Welcome to Cooking Oils 101! Use the information in this blog to take your culinary knowledge up a notch. There are a lot of oils out there. Let us help you learn which to use when! You can find all of these oils at the Co-op on a regular basis. 

You can also watch our video all about cooking oils too. 

The Basics

Cooking oils are fats derived from plant, animal, and synthetic sources. Most are liquid at room temperature, but oils that contain saturated fats like coconut and palm, can be solid. This blog will cover many common plant-derived cooking oils. 

Smoke point refers to the temperature at which a given oil produces a “continuous wisp of smoke” or the temperature at which the oil begins to burn. Heating an oil to or beyond its smoke point will degrade flavor, phytochemicals, and nutritional content. Smoke points can vary widely from oil to oil. 

Saturated refers to fats made of fatty acid chains that have all or predominantly single bonds. Most animal fats are saturated (it is important to note that very few foods only contain one type of fat, most are a mix). Some plant oils, like coconut and palm, are saturated as well. Saturated fats tend to have a higher melting point and are usually solid at room temperature (think bacon grease or coconut oil). There is strong, consistent evidence linking saturated fat intake, blood cholesterol levels, and the cardiovascular disease epidemic. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat intake, but talk to your doctor about the specifics of your diet! 

Unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature, contain fatty acid chains that are double bonded. There are two kinds of unsaturated fats: mono- and polyunsaturated. Mono- and poly-unsaturated fats are found in plant oils in varying ratios. These fats are generally regarded as beneficial for our health, but check with your doctor regarding intake levels best for you! 

Store cooking oils in a dark, dry, cool place away from radiant heat from appliances and the sun to avoid rancidity. Some oil, like flaxseed oil, will go rancid quickly if stored out of the fridge, so read an oil’s packaging if you’re not sure where it should be stored. Oils usually taste best when consumed within 2-3 months of opening.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Smoke Point: 325-350˚ F
Best for: medium-heat sautéing, baking, finishing, vinaigrettes 

EVOO is a pantry staple for a reason! It is a super versatile cooking oil with body and flavor enough to stand on its own (try dipping crusty bread or drizzling over chocolate ice cream) and stand up to medium heat cooking. Its flavor can be buttery, spicy, fruity, or grassy depending on where it’s coming from. “Extra virgin” olive oil is unrefined, unlike many vegetable oils.

Olive Oil/Pure Olive Oil 

Smoke Point: 465-470˚ F
Best For: high-heat sautéing, roasting & frying; infusing 

Also called “light” or “regular”, pure olive oil is lighter in flavor and color than extra virgin olive oil. Note that “light” here refers to the flavor; the calorie content is the same as extra virgin olive oil. Many people prefer the lighter taste of pure olive oil. Although more processed than extra virgin olive oil, pure olive oil can never (by definition) be extracted using chemical solvents, unlike some other vegetable oils.

Avocado Oil

Smoke Point: 520˚ F
Best For: high-heat sautéing, roasting, searing, vinaigrettes

Avocado oil is gaining popularity for its high monounsaturated fat content and sky high smoke point. It’s mild flavor and creamy texture makes it a great vinaigrette base too. Avocado oil tends to be pricier than other vegetable oils.

Coconut Oil

Smoke Point: 350-400˚ F
Best For: medium-heat roasting, sautéing, and baking

Coconut oil has gained huge popularity in recent years as a good substitute in plant based cooking and baking. Unlike most vegetable oils, coconut oil is solid at room temperature because it is high in saturated fats. “Unrefined” or “virgin” coconut oil tends to have a strong coconut flavor. “Mild”, “refined”, and “filtered” coconut oils have a less intense (sometimes non-existent) coconut flavor.

Peanut Oil

Smoke Point: 450˚ F
Best For: high-heat sautéing, roasting, deep frying

Peanut oil has a nutty scent and strong, peanut flavor. Because of this, pair with complimentary flavors like those in many Asian dishes. Its high smoke point makes it a good option for deep frying too. Best to purchase only what you need as peanut oil can go rancid quickly. 

Canola/Rapeseed Oil

Smoke Point: 400˚ F
Best For: high-heat roasting, sautéing, frying, and baking

Canola oil has a light color and mild flavor. Canola oil is extracted from the rapeseed plant and is sometimes called rapeseed oil. You can use canola oil anytime a recipe calls for vegetable oil. Its mild flavor makes it a good oil for baking.  

