Cooking with Oil

Cooking with Oil

Cooking Oils: Which is the Best For your Kitchen?

Oil is a part of the kitchen that everybody knows but doesn’t necessarily understand. There are a ton of different oils out there from avocado oil, to olive oil, to canola oil which are available on supermarket shelves. Each different kind of oil proclaims its own benefits and every blog on the internet has opinions about oil. It can be overwhelming to choose the right oil for your kitchen, which is why we’re here. We’re going to go over popular cooking oils like vegetable, canola, olive, avocado and coconut oil all in one place, so you can make an informed decision about what oil/s belong in your pantry. We'll discuss their proposed health benefits and potential disadvantages and where this oil could potentially fit into your kitchen. 

Vegetable Oil
Ah, vegetable oil. It’s been around for as long as we can remember, liquid gold but far cheaper. Vegetable oil is pretty much a staple in many kitchens, especially commercial kitchens, because of its inoffensive taste and high smoke point. You can use vegetable oil in a variety of cooking methods including frying, baking and grilling. Many health-conscious people tend to turn their nose up at vegetable oil, though, and there’s a reason why. 
‘Vegetable’ oil is a very generic name (vegetable is one of the easiest categories of scattergories) which could encompass a huge variety of things. Most often it is a blend of different oils such as soybean, canola, or corn oil. The only way to really know is to check the ingredients list, and even then it is often completely unhelpful! To keep its smooth texture and high smoke point, the oil needs to be highly processed and most often includes extensive refining and hydrogenation which can introduce chemicals and create high levels of trans fats. Trans fats can have negative effects on your cholesterol levels and have been linked to heart disease, stroke and kidney issues. There’s also a risk of imbalancing omega-6 and omega-3s, which have claims to increase inflammation in the body. 
If you get a vegetable oil blend which include soybean, canola, or sunflower oil, you could be benefitting from a good sources of polyunsaturated fats, including omega-6 fatty acids. Sunflower or grapeseed oil blends have healthier fatty acid profiles and lower the introduction of trans fats. If you want to find a healthier version of vegetable oil, make sure you read the ingredients label and look for cold-pressed or minimally processed vegetable oils.  
Just like many other ingredients and foods that are high in trans fats, including Woolies mud cakes, shortening, margarine, microwave popcorn and fried potato chips, having these foods in moderation alongside other foods does not spell the end for you. Having a reliable bottle of vegetable oil for Friday night cornflake crumbed fish and skin-on chips is not going to kill you. However, if the name ‘vegetable oil’ gives you the ick, there’s plenty of other oils with a high smoke point who can get the job done for you.

Canola Oil
Canola oil is the more singular form of vegetable oil. It comes from the canola plant (duh) or what you may know as the rapeseed plant. Just like vegetable oil, its high smoke point and neutral flavour makes it suitable for sauteing, frying and grilling, as well as a substitute for butter and other oils in baking. It is also used in salad dressing and marinades in a variety of cuisines. What makes canola oil different from vegetable oil is its singular ingredient, and that it is generally considered low in saturated fats. It includes a great balance of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, including omega-3 fatty acids and also vitamin E which make it a better choice for brain, heart and overall health.  Canola oil isn’t the be all end all however. Aside from being high in calories, some concerns have been raised regarding its processing methods and potential for oxidation (where air or heat impacts the oil and breaks down its natural nutrients, leading not only to spoiling but possible introduction of harmful bacteria). Opting for cold-pressed or unrefined canola oil may be a better choice, but storing canola oil in a cool, dark place and tightly sealed containers will protect it from exposure to air and light. 
With a similar price point and uses in the kitchen, canola oil may be a great alternative, but it isn’t the only option.

Avocado Oil

It isn’t just great on toast and in tacos, avocado has a variety of uses in the kitchen: avocado oil! For an oil that is (usually) less processed and smooth in texture, it has an impressively high smoke point and can be used anywhere vegetable or canola oil can including sautéing, frying and grilling. Unlike the previous two, avocado oil does have a flavour, though it is still mild and suitable for a range of dishes. It is most often used in salad dressings and marinades for its creamy texture.

