What the Hell Is a Canola? Your Ultimate Guide to 16 Cooking Oils
Cooking oils. There's been so much confusion over cooking oils: are they healthy or not? Which ones are the best? Which ones are the worst?
Today, my friend, we are going to put the confusion to rest. Let's dig into it and figure out which ones are the best to cook with, which ones are the best for tasting and dressing, and which ones we need to stay away from.
Remember: when you can go without oils when it comes to cooking with heat, go without.
First, there are a few things we need to get clear about. When it comes to a cooking oil, it is necessary to look at 3 interrelated things: smoke point, fat constitution, and Omega fatty acids.
Smoke point: This is obviously the temperature wherein smoke begins to rise off the heated oil. You may have seen this when cooking something. But this is important for a few different reasons: oils (meaning fat) are highly susceptible to being oxidized which happens when a nutrient is exposed to light and heat.
Also, heat takes away certain nutrients. At the smoke point, nutrients are being burned, fats are breaking down. And the oxidation of the fat creates health-harming free radicals in the body. So when cooking, it makes sense to select an oil that has a high smoke point. And we'll save the low smoke points for the salads.
At the smoke point, your oil is going to start getting weird, and the taste of it will reflect that.
Fat constitution: So all the oils have varying degrees of saturated, polyunsaturated (PUFA) and monounsaturated (MUFA) fats. Saturated fat was long linked to heart disease, and that's why everyone did away with butter and probably why we're even talking about oils right now.
But pay attention because not everything is what it seems. Coconut oil is a saturated fat and has many health benefits. It's true. I'll explain later.
In general, oils constituted with more MUFAs are better for cooking. MUFAs are generally more stable when introduced to high temperature because of their molecular structure. PUFAs are good choices too. And there are MUFAs you don't want to cook with, but it's a general rule of thumb.
You might already know this, but it's worth saying anyway: saturated fats are solid at room temp while unsaturated are liquid.
And unsaturated fats are more prone to oxidation because of this. Don't let those oils sit in the cabinet for years. This is why I keep my nuts and seeds in the fridge. Oils can go rancid fast. And a rancid oil, like a rancid anything, is bad for your health.
Omega fatty acids: The number that comes after the Omega refers to the position of the double bond in the polyunsaturated fat. It all has to do with the molecular structure, but that number is really important.
It's important to maintain a healthy ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids. Both Omegas are great, yes. But Omega-3s are awesome. They are anti-inflammatory. And so having a healthy ratio means less overall inflammation in the body.
Omegas are PUFAs. And as sure as you live in this world, you are getting enough Omega-6 FAs. They are in processed foods and just about everything you eat that's been cooked. So we'll look out for the beneficial and oh so wonderfully anti-inflammatory Omega-3 FAs during our tour fo the best (and worst) oils.
We can't leave out Omega-9 FAs, which are important too. Your body produces Omega-9s (so they aren't essential like Omega-6 and Omega-3). Omega-9s have one double bond in their makeup so they are the MUFAs, your monounsaturated fats.
It has been shown that ingesting Omega-9s instead of other fats can have good effects on the body. One study showed that Omega-9s reduce inflammation and improve insulin sensitivity.
Your Ultimate Guide to 16 Cooking Oils:
1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil:
If it's extra virgin or just virgin, this means your oil has not been highly processed. This is another way of saying that it's been cold-pressed or expeller-pressed. Little to no heat was involved in the pressing of the fruit or seed or meat or whatever to make oil (or juice or whatever is cold-pressed). In this case, the olives.
EVOO goes bad fast, as a lot of oils do. Be sensitive to the taste of oils before you use them in your meals. You know an oil has been oxidized or has gone rancid because it tastes a little weird. Get acquainted with how the oils taste when they are fresh, and then do a taste test every other week for all of them. You don't want to use a rancid oil. More on that later.
Since no nutrients were lost, extra virgin olive oil has amazing polyphenols which are antioxidant compounds that are wonderful for you, that have been shown to lower your risk of heart disease, cancer and other diseases.
Smoke point: Around 325 (low)
Takeaway: Don't cook with extra virgin olive oil. Anything with lots of nutrients and antioxidants needs to be raw when consumed. Drizzle with this one. But definitely use it. As much as possible.
2. Canola Oil:
What the hell is a canola? Well, in short, it's the oil of a plant called rapeseed which is widely cultivated in Canada. Canola is means "Canadian Oil, Low Acid." The low acid refers to the fact that the rapeseed was bred for a low amount of erucic acid.
So it's definitely a modified plant and also it undergoes a lot more processing than extra virgin olive oil or cold-pressed anything. And it can take a lot of heat (again because this is a highly processed oil).
