Cooking Oils 101
Stumped by which oil to use when frying, sautéing, baking, and more? Check out our guide to common cooking oils.
Cooking Oils 101
When used in moderation, cooking oils are a wonderful addition to your kitchen's pantry. Each one has its own benefits and uses, though the most important factor to pay attention to is the oil's smoke point, which indicates the highest temperature the oil can be heated to safely.
There are two kinds of sesame oil: light and dark. Light sesame oil has a light, nutty flavor and is good for sautéing, salad dressings, and more. Dark sesame oil, on the other hand, has a more intense flavor. Only a little bit is needed to accent other flavors, particularly in Asian-inspired dishes.
One of the more eclectic oils, coconut oil is good for deep-frying due to its light coconut flavor. It's solid at room temperature, but liquid when heated just slightly. Want to experiment with coconut oil in your own kitchen? Try substituting it for other oils in baked goods or use to add tropical flair to sides and entrées. Finally, coconut oil is also an excellent moisturizer for skin and hair!
Vegetable oil, a mixture of corn, safflower, and canola oils, is a great all-purpose oil with a neutral flavor. It has a high smoke point, so it's good for frying. Vegetable oil is perfect for baking too, and keeps muffins, cakes, and more from drying out.
When you'd like to cook with an unsaturated oil but don't want the added flavor of olive oil, turn to canola oil. It has a bland flavor and a fairly high smoke point, making it good for sautéing, frying, baking, and salad dressings. For an easy weeknight side, try drizzling cut-up seasonal vegetables with canola oil and roasting in the oven.
Much ado has been made about the health benefits of flavorful olive oil. Like fine wines, the flavor of quality olive oils depends on the particular olives used and the unique characteristics of their growing region. Extra-virgin olive oil is pressed from whole olives within a day after the harvest and is the highest quality olive oil. Heating olive oil causes it to lose a lot of flavor, so avoid using more expensive extra-virgin olive oil for cooking. Extra-virgin olive oil is better for tossing with roasted vegetables, pasta, et cetera. No matter the variety, be sure to store olive oil in a cool cabinet away from heat and use within 6 months.
Sunflower oil is a flavorless oil high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat. It has a fairly low smoke point, so try it whenever your recipe calls for a quick sauté or homemade dressing. It's also great for baking fries in the oven -- a healthy alternative to traditional deep-fried french fries.