The thing that has shot avocado oil into stardom is its purported health benefits. It has a rich composition of monounsaturated fats, vitamins, and antioxidants which help your body with a ton of things including promoting heart health, reducing inflammation, and supporting skin health. And it's popular for a reason, with its main health concerns only being its relatively high caloric value (great for those on keto who love high fat foods, though) and the possible risk of allergies.  

One unfortunate disadvantage to avocado oil is its accessibility issue and price. Avocado oil can be hard to find on shelves and, if it is, it can be hard to fit into a budget. The $7-$12 per 250ml bottle may seem like too steep of a price if you’re looking to use it for frying, especially because once that oil hits its smoking point, it loses much of its delicate flavour and texture. Avocado oil can’t be used again and again like vegetable or canola oil when it is heated to high temperatures. Most of the time, avocado is used as a heart happy swap for raw oil uses like salad dressings.  Avocado oil isn’t the only superstar oil, though.  

Coconut Oil 

Do you like pina coladas? Do you like being reminded of pina coladas when you bite into a slice of steak? If not, you should probably avoid coconut oil for any kind of dish you don’t like that tropical, slightly nutty, fresh flavour for. While refined coconut oil has a higher smoking point (of around 200 degrees, compared to unrefined which is safe around 170 degrees celsius) and its potential to be used in any frying, baking and sauteing, you have to be really mindful of how and when you use this flavour-booster. Asian and tropical-inspired dishes like stir frys, seafood and soups can benefit from the unique flavour, and using coconut oil in its solid form can make it a great replacement for butter in baking recipes if you’re dairy free (or you’ve run out and you didn't realise until you were wooden spoon deep in your favourite blueberry muffin recipe). 

Coconut oil is high in saturated fats and calories, which means you won’t want to eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. However the flavourful oil contains many fancy scientific things like medium-chain triglycerides and lauric acid which can help with immune boosting and weight management. Similarly, it is a plant-based source of saturated fats, which may increase levels of good cholesterol. 

Olive Oil  

Olive oil is another classic that you will find in nearly every kitchen. It’s been around as long as plumbing (or even earlier!) and has a place in many areas of your kitchen. You’ve most likely seen extra virgin olive oil which is the least processed version of the oil. While regular olive oil has a higher smoking point, extra virgin olive oil can’t get much hotter than 200 degrees celsius. 

If you use olive oil in your kitchen, you know it is great in a variety of dishes. Because of its distinct flavour and smoke point, it is most commonly found in salads and dressings, marinades, and dips. For cooking, it's best used in low frying, oven-roasting and drizzled as a finishing oil. You’ll see extra virgin olive oil in many iconic Mediterranean dishes, so use the history of olive oil to get inspired! 

You’ll see olive oil everywhere on the shelves, because of its popular historical use, its reasonable price point and its health benefits. Extra virgin olive oil, in particular, is rich in monounsaturated fats and polyphenols, which have been associated with reducing the risk of heart disease by lowering bad cholesterol levels and improving blood vessel function. With anti-inflammatory properties, olive oil can reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and neurodegenerative conditions. Other elements like vitamin E contribute to overall health.  As always, nothing is completely perfect. Olive oil is calorically dense, so moderation is key if you care about that sort of thing. Its low smoke point means it is susceptible to oxidation and high heat which can produce harmful substances if not stored and prepared properly.  

The best way to use olive oil is drizzled over the top of cubed cheese like bocconcini or feta, slices of tomato and fresh basil leaves. Its flavour and texture is best taken advantage of as a finishing oil, similar to truffle oil and sesame oil. 

Finishing Oils 

Finishing oils like truffle oil, sesame oil or walnut oil are not appropriate for cooking. With very low smoke points and high flavour, they are best to drizzle over the top of your favourite dishes. While oil like sesame oil may be used for basic pan cooking like onion and garlic in Asian inspired dishes, overheating can lead to the breaking down of important nutrients and introduction of harmful bacteria and, most importantly, destroys the delicious flavour.  Many finishing oils have a high caloric content or can be made with artificial flavours, so make sure you're finding high quality finishing oils with a natural, delicious flavour and know how to use it. 

Sesame oil is used in our most recent recipe blog to add delicious texture and flavour. Check it out here!