vegetable Oil
One of the best cooking oil for deep frying in vegetable oil. Like Canola it has a high smoke point (approx 220°C) so stable at high temperatures, which means it won’t break down and release free radicals into the oil. Vegetable oil doesn't carry a lot of flavour which is good in some cooking situations.
4. Peanut Oil
Peanut oil is made from peanuts, which are roasted and ground into a paste. After being heated the paste is pressed to extract the oil, which is then filtered to remove any impurities. Peanut oil has a high smoke point (230°C) and it has a rich nutty flavour which makes it a lovely addition in Asian-style dishes.
5. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is made from coconuts and adds a mild coconut taste in cooking.
Coconut oil is higher in saturated fat seen by it’s solidity at room temperature, and has a smoke point similar to olive oil (200°C for refined varieties). It can be used as a substitute for butter or margarine, and many types of cooking including stir-fries and curries. Coconut oil has been popularized in recent years and there are competing views as to its benefits and risks.
6. Sesame Oil
My all-time salad dressing favourite, sesame oil is extracted from sesame seed and can be used in a variety of dishes.
The flavour ranges from being nutty (my fave) to having a hint of bitterness depending on the type of sesame used, the roasting process and how long it is stored for. Sesame oil has a smoke point of approx 200°C.
The best option to store cooking oil is in a cool, dark place.
7. Avocado Oil
Avocado oil is extracted from the fleshy pulp of the avocado.
The flavour of avocado oil largely depends on the type of avocado it comes from. Some people claim that the flavor tastes similar to a mild olive oil. It’s smoke point is also around 200°C for unrefined and higher for refined olive oils which means it is a good option for higher temperature cooking.
8. Flaxseed Oil
Unlike the other oils we've discussed, Flaxseed oil has a much lower smoke point (approx 105°C) so its not the most ideal oil for high temperature cooking, you might instead add some to your salad dressing.
Flaxseed oil is made from flaxseed, which is a tall green plant that produces seeds. Flaxseed oil is a popular due to its richness in both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential for many important bodily functions. For this reason, flaxseed oil has been found to have many benefits such as reducing inflammation. But it's also a little more pricey at the supermarket so is a good oil to use sparingly.
Final Oily Thoughts
There are so many cooking oils to choose from, we've just scratched the surface here. Next time you're at your supermarket take a look and maybe even try a new oil with your cooking. Experiment with refined versus unrefined, explore the differences in color and taste. I think the next oil I'd like to experiment more with is Avocado oil.
What about you?