THE BEST OILS TO Cook With and Why Smoke Point Matters
There are so many oils on the market, both for cooking and for in our food — especially our packaged food. If you’ve ever wondered, “What’s the difference?” Well, there is a difference, and it’s major.
First and foremost, we want to avoid hydrogenated or inflammatory oils from our diet altogether, and definitely don’t want to invite them into our home to saturate our healthy meals with them.
Hydrogenation is a chemical reaction to preserve the shelf life of certain foods. It’s when a hydrogen molecule is added to a liquid fat, like vegetable oil, to make it solid at room temperature. Don’t worry, ghee and coconut oil naturally do that, and they aren’t evil!
Hydrogenated oils are bad for us because they raise our bad cholesterol (or LDL, known as low-density lipoprotein), and lower our good cholesterol (the high-density lipoprotein). Examples of hydrogenated oils include margarine (it’s one molecule away from being plastic, just don’t eat this), vegetable oil, vegetable shortening, and most canola oils. Other oils can be hydrogenated as well, so make sure to check the label for details.
Another reason oil selection is so important is their smoke point. These modified, unhealthy, and downright toxic oils have a higher smoke point, making them easier to fry and cook with. Have you ever left a hot skillet on a high burner and turned around only to see it no longer shimmering, but burning and billowing smoke? Every single cooking oil has a “smoke point,” which essentially means the point at which the oil burns — and not in a tasty, caramelized, brown-butter way.
When an oil reaches its smoke point and starts to burn, beneficial nutrients and phytochemicals found in most unrefined, healthy fats are totally destroyed. It will impart a burnt, chemical taste to your food — and moreover, this burnt oil can start releasing carcinogens and free radicals.
When oils are extracted from nuts or seeds through crushing or pressing, we get cold-pressed, raw, virgin, unrefined oils with all their nutritional benefits, color, and flavor. They are full of minerals, enzymes, and other compounds that don’t do great at high heat — so don’t put your meals on full or high heat. Instead, utilize lower-temperature cooking methods to retain all the nutrients, and keep them in the fridge if you can!
Great for stir frys and baked goods, this oil has a distinct yet mild coconut flavor. It’s a great sub for shortening, and due to it’s high saturated fat content, it is solid at room temp or in the fridge. It has a middle-range smoke point of 350º-385º, so don’t cook anything too high; moderate and medium is best.
This oil is unrefined like extra virgin olive oil, but it has a fantastically higher smoking point of 550º-570º, making it best for cooking at a higher heat. It’s great for stir-frys and pan-fried veggies, fish, or chicken, and it’s neutral flavor lends itself well to most dishes without tampering. It has both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, as well as vitamin E.
This has a very low smoke point, making it best for drizzling, but it can also be used to cook if the heat is kept super, duper low, like 250º. It’s really high in omegas that fight inflammation!
This nut oil actually has a very high smoke point, in the 450º range — just make sure it’s in its most natural, non-hydrogenated form. It’s great for frying, and has a wonderfully nutty taste.
This oil is often used for its deliciously nutty flavor, and a little goes a long way. It has both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, and has a higher smoke point of 350º-410º, so can be used for high-heat recipes.
Extra virgin olive oil
This healthy fat is at the top of the list for the Mediterranean diet. Just like any fat, use this in moderation. It’s super easy, delicious, and functional for cooking — just make sure it’s virgin and unrefined, so you know you’re getting all of its nutritional value. It has a relatively high smoke point of 325º-410º, but keep heat low-medium to save the nutrients.
Grass-fed butter or ghee
Not only is butter delicious, but forget the out-dated rumors — it’s actually super nutritionally dense! Of course, it’s best to consume in moderation, but the quality fat in grass-fed butter is an incredible energy source. Both butter and ghee have higher smoke points of 300º-350º, and cooked slow and low make a delicious and caramel-y brown-butter for a unique flavor to desserts and grains.