It lacks flavor. But what it does have are Omega-3 FAs. For a plant, it has a blessed amount. It's hard to find a cooking oil that's a good source of Omega-3s.
Fat: Mostly MUFA but also PUFA
Smoke point: 400 (high)
Takeaway: This is a good, go-to oil for everyday, high temp cooking if you don't mind that it's been processed so much. Plus, it's got those good Omega-3s but its high MUFA content means it's more stable to cook on high heat.
3. Pure or Refined Olive Oil:
This olive oil has been more refined beyond extra virgin olive oil but still has some heart-healthy polyphenols. Of course, like we said, cooking with it will burn some of those antioxidants away.
But it will take a while to burn with a higher smoke point. So if it's flavor you care about when doing some hotter cooking, a more refined olive oil might be your answer.
Smoke point: Around 450
4. Flaxseed Oil:
Warning: Flax seed oil can go bad really quickly. Keep this oil in your fridge. And so, on the same note, it's never a good idea to heat flaxseed oil.
BUT it's got a lot of Omega-3s! I've actually taken flaxseed oil for some inflammation I was having. But just like with hemp seed oil, I want to keep that stuff in the fridge. I took it like medicine.
Smoke point: Around 220 - don't cook with this one
Takeaway: It's so healthy! The condensed benefit of flax seeds (without the fiber). This awesome amount of ALA should be drizzled over salads, in a salad dressing, over hummus, anything. But get it into your diet.
5. Walnut Oil:
Like flaxseed oil above, this is not for cooking. But also like flaxseed oil above, we will get a good amount of Omega-3s from this oil. ALA to be specific, which goes through a loose (and not always efficient) path to DHA which is so very good for the brain.
Smoke point: around 170
Takeaway: Just drizzle or make salad dressings with this one. For a nuttier tasting oil.
6. Avocado Oil:
This was our go-to oil for a while. It is mostly MUFA so it's molecular structure is better for cooking. It's a little hard to find though so we go in and out of using this oil. And also, it's kind of expensive. But we love it for cooking meat and onions for tacos especially (which is a go-to staple in this house). High smoke point makes it great for all kinds of cooking. It does taste like avocados, but it's not overwhelming. Vitamin E in this oil. Rub it on a scar for fast healing too.
Smoke point: 400
Takeaway: Cook anything with this. Not really for drizzling unless you are having a taco salad (slightly avocado taste). Better for you though.
7. Palm Fruit Oil:
So this oil is made from the fruit, not the seed of the palm tree. The good news is that it's got vitamin E plus beta-carotene, which is an important antioxidant. The bad news is that it's got a lot of saturated fat and some people are still saying not to have saturated fat. But the thing is, I don't know about this. I'll discuss it below with coconut oil. But let me tell you, I think it's an overabundance of animal saturated fat that does raises the "bad" LDL, the type of cholesterol that causes heart issues.
On top of this, I don't even think it's LDL. I think it's inflammation from processed foods and sugar. But I'll get to that below. This oil is being used is some processed foods as a healthy alternative to trans fats because of it's long shelf life. So to me, long shelf life is good since oil can go bad so quickly.
Smoke point: 450
Takeaway: Cook with this one if you're willing to be a rebel against the saturated fat crusaders. I cannot personally attest to this oil. But according to its smoke point, it's great to cook with.
8. Coconut Oil:
The only reason anyone would be against this wonderful oil is because it's a saturated fat. But generalizing one type of fat is never a good thing. So they say that saturated fat raises your bad cholesterol, but you know what? Eating fresh produce and good fiber lowers it. There are millions of studies about cholesterol, but is anyone taking into account what people are eating besides saturated fat?
And yes, it was clear that saturated fat contributed to heart issues, but I think a lot of people are only eating too much animal fat. To say that all saturated fat is bad because they cannot distinguish in studies is not fair.
BUT there are some studies that ARE looking at plant-sourced saturated fat like coconut oil in comparison. These are the ones we should note. The differentiation is important.
They found that coconut oil is antimicrobial and not only that, the fat in coconut oil is medium chain fatty acids. Medium chain fatty acids can't be stored in the body and are used immediately for energy so that's something to think about. These aren't the only benefits for coconut oil.
We use the hell out of this oil. And have been for years. No issues so far with cholesterol. I realize genetics play a role in heart disease.
Omega: a little bit of 9
Some point: 350
Takeaway: We use it to cook lightly in a skillet, especially. It's nice to lightly cook fresh fish. People love this for vegan baking because it's such a great substitute for butter. The answer has not been definitively answered about saturated fat. A lot of health professionals will say it's bad. I'm not one of those.
