Familiar cooking oils – what to use when

Fats are important macronutrients; we need them to survive. Its important to not be intimidated by fats, to know how to use them for the best nutrition outcome as well as facility in the kitchen.

Having a variety of cooking oils on hand is important because they have different “smoke points”, or temperatures at which they burn. The smoke point is determined by where the oil comes from, how much processing the oil has received and how long they will be subjected to heat. Less refined oils burn more easily, but have more flavor and nutrition. Use these in recipes that require no or cooler cooking. Examples would be Extra Virgin Olive Oil, affectionately known as ‘evoo’, which has great flavor and a low smoke point of 325F. Walnut oil or pumpkin seed oils also have low smoke points (320F) and are best not cooked at all – use these less refined flavorful oils in salads, drizzles, dips and marinades.

Butter has a low smoke point, 325F, due to it’s protein content, but has great flavor. If it won’t be long in the pan, butter can be used. It’s counterpart, clarified butter or ghee is very stable up to 450F. I have both in my kitchen.

I also use coconut oil, which has a higher smoke point of 350-400F and could be used for sautéing or stir frying and imparts a delicious coconut flavor to stir fried vegetables or shrimp. Canola oil is quite refined with almost no taste. It has a smoke point of about 425F  and will not affect the flavor of the dish you are creating. So does refined or ‘light’ olive oil. Peanut oil is refined and has a high smoke point of 450F. Use it when making popcorn or frying foods for longer than 1-2 minutes. I use it mostly when stir frying. Other high smoke point oils are safflower and soybean, but these are usually very refined and I don’t do any deep frying, so they are not part of my kitchen. I have recently fallen in love with a crispy chick pea recipe that requires about 5 minutes of sautéing. I usually choose coconut and watch over it at over medium heat.