What Oil Should I Use for Cooking? (Guest post)

Posted: June 23, 2014 in Guest Post, Real Life
Tags: , , ,
Cooking oil in pan - Free use photo via morgueFile

Free use photo by cgiraldez via morgueFile

Last week I participated in a hands-on cooking class at a wonderful co-op in Seattle. While searing an oh-so-tasty chicken tarragon entrée in organic canola oil, the question arose, as it usually does at cooking classes: “What oil is best to cook with?”

Olive Oil – To Cook with, or Not to Cook with?

You may have heard that olive oil is not the wisest choice for cooking. “Why is that? But I’ve heard it’s healthy for you,” you might say. And you’re right. It is good for your health. It is rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3s, monounsaturated fats (a healthy dietary fat that may help lower total cholesterol) and is a staple of the Mediterranean Diet.

But olive oil has a lower smoke point, which means that olive oil will begin to smoke when cooking at temperatures between approximately 325°F to 460°F, depending on type. Heating olive oil or any oil to its smoke point degrades its healthy compounds, even increasing harmful, potentially carcinogenic compounds, and releasing free radicals which can ravage our cells.

Hello there olive oil and balsamic vinegar little fella. Photo Credit: Aden Davies (ad76) on Flickr

Photo credit:
Aden Davies (ad76) on Flickr
Used unmodified under
CC BY-SA 2.0 license

Olive oil has its place, though, as an ingredient in salad dressings and for sautéing vegetables over low to medium heat. Combine it with balsamic vinegar for a dipping for whole grain breads.

What Should I Use Instead?

The answer depends on personal preference as well as the type of cooking you are doing. Use oils with a high smoke point for searing, browning and all-purpose cooking. Use oils with a medium-high smoke point for baking, oven cooking, sautéing and stir-frying. Oils with a medium smoke point are best for lighter sautés, sauces and cooking over low heat.

If you’re seeking an oil with a higher smoke point for all-purpose cooking, consider canola oil, which has a neutral flavor and is loaded with those heart-healthy omega-3s. The chef at my cooking class opted for canola for the chicken tarragon, noting it is also a good source of monounsaturated fats and is versatile, good for high-heat cooking as well as baking and sautéing.

Peanut oil also has a high smoke point and is a smart choice for stir-fries and other high-heat cooking. Avocado, almond, safflower and sunflower oils are also good varieties for higher-heat cooking.

Is Rice Bran Oil in Your Pantry?

If not, you might want to seek out a bottle, but be forewarned this oil comes with a slightly higher price tag at approximately 12 cents per ounce versus 6 cents per ounce for canola oil, according to a recent comparison by Cooks Illustrated. Price aside, interestingly, the chef whipping up the divine chicken tarragon entrée recommended rice bran oil for high-heat and all-purpose cooking. Rice bran oil? I hadn’t heard of it. Apparently many others in the class hadn’t, either. “What…” we chimed, “…is that?”

Chef Pam Sawyer explained that rice bran oil is her go-to for its health benefits and variety in application. Rice bran oil contains nearly 50 percent monounsaturated fats and similar to olive oil and canola oil, is high in omega-3s. It is a good source of vitamin E, which serves as an antioxidant that rids the body of damaging free radicals that arise from normal metabolic processes and from environmental factors such as pollutants.

Rice bran oil’s versatility lends itself well for sautéing, baking and cooking at high heat given its high smoke point (approximately 495°F). Sawyer also uses less of it when cooking, in comparison to multiple dollops of other oils that she has had to use while cooking. The rice bran oil heats up nicely and evenly, is light and coats a pan with a thin sheen.

This shelf-stable oil can last approximately three years in your pantry; it is one of the most stable oil options. “You can have this oil near your stove and it won’t break down like other oils would,” Sawyer said. Canola oil, in comparison, can go rancid at room temperature in a hurry, Sawyer said; thus, she suggests refrigerating canola if that is your preferred oil.

Here’s to healthy cooking!

**Please share – what is your favorite cooking oil?**

This was a guest post by a local dietitian in Seattle. To be considered for a guest post please use the contact form.

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  1. Erik Frebold says:

    I don’t think it’s correct to characterize canola oil as “loaded with those heart-healthy omega-3s”. Sure it has more than the average vegetable oil, but the benefit of that 9% omega 3 is offset by the 20% pro-inflammatory omega 6. Olive oil is actually worse on this scale, having only 1% omega 3 vs. 10% omega 6. Olive oil is actually mostly omega 9, (a monounsaturated oil), which may or may not have benefits depending on the source you read. Possibly the healthiest approach is just not to fry at all– steam or bake, and add oils for flavour after cooking, since for any oil, no matter how healthy, heating over 100 degrees celsius (212 F) is likely to cause harmful degradation.

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