What’s the best oil for cooking?

The other day got a great question via my ‘Stonesoup by request’ survey. It also included a lovely compliment. So of course I was compelled to put it to the top of the list of topics to write about (I’m human after all!)…

What’s the best oil for cooking (olive??): I’m confused about the temperature, smoking oil, baking with olive oil.

After purchasing your ebook I am actually enjoying making dinner (easy and healthy) for the family for the first time in my life and getting very positive feedback on the results too- yay and thank you!

Sarah

Sarah’s right. It can be confusing.

So today I hope to clear up some of the confusion with a little lesson on oil stability and ‘smoke points’. I’m also going to share my (current) favourite oils and fats.

How do I know if an oil is stable?

The best indicator is to look at the ‘smoke point’ of the oil. This is just a measure of the temperature at which a given oil starts to give off smoke.

Yep. It’s that simple.

As a rule, the more pure an oil is and the less polyunsaturated fatty acids it contains (ie. the more saturated it is), the more stable it will be.

So the higher the ‘smoke point’ temperature, the more stable your oil.

Why should I care about oil ‘stability’?

Unstable oils chemically change their composition when exposed to heat (and light). They break down and release some toxic substances including ‘free radicals’.

Free radicals aren’t your friends.

They cause damage to our cell membranes, our blood vessels and even our DNA (genetic material). As you can imagine, this isn’t great. The damage leads to things like premature aging, immune problems and even cancer. Got your attention now?

My favourite fats and oils

1. Rice Bran Oil.
These days, rice bran oil is my ‘go to’ oil for cooking. It has a relatively high smoke point, so it’s pretty stable. It’s also much less expensive than olive oil.

As an added bonus it’s mostly mono-unsaturated and contains Vitamin E and some antioxidants (which combat free radicals!). So it has good health credentials.

The flavour is bland and neutral so it’s also great for making mayonnaise or for Asian cooking. Anywhere you don’t want the oil flavour to intrude.

If rice bran oil isn’t available where you live, my previous favourite cooking oil was peanut oil. You can get ‘cold pressed’ peanut oil which tastes like, errh peanuts. The oil I was using was commercially ‘deodourised’. It had a neutral flavour and didn’t make everything taste like PNB.

2. Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
You’re probably aware that extra virgin olive oil tastes delicious and is high in mono-unsaturated fatty acids, so healthy as well. It’s my go to oil for salad dressings and drizzling on things like soups and stews just before serving for extra richness and flavour.

Unfortunately olive oil doesn’t have a super high smoke point. Which means it isn’t a great choice for cooking at high temperatures.

I’ve also conducted an experiment and found that the delicate flavours of expensive extra virgin olive oil are lost during the cooking process. So it’s a bit of a waste of money to cook with your best EVOO.

If you are planning to roast or pan fry with olive oil, it is best to use refined ‘extra light’ olive oil which has a higher smoke point than virgin oils.

3. Butter.
When it comes to flavour butter wins! While the fat component is stable with high saturated and mono-unsaturated fatty acids, the milk proteins cause browning and smoking.

I use it for the frying pan when flavour is important and the heat won’t be too high. Things like scrambled eggs, omelets, pancakes, softening onions or mushrooms (see recipe below).

But if I’m planning to use butter for high temperature cooking like pan frying or roasting, I ‘clarify’ it to remove the proteins. It’s much less scary than it sounds. All you do is melt the butter in a small saucepan and pour the clear butter oil off the top, discarding the white solids (protein and water) below.

Butter is also surprisingly healthy (more details over here).

4. Other
I use sesame oil for flavour in Asian dishes. I always add it at the end because, you guessed it, it doesn’t have a high smoke point.

I sometimes buy a can of duck fat for roasting potatoes. Duck fat adds the most amazing flavour. It’s saturated so you don’t need worry about the stability in the oven. But not so easy on the wallet!

I buy coconut oil from time to time to use in baking. Generally I prefer the flavour of butter but if I did ever need to be dairy-free I’d reach for coconut oil.

Are you trying to eat low fat?

While we’re on the topic of fats and oils, it makes me angry (and a little sad) when I hear people still talking about how a low fat diet is healthy.

