Selecting the Right Oil to Cook With

Choosing the right cooking oil can be as crucial as selecting your ingredients when crafting a meal. Health-conscious foodies know that the right oil can bring out the best in your dish, while also contributing to your overall wellbeing. But, with so many options on the market, each promising various health benefits and culinary merits, how do you distinguish one from the other? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the nuances of different cooking oils, covering everything from health effects to matching oils to cooking methods. We’ve scoured the latest recommendations from Healthline, Bon Appetit, BBC Good Food, and Forbes, melding their professional insights for an in-depth understanding that’s sure to elevate your kitchen game.  


Understanding Cooking Oils: A Primer 

At the heart of every good meal is an understanding of cooking oils. These fats are derived from plants, seeds, nuts, or animal sources. They’re essential for carrying fat-soluble vitamins and, importantly, for transferring heat during cooking, which affects taste, texture, and nutritional profile. There are two primary extraction methods for oils: mechanical (usually cold-pressed) and chemical, with the former preserving more nutrients. Common types of cooking oils include olive, coconut, avocado, and canola, each with distinct characteristics that influence how they are best used in the kitchen. 


The Health Impact of Your Cooking Oil Choices 

The oils we choose can have profound effects on our health. For example, olive oil, often praised for its heart-healthy attributes, is high in monounsaturated fats and can aid in reducing inflammation. Conversely, palm and coconut oils contain higher levels of saturated fats, which, when overconsumed, can contribute to heart disease. Understanding the fat composition of oils is key to managing cholesterol levels and maintaining a heart-healthy diet. Oils rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, such as flaxseed and walnut oil, can also play a crucial role in brain function and normal growth. 


High Heat vs. Low Heat: Matching Oil to Cooking Method 

One of the critical factors to consider when choosing cooking oils is their smoke point – the temperature at which an oil begins to smoke and break down, releasing potentially harmful compounds. Oils with low smoke points, like flaxseed and walnut, are best used in salad dressings or drizzled on top of cooked foods, as they are not suitable for high-temperature cooking. High smoke point oils, such as refined sunflower and avocado, are better for frying, sautéing, and roasting, as they can withstand the heat without producing off-flavours or losing their health benefits. 


Top Cooking Oils for 2024: Healthline’s Picks 

Healthline’s carefully selected top choices for 2024 prominently feature extra virgin olive oil, highly valued for its abundant antioxidants and robust anti-inflammatory properties, which contribute to overall health and wellbeing. They also give a nod to high oleic sunflower oil, which stands out due to its exceptional stability under high temperatures, making it ideal for cooking, and it’s packed with heart-healthy fatty acids that are beneficial for cardiovascular health. Furthermore, Healthline praises the virtues of almond oil, which is extracted from the nutrient-rich almonds. This particular oil is celebrated not only for its ability to significantly enhance skin health through deep moisturisation but also as a concentrated source of vitamin E, an essential nutrient known for its antioxidant properties that protect the body from oxidative stress and damage. 


Culinary Experts Weigh In: Bon Appetit’s Favourite Oils 

Bon Appetit, widely recognised as a bastion of culinary inspiration, offers guidance on a variety of oils, emphasising the unique flavour profiles each one brings to the table. For example, toasted sesame oil is particularly lauded for its rich, nutty, and deep flavour, making it an ideal choice as a finishing drizzle over dishes to add an extra layer of taste. When it comes to frying, peanut oil is their preferred choice due to its neutral taste that doesn’t overpower the food, coupled with a high smoke point that makes it suitable for high-temperature cooking. Additionally, they advocate for the use of grapeseed oil, praising its mild taste that seamlessly blends into recipes, making it perfect for baking and crafting homemade mayonnaise, where the oil’s flavour should not dominate the other ingredients. 


BBC Good Food on the Healthiest Cooking Oils 

BBC Good Food emphasises the importance of oils rich in unsaturated fats, which have been scientifically proven to be beneficial for heart health. They specifically recommend rapeseed oil, noting its low saturated fat content and high smoke point that makes it an excellent option for a variety of cooking methods, including frying and baking. Rapeseed oil is celebrated not only for its health benefits but also for its versatility in the kitchen. Additionally, pumpkin seed oil is highlighted as another favourite, praised for its wealth of healthy fats and powerful antioxidants. This oil, with its distinctive nutty flavour, is perfect for enhancing the taste of salads when used in dressings or for adding a finishing touch to dishes by drizzling it over them just before serving. Both oils are recommended as healthier alternatives to traditional cooking oils, offering a combination of health benefits and culinary versatility that can enrich any diet. 


Forbes’ Guide to Cooking Oils and ROI 

Forbes‘ approach to cooking oils is practical, focusing on the return on investment (ROI) of health and cost. They emphasise that the healthiest oils may not always be the most expensive and suggest oils like canola and rice bran as effective and economical choices. They also promote the use of animal fats, such as ghee or lard, when cooking at high temperatures, balancing both health and culinary performance. 


How to Store and Preserve Cooking Oils 

Proper storage of cooking oils is essential not only to preserve their freshness but also to retain their nutritional value, which is vital for a healthy diet. To ensure that oils maintain their optimal condition, they should be stored away from heat sources in a cool, dark place. This practice helps in preventing the oils from turning rancid or losing their distinctive flavours which are essential for enhancing the taste of various dishes. 

Using clear glass bottles for storage is not recommended as these containers do not protect against light, a factor that can significantly degrade the quality of the oil over time. Instead, it is advisable to use tinted or opaque bottles that can effectively block out light, thus extending the oil’s shelf life. 

Furthermore, the type of fat composition in the oil influences its stability and shelf life. Oils that are high in monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil and avocado oil, are known for their longer shelf lives and greater stability under various storage conditions. These types of oils are less prone to oxidation and can maintain their quality for a longer period, making them a preferable choice for both cooking and dressing purposes. 


Incorporating Healthy Oils into Your Daily Diet 

Once you’ve selected the right oils, the question becomes: how do you incorporate them into your daily diet? For instance, instead of butter, one can use olive oil or avocado oil for sautéing vegetables. Add some flair to your salads with walnut or flaxseed oils. Coconut oil can be a great addition to your morning smoothie. The possibilities are endless, and experimenting with different oils can lead to creative and delicious meals that also support your health goals. 

Making informed choices about cooking oils is an essential element in advancing towards a healthier lifestyle. Beyond the taste and seasoning they bring to your recipes, oils play a significant role in your wellbeing. By understanding the properties and uses of various oils, you can ensure that your culinary creations are not only delightful but also nurturing to your body. Whether you’re frying up a storm or lightly drizzling your greens, the careful selection of the right oil will make a world of difference – one delectable and healthful dish at a time.