A wide variety of cooking oils is an important part of a well-stocked kitchen. Not only do they add flavor and texture to your food, they also provide essential nutrients. But with so many different types of oils available, it can be hard to know which ones are best for cooking- and for your health. Below, I’m breaking down some of my favorite healthy cooking oils, and explaining how each one is beneficial for your diet. I’m covering everything from olive oil to coconut oil, smoke points and temperatures and which oils to use for what, so next time you open your pantry, you’ll know exactly what to reach for.
Understanding an oil’s unique characteristics is key to being a good cook, and one of the most important things to know about each type of oil is its smoke point.
Smoke point is the temperature at which an oil starts to smoke and break down. When an oil is heated to its smoke point, it breaks down into unhealthy compounds. For example, extra virgin olive oil has a low smoke point and is best used for sautéing or baking at low temperatures. On the other hand, coconut oil has a higher smoke point and can be used in recipes that require high heat.
When selecting oil to cook with, it’s important to consider the smoke point and other nutritional benefits. For example, olive oil is one of the healthiest oils available, containing antioxidants and monounsaturated fats that help reduce cholesterol levels. Avocado oil also contains healthy fats, as well as vitamins E and K. Butter is often used in baking, but it has a low smoke point and shouldn’t be used in recipes that require high temperatures. Finally, toasted sesame oil has a very distinctive flavor and aroma, making it perfect for adding flavor to dishes without having to use high heat.
By understanding the different types of healthy cooking oils and their smoke points, you can make informed decisions about what type of oil is best for your cooking needs. Choose oils with higher smoke points for high-heat cooking, and ones with lower smoke points for baking or sautéing. This way, you’ll be able to cook delicious food while maintaining optimal nutrition and flavor.
Olive Oil and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil is one of the most popular and healthy cooking oils used today. Olive oil is made from pressing olives to extract their oil, and can be divided into two main types: extra virgin olive oil and light olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil comes from the first cold pressing of the olives. It’s higher in antioxidants (and therefore, healthier) than light olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil has a low smoke point, meaning it isn’t suitable for high heat cooking. This type of oil is better suited for dishes that don’t require long cooking times, or in fresh applications, like salads, marinades and dressings. It’s a key ingredient of the Mediterranean diet. I like drizzling it over stale cubes of sourdough and toasting them to make croutons.
Light olive oil, on the other hand, has a higher smoke point and is better suited for high heat cooking. You can use it to sauté vegetables, fry eggs or make vibrant sauces, like pesto.
Coconut oil is one of my most-used cooking oils. Derived from- you guessed it- coconuts, it has a very high smoke point of around 450°F, which makes it an ideal choice for high-heat cooking, baking and sautéing.
Coconut oil has a high lauric acid content, which can help support a healthy immune system. It also contains medium-chain fatty acids, which are easier for the body to break down and use for energy. This makes coconut oil a great choice for athletes or anyone who exercises regularly.
Flavor-wise, it’s nutty and slightly sweet. I like using it in recipes where its flavor compliments the other ingredients, adding interesting depth. Virgin coconut oil is less processed and has a stronger coconut flavor. I like to use it for baking. Refined coconut oil has a more neutral flavor; I like to use it for frying. (Check out my donut or rosettes recipes- they’re especially delicious when they cool down, and the coconut oil adds extra crunch!)
Avocado oil is a type of healthy cooking oil that has become increasingly popular in recent years. It’s a light yellow oil extracted from the pulp of avocados and has a mild, nutty flavor. When I started my health journey, avocado oil wasn’t as readily available, and I used refined coconut oil. Now, I use avocado oil pretty much anywhere I’d use coconut oil. Its high smoke point of around 500°F (260°C) makes it an ideal choice for high-heat cooking methods such as frying, grilling, or sautéing.
Avocado oil contains monounsaturated fats, which have been linked to a number of health benefits including heart health, better cholesterol levels, and better blood sugar control. Additionally, it also contains omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, both of which are beneficial for overall health.
When selecting avocado oil, make sure to choose one that is labeled “extra virgin” and cold-pressed to ensure you get the maximum amount of nutrients and the highest quality oil. Avocado oil is more expensive than some other types of oils, such as coconut oil, but its health benefits make it worth the extra cost. This is my oil of choice- I use it daily.
Although it’s not technically an oil, butter is still a healthy cooking fat. It’s often overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. Full of calcium, and a rich source of fat soluble vitamins including vitamins A and D, butter serves as both the source and the vehicle, helping transfer important nutrients to your system.
Butter has a low smoke point, ranging from 350°F to 375°F, so it’s best to use it at a lower heat than extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil. Use it for baking, making butter based sauces, or making omelets.
Toasted Sesame Oil
Toasted sesame oil is made from toasted sesame seeds. Darker in color and stronger in flavor than other types of sesame oil, it’s one of the most popular and widely used cooking oils, thanks to its nutty, savory flavor. Compared to extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil, toasted sesame oil has a relatively low smoke point. Therefore, it should not be used for long cooking times at high temperatures. Instead, use it to add flavor to stir-fries, sauces, marinades, and other dishes.
Making the switch to using healthy cooking oils is simple and easy; my kids don’t even notice that I make most of their food with avocado oil, and they love the taste of coconut oil. Your food will taste better and you’ll reap big nutritional benefits- a total win in my book.