So if you’re still making the ‘low fat’ mistake, I strongly encourage you to read my ‘truth about fat‘ blog post over here.

mushrooms with lentils-3

Mushrooms with Lentils

Two of my all time favourite ingredients together in a one pot meal. Yay!

The butter here adds flavour to our mushrooms but it also is important for softening and balancing the acidity from the tomato paste.

Enough for 2
3-4 tablespoons butter
4 large field or portabello mushrooms, sliced
250g (9oz) cooked lentils
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves picked

1. Heat butter over a medium heat in a large frying pan. Add mushies and cook, stirring every few minutes or until mushrooms are browned and tender. About 10 minutes.

2. Add lentils and tomato paste and cook until warm.

3. Taste. Season and serve with parsley on top.

VARIATIONS
short on time? – use a drained can of lentils instead of cooking your own.

vegan / dairy-free – replace butter with coconut oil or olive oil.

need help cooking your lentils? – just simmer like pasta until tender. Depending on the type of lentil it will take from 15-30 minutes.

paleo / lentil-free – replace lentils with minced (ground) beef – make sure it’s well browned and cooked through before serving.

different veg / mushroom-free – replace mushies with eggplant (aubergine), kale, broccoli brussels sprouts – whatever you feel like really.

Video version of the recipe.

Which oils do you prefer to cook with? Let me know in the comments below!

With love,
Jules x

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{ 44 comments }

April August 26, 2013 at 10:11 pm

Where I live, I can get my hands on EVOO, sesame oil, and canola oil. And butter. But I haven’t seen anything else (at least within my budget).

So, if I’m pan frying something (not deep frying), should I use canola oil? I usually use EVOO, but it sounds like you’re saying that’s bad for me?

jules August 27, 2013 at 7:51 am

Great question April,

The best way to tell is to look at a chart like the one over here
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoke_point
And choose the oil with the higher smoke point.

For your situation I’d try making my own clarified butter. But when you don’t have time use olive oil since iy has a similar smoke point to canola but is better nutritionally. if you can find a refined extra light olive oil it is more stable than EVOO.

April August 27, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Thanks for the advice!

Honeysuckle August 27, 2013 at 6:56 am

coconut oil..again and again… followed by butter and, in Indian cooking, ghee.I buy tins of coconut oil.Huge ones! They are economical and last for ages.In Italian cooking I continue to use extra virgin olive oil, usually Cretan purchased in large tins( opaque so oil remains stable) :I dispense the evo into a ceramic oil pourer for use near the stove. Duck fat is wonderful as you say for spuds lard in Christmas pud and Chinese egg tarts.

Gunhild September 5, 2013 at 9:58 pm

+1 !
I completely agree: coconut oil rules! Followed by butter and THEN olive oil.

Sandy August 27, 2013 at 7:22 am

I haven’t found smoke points to be an issue because I don’t cook at high heats. I buy grass-fed pork and beef, and they get tough with high heat as does fish. And my go-to skillet is teflon-coated which also doesn’t take well to high heat. As a result, I use olive oil (or coconut oil) for everything. A drizzle of olive oil with the heat on medium, plop in the protein then turn to low and walk away for a while works wonders. And no smoke detector to disable.

Gina August 30, 2013 at 7:40 am

Sandy,
If your go-to skillet coating really is Teflon, get rid of it and get a newer skillet, one with a non-stick coat that doesn’t have those awful fluoro-chemicals in Teflon. Teflon is poison.

Mar August 27, 2013 at 7:25 am

No oils. I use no oils in my cooking. Read Dr. Fuhrman (drfuhrman.com) and Dr. Esselstyn (Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease). I get my healthy fats from avocados, nuts and seeds.

The calories in oil are 100% fat with no nutritional value at all. Canola oil is GMO, no one should be consuming that. Most olive oil is so adulterated there’s no telling what you’re getting. But most importantly, these and all other processed products should not be fed to children.

dan August 27, 2013 at 9:00 am

how do you cook without fat? are you on a raw diet?
also: “The calories in oil are 100% fat with no nutritional value at all.” protein and carbohydrate each contain 4 calories per gram where as fat contains 9 calories per gram. i frequently run greater than 50 miles at a time and if fat didn’t have nutritional value i’d die (most of my fuel during these long runs comes from fat).