Vegetable Oil

Smoke Point: 400˚ F
Best For: high-heat roasting, sautéing, frying, and baking

Vegetable oils vary from brand to brand as to what specific oils make up the blend. Vegetable oil usually contains a mix of corn, sunflower, safflower, and soy oils. It is neutral tasting and smelling, which makes it a good oil for dishes with strong flavors. If you are avoiding corn or soy, check the label on vegetable oils as they often contain these ingredients.

Palm Oil

Smoke Point: 445˚ F
Best For: high-heat roasting, frying, sautéing, and baking 

Not to be confused with palm kernel oil which is derived from the seed of the palm plant, palm oil is semi-solid at room temperature. Palm oil farming practices often involve rainforest and habitat destruction, air pollution, labor violations, and more. Look for Fair for Life fairtrade certified palm oil if you’re using palm oil. Palm oil is often used as a replacement for trans fats in commercial baked goods so always check the label if you want to avoid palm oil. Visit Palm Done Right to learn how you can responsibly consume palm oil. 

Grapeseed Oil

Smoke Point: 420˚ F
Best For: high-heat roasting, frying, vinaigrettes

Although it has a high smoke point which makes it great for high heat cooking, grapeseed oil is a wonderful oil for vinaigrettes. It is cheaper than olive oil and has a mild flavor which allows other flavors to take center stage. 

Sunflower Oil

Smoke Point: 440-450˚ F
Best For: high-heat sautéing and searing

This high-heat, neutral-flavored oil is made from sunflower seeds, which means it can go rancid more quickly than other oils. Use within 8 months and always trust your nose: if it smells off, toss it.

Safflower Oil

Smoke Point: 510˚ F
Best For: high-heat roasting, deep frying, searing

Safflower oil is nearly flavorless. Its high monounsaturated fat content means it has a high smoke point as well. This is a very affordable oil for deep frying. 

Sesame Oil

Smoke Point: 420˚ F
Best For: high-heat sautéing

Sesame oil is the go-to oil for stir-frys! It holds up to heat and has a pleasant flavor that goes great in Asian cuisine. Even though it has a high smoke point, it is not used for deep frying traditionally. You can also use it in dressings, but toasted sesame oil will yield more flavor. 

Toasted Sesame Oil

Smoke Point: 410˚ F
Best For: vinaigrettes, finishing

Toasted sesame oil has a deep, nutty flavor that shines best when added to vinaigrettes or drizzled over a dish. You can use it to sauté, but it is pricier than regular sesame oil and often sold in smaller pack sizes than oil traditionally used for high-heat cooking.

Hemp Oil

Smoke Point: 330˚ F
Best For: finishing, smoothies

Hemp oil has a deep green color and rich, nutty flavor. It’s best when drizzled over soup and grain bowls or added to smoothies. Hemp oil is a great source of quality plant based amino acids and omega fatty acids. If using in a dressing, cut with a more neutral oil so your dish isn’t overpowered. Store in the fridge. It will go rancid quickly. 

Flax Oil

Smoke Point: 225˚ F
Best For: vinaigrettes, smoothies

It’s best to never heat flax oil. Only use in vinaigrettes, as a finisher, or in smoothies. Always store in the fridge. Flax oil is celebrated for being a plant source rich in omega-3 fatty acids!

Walnut Oil 

Smoke Point: 320˚ F
Best For: vinaigrettes, finishing

This is another rich source of omega-3s. It’s best to not heat it. You can find toasted walnut oil which is absolutely delicious, but pricey. If using for a vinaigrette, use a more neutral oil and top it off with the toasted walnut oil.

Sweet Almond/Almond Oil

Smoke Point: 430˚ F
Best For: vinaigrettes, finishing, high-heat stir-frying, sautéing 

Almond oil is high in monounsaturated fats and antioxidant Vitamin E. Its high smoke point means it is a good option for high-heat cooking, but can be expensive. Look for unrefined almond oil as refined almond oil is extracted using high-heat processing and chemical solvents. It’s mildly sweet and nutty flavor makes it a great option for drizzling over a green salad.