I am a believer in coconut oil. I believe in its positive effects. In fact, whenever I use coconut oil, I get a little more energy due its medium-chain fatty acids. (On a cosmetic note, I use it to take off eye makeup).
9. Sunflower Oil:
This is a good one, in my opinion. High amount of Omega-6, but also a high smoke point and neutral flavor. Makes it versatile, and even good for frying (sometimes we fry things, yes).
Smoke point: 450
Takeaway: This is a good one for high heat and all types of cooking.
10. Grapeseed Oil:
Made from grapeseeds that are actual refuse from winemaking, this is also a pretty versatile cooking oil. High smoke point, but no Omega-3 (notice a pattern here?).
There are some chemicals that the grapeseeds are exposed to when they are being dried. So it's a good idea to get organic, yes.
Realize that grapeseed oil can go bad quickly, a little more quickly than others so store it in the fridge.
Smoke point: Around 380
Takeaway: I'd go with sunflower oil instead if you're looking for high heat, versatile cooking. Both have little flavor.
11. Safflower Oil:
This oil wins the smoke point award. For sure. With a high point of 500 and little flavor, this is definitely another option. And this one is high in Omega-9 - nice. You can buy it cold-pressed too. But any way you buy it, it won't smoke until 500 or 510 degrees.
Smoke point: Around 500
Takeaway: Good option for very hot cooking and if you're getting weird about vegetable oil - a frying oil for sure. It's pretty flavorless oil so this one is a good one to have on hand for all-purpose cooking.
12. Peanut Oil:
We have used this for stir-fry and other Asian dishes. There is definitely a peanut taste to peanut oil. There no mistaking it. And like peanuts, the oil has vitamin E which is an antioxidant.
Now sometimes they use chemicals, not only to raise peanuts (we are, in fact, peanut farmers), but also to extract the oil from the peanuts. If this is an issue to you, get expeller-pressed.
High smoke point makes it a great oil for high-heat cooking, of course.
Smoke point: 450
13. Sesame Oil:
From sesame seeds, this oil has high Omega-6 and has an average smoke point of around 370. I just think there are better options out there for us. This oil is better for oil-pulling or rubbing on the body in my opinion.
Smoke point: 360-400
Takeaway: Go with something else. This one does not have anything special - I would use it for cosmetic purposes.
14. Soybean (Vegetable) Oil:
This is is cheap and easy. So it's in all your processed foods. It's probably not organic and if you care about this, it is probably GMO. It's more of a mix of all other oils, but mostly vegetable oil is soybean oil.
Also, this one is heavily chemically processed. Which always depletes any minerals and vitamins that we can get.
It's high Omega-6 so there's your Omega-3 competition. Part of the reason we want to stay away from processed foods. Real food = Real happy.
Smoke point: 450
Takeaway: High smoke point, cheap and easy. But super high Omega-6 can't be good for your Omega-3 intake. And you've already gotten a lot of this oil in your life, probably.
15. Corn Oil:
This oil comes from the germ of the corn, which is the innermost part of the kernel. If what we want is a close ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 then corn oil isn't going to cut it. Its 6 to 3 ratio is 49:1. So as with soybean oil, you'll be getting some high Omega-6 and also GMO and non-organic, most likely. If that matters to you.
Important side note here: GMO is not that bad by the way. The problem is the spray - the herbicide and pesticide. GMO is actually good for reducing the amount of spray that will be needed for the crop.
But some studies have shown it's as good for you as extra-virgin olive oil when it comes to the heart. Wowza. Didn't see that coming.
Omega: 6 (bigtime)
Smoke point: 450
Takeaway: Depends on your priorities, but this one is a close cousin to vegetable oil. High smoke point and neutral flavor makes it versatile for any kind of cooking.
16. Cottonseed Oil:
These poor oils at the bottom of the list can't catch a break. This is probably one of those oils all mixed up in the vegetable oil with the soybean oil. It's the oldest oil (when cotton was king), and cooks apparently love it since it enhances the flavor of the food and creates a good texture. Plus, it has a high smoke point.
But this is another chemically processed (chemical ingredient used to extract oil during manufacturing process) oil. It's high Omega-6 as well. I live in the Cotton Capitol of the world. So I hope they figure out other uses for cotton (I'm kidding).
Smoke point: 420
Takeaway: I just feel like people are using better oils than this. But don't get yourself into a frenzy if you have to use it one day. Apparently, it's delicious.
Comment below if you have any more questions or any stuff to say!
Related: What's the Deal with Grains? Which Ones Should You Eat?
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