Mar August 28, 2013 at 9:26 am

No, I’m not on a raw diet. Cooking without oil is a cooking technique just like any other techniques one learns in the kitchen. Those 9 calories per gram are 100% fat, with no nutritional benefits.

There are many vegan athletes who eat oil free and are at the top of their sports. The body has no need for processed oils at any level of performance. The body needs “good” fats, which come from avocados, nuts and seeds.

Like I said, read Dr. Fuhrman and Dr. Esselstyn, and it will help you understand the body’s needs for fats (NOT oils).

Trevor August 27, 2013 at 9:50 am

Please forgive my ignorance (I’m still a beginner cook), but how do you do your cooking without burning things in the frying pan without some kind of fat?

Mar August 28, 2013 at 9:30 am

No ignorance and no problem. It took me a long time to understand the no oil thing but once I learned what bad fats do to the body then I was more motivated to learn to cook without oils. I use either water or veggie broth, or sometimes nothing at all, it depends on what I’m cooking.

If there is a Whole Foods near you, try to sign up for their 28 day challenge, they will teach you how to cook without oils.

There are a lot of resources to learn more about this, here’s a good start:
http://engine2diet.com/resources-and-research/why-no-oil/

Mar August 28, 2013 at 9:42 am

And you can use almost any type of liquid to cook without oil. You can use wine, beer, soy sauce, tomato sauce, vinegars, nut milk, juice, lemon, etc. The possibilities are endless depending on what flavors you like and experimenting is fun.

The point is to avoid all processed foods as much as possible, and oil is a processed food. It is better to eat the whole olive, than to consume a processed oil made from olives that provides no nutritional value or anything the body needs.

Both Dr. Fuhrman and Dr. Esselstyn do a very good job of explaining this and they have the peer reviewed scientific literature to back their teachings. This is solid info.

More info:
http://drmcdougall.com/misc/2007nl/aug/oils.htm

Gunhild September 5, 2013 at 10:05 pm

So you are saying that wine, beer, soy sauce, vinegar are NOT processed foods?!?
In my world, processed food includes all that is not simply animal or plant.

Just eat animals and plants – it’s good for you.

Nicki August 27, 2013 at 7:40 am

Coconut all the way for me. Its so versatile. Ghee, lard, goose/duck fat and butter all favourites too. Only use olive oil or others for salads or after cooking. Too risky to cook with any of them. LOVE that fat is now back in fashion. Never should have been demonised – look at what ‘healthy’ omega 6 oils and margarine type products have done to the obesity rates. Saturated fats from real foods are good for us!

Ann August 27, 2013 at 7:56 am

I have yet to try the coconut oil as I am finding it hard to source. I normally use Grapeseed oil because of its lack of flavour, ghee for Indian cooking and butter for a few things. You have to cook mushrooms in butter and I eat a lot of mushrooms….yum.
I gave up the low fat scam a while back it apparently is yet another pathway to Alzheimers – our brain needs fat.

Pam August 31, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Ann ….. Coconut oil is available everywhere now but look for top quality organic virgin coconut oil from trusted companies such as Tropical Traditions, Nutiva & Carrington Farms. I buy large jars at Costco & use it for everything (especially great in baking & surprisingly tasty on toast & popcorn to replace butter).

Judy August 27, 2013 at 8:01 am

For frying eggs and mushrooms I use butter. With salt as that’s all I buy unless I ‘think’ about baking. Olive Oil for ordinary cooking i.e. sauces and stuff. We make olive oil here (and Israeli wines are wonderful) no connection. And we get imported olive oil. It’s very expensive here. Anything from $5 – 10. I look for an 8 in a dark bottle. I bought sesame oil today to use for a curry I’m making tomorrow. I have a tiny little 2 months old black/white kitten attacking my leg. Sorry. I’ve seen rice bran but it’s massive expensive and not a very big bottle. Advice needed here. Now can you please explain in easy English, says the Brit, the difference between mono unsaturated fat and saturated fat. Sounds like if you get wet and you’re saturated from the rain. Mind you I have lost some of my English over the past 45 years. I’m sorry this is so long.

Peter O August 27, 2013 at 8:21 am

Do try the Australian Organic Butter now made in Camperdown Victoria by Organic Dairy Farmers Australia Co-operative, probably your best supply source is from Aussie Farmers Direct.

see web site organicdairyfarmers.com.au

Currently only salted but salt free version is coming soon.

Judy August 27, 2013 at 9:14 am

I don’t live in Australia. Or the USA. Next suggestion please
Something to replace marmite. And not veggimite. So very expensive here for the tiniest bottle. Sigh.

Susan Stone August 27, 2013 at 8:46 am

I have read at least one other post on oils and after reading this, I am still confused. There is wide agreement about not cooking with olive oil due to low smoke point. I’ve also heard that one should not use canola oil because of the GMO issue. Something about rice-bran oil made it not recommended, despite its stability (don’t remember what). I bought grape seed oil, but then read that even though it has a high smoke point that one should not use it for cooking (don’t remember why). I recently bought some coconut oil, which I plan to try with my Massaman curry tonight (would not have thought of coconut oil without this post about oils – thank you!). I do use butter sometimes, and sometimes olive oil. I really don’t know what to think any more. :-)

Pam August 31, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Susan,
Under no circumstances would I ever use canola or corn oils as they are all GMO. I think there is quite a bit of evidence that olive oil & grapeseed oil should be avoided for frying. Definitely try coconut oil…..it is amazing & so healthy. I use it for everything ….. all cooking & baking!

Sue Sch August 27, 2013 at 8:57 am

Hi Jules , you forgot the wonderful macadamia oil ! I started using it when you recommended it some time back never regretted it !Ok it’s expensive and the bottles available are small but oooooh the flavour ! Only need a tiny spray ( from a hand primed pump ) and the flavour is magnificent!
I also use rice bran and sometimes olive oils and ( shock horror according to my erstwhile husband ) butter for good flavour too ! It all depends on what I am cooking !

Judy August 27, 2013 at 9:10 am

Who eats marge any more. It was some disgusting thing invented by the French during the war. It was always rumored yhst it was m
Made with engine oil. Ugh. Margarine instead of butter.impossible

carmel August 27, 2013 at 10:08 am

David Gillepsie (Sweet Poison) has written an excellent book about oils called Toxic Oils. I’m afraid he does not recommend rice bran oil. I use coconut oil all the time. Also butter but sadly no longer now that a dairy intolerance has emerged. And ditto to macadamia oil, fantastic for cooking at high heats and in salads.

Ty August 27, 2013 at 10:51 am

I use REFINED coconut oil for all types of cooking, baking and roasting (even grilling). Not virgin, as it as a low smoke point. I use virgin coconut oil for raw desserts, bars, puddings, sauces or anything I don’t mind having a light coconut flavor. Spectrum brand carries both kinds. Thanks for the great info Jules.

Sue Freivald August 27, 2013 at 11:27 am

I’ve been using coconut oil for a number of things, because my husband loves the way it smells when cooking and the delicate flavor.

Lyn August 27, 2013 at 12:22 pm

My oils of choice and budget are real butter (not margarine), coconut oil and rice bran oil. I am a believer in fat. I will tell anyone to eat the right kinds. They won’t make you fat, no matter how many meals are made of it per day. I love to add oil to my food after plating it.

Lisa Bonnet August 27, 2013 at 12:35 pm

I was glad to read this information as it gave me validation that (from my own research), my understanding of the best oils for cooking, is correct. Thankyou Jules for the article and also for the lovely “mushroom with lentils” recipe.

Niki Lawson August 27, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Hi Jules and all the food and nutrition enthusiasts. I hopped on here to add Macadamia oil and found a few others have also mentioned it. It isn’t as expensive as it used to be – I buy a 500ml glass bottle in one of the big supermarkets and it is quite affordable. It has a good nutritional profile, works well for shallow frying and baking (I often go 50;50 with butter), and supports our Australian farmers. Where high heat is not involved I use Australian EVOO. Olive oil really needs to be fresh, reasonably local and extra virgin to be as good for you as it should be. Light means more processed and the antioxidants go with the flavour. Imported olive oils may not be very fresh and I have heard that they are often not true to label – ie are a blend of real EVOO and cheaper, more processed oil. I live in WA and I am finding more and more small producers selling great olive oil in town co-ops like Kirup. It is really worth looking around. Niki

Mary August 27, 2013 at 1:51 pm

I have fallen in love with Coconut OIL!! Wonderful for oven baked CHICKEN!! However, butter is still on the counter and also used daily. Try Coconut oil on WARM toast, then sprinkle on cinnamon and drizzle on farmers HONEY….YUM!! Healthy too :):) M.

Jane M Makin August 27, 2013 at 4:02 pm

I use sunflower oil for cooking mainly, and butter with eggs and mushrooms and have added some olive oil. Be interesting to note the highest heat with sunflower before smoking.
Used ISIO 3 yesterday for fish and chips – have you a report on that? thks.

PaulO August 27, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Nice to have vitamin E in rice bran oil. But when I heat it, is there still vitamine E available?

Georgia August 27, 2013 at 9:11 pm

I have been using avocado oil lately and really like it. It has a high smoke point at 520 degrees and I do a lot of stir-fries. It is pretty expensive and in small bottles from Spectrum. Recently I have been hearing about tea seed oil. Do you know anything about it?

Miriam Kearney August 27, 2013 at 10:36 pm

I too have just discovered Avocado Oil and I bought a large bottle at Costco (of all places). It’s a truly ‘clear’ oil and doesn’t seem to add flavour to the food when frying. Mostly otherwise I use olive oil or butter. Recently a couple of chains of Olive Oil stores have opened in our area offering a wide assortment of different olive oils – who knew they could taste so different. They also offer a range of balsamic and I have fallen in love with a lemon infused one that is simply superb on salads. I use a lemon infused olive oil to finish fried fish fillets. Super!

Paul W August 28, 2013 at 2:30 am

This is a subject that confuses me very much. If I don’t raise the oil to the point of smoking, and I practically never do, does it remain stable?

Jessica August 28, 2013 at 5:05 am

I always have a jar of refined coconut oil in the house and a jar of unrefined. I cook with the refined oil and use the unrefined as a face and body moisturizer, put it on cuts, all-purpose wonderfulness. :)

Brod August 28, 2013 at 3:05 pm

I love this post! Actually, I love all your posts Jules :) I never really understood why the different smoke points were important, I thought it just more of a flavour thing, so thanks for helping understand it better. How does vege oil compare? We use that quite a bit at home.

Heather August 29, 2013 at 9:42 am

Do you have any experience and/or thoughts about mustard oil?

Gina August 30, 2013 at 7:12 am

Isn’t clarified butter used in Indian cooking and called ghee? Or is ghee a different product? I’ve seen ghee in the local super market. Would it be better to make my own out of organic butter?

I usually cook for 1. Some of your recipes are for 1. Many are for 2 or 3. Will this recipe work halved? How long does this keep? Is it freezable? For some of your recipes you include those bits of information. Would it be really difficult to include that information more frequently?

Diz August 31, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Oh my goodness I enjoyed this meal so much. I just want to keep eating it!

marisa September 6, 2013 at 8:25 am

I have made your lentil and mushroom recipe twice in the last 10 days and passed it on to three different friends. It is delicious, simple and very satisfying. The first time I followed your recipe to the letter, the second I added some chilli and some organic silverbeet I had in the fridge. Delicious again. Great stuff. Keep it coming and thanks.

Judy September 10, 2013 at 3:59 am

I use sunflower, olive oil and coconut oil for cooking. Sesame oil is one of my favorite oils for Asian dishes (not for frying of course).

I wonder what your thoughts are on avocado oil, since this seems to be a bit of trend?

Gianpaolo Pietri September 12, 2013 at 12:06 am

Hey Jules,

Lately I only use Coconut Oil or Olive oil. Coconut oil is a godsend. Was surprised not to see it on your list. What do you think of it? Is there any reason NOT to use it?

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