Today’s grocery aisles look very different than they did even 20 years ago. The options we have to choose from are more than anything our ancestors could have even dreamed of. However, to today’s consumers, this plethora of options can leave us feeling overwhelmed and unsure of what we should be choosing. Add to this the fact that it seems every day a new study comes out saying something we’ve been using for years is going to kill us. It’s enough to make you want to pull your hair out!
But, as always, we here at The Real Kitchen have your back!
We are going explore why we use cooking oil, what the heck a “smoke point” is, and reveal a few popular types of oils to choose from.
Why do we use oil in cooking?
You may have looked at a recipe recently and wondered, “do I really need to preheat this oil in the pan?”
The short answer is: yes.
Oil is a necessary ingredient (and step) in the cooking process for many reasons, but a few of the main reasons are:
- Oils help transport heat
- Oils help keep food from sticking to the bottom of the pan
- Oils help dissolve and carry flavors with other ingredients in a dish
The oil is also what helps you get that delicious, crispy brown crust we love so much. Cooking oil does all of these things because of its ability to handle high temperatures.
What’s a smoke point?
As we just stated, cooking oil accomplishes all of its many benefits because of its ability to handle high temperatures. However, that doesn’t mean oil can handle everything.
Every oil has what’s called a “smoke point” (you may have heard this term thrown around here and there). An oil’s smoke point is the temperature where it starts to break down and burn, no longer providing the qualities we love. Because different oils have different smoke points, it’s important to know which type of oil to use based on the cooking you will be doing.
What type of oils is best for what?
As we mentioned, with all the options available to consumers today, it’s tough to know which one to choose. Here are some common types of cooking oil, unique information about them, and what they are best used for.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
One of the most common types of cooking oil you will find is extra-virgin olive oil (or EVOO as Rachael Ray likes to call it).
Extra-virgin olive oil has garnered lots of attention over the years for being a healthy oil option with health benefits such as antioxidants, heart-healthy, and cancer prevention. Much of these health benefits stem from its unrefined quality. Extra-virgin olive oil has been untouched by heat or chemicals, leaving many of the natural vitamins and minerals still intact.
However, what most people forget is extra-virgin olive oil has a low smoke point. This means the temperature it can be heated to before it starts to break down and burn is a relatively low temperature for cooking. This doesn’t mean you can’t cook with extra-virgin olive oil ; it just means you may want to save it for recipes where oils are a bigger player such as dips, dressing, marinades, or drizzling.
Light Olive Oil
Just to be clear, “light” olive oil doesn’t refer to it being lower in calories – it refers to the lighter taste versus regular olive oil.
Light olive oil has many of the same health benefits as extra-virgin olive oil, but it has a smoke point almost 100 degrees higher than extra-virgin olive oil, making it great for higher-heat cooking such as roasting, grilling, or sauteing.
This is a perfect olive oil to keep on hand as your “everyday” cooking oil.
Coconut oil has been resurrected in the past ten years after being banished during the low-fat trend of the 80s and 90s.
Coconut oil naturally contains a high amount of saturated fats. During the “low-fat” trend of the 1980s and 1990s, saturated fats were deemed one of the most unhealthy things to consume. Thoughts have changed, and coconut oil is back to being seen as a great oil option.
Unrefined (virgin) coconut oil has a lower smoke point and a higher coconut flavor, while refined coconut oil has a higher smoke point and less coconut flavor.
Which version you choose should be based on what you are using it for. Sauteing or roasting? Refined coconut oil will give you more temperature range and control. Baking and don’t mind a little extra coconut flavor? Unrefined (virgin) coconut oils are a great option to choose from.
A couple of other very popular cooking oil options are vegetable and canola oil. Vegetable oil is a mix of vegetable oils, while canola oil is always the oil of the rapeseed plant.
Both versions have very little taste and a medium smoke point, making them great for sauteing, stir-frying, grilling, frying, and baking.
What about ALL the other types of oil out there?
There are SO many different types of oil, we could never hope to cover all of them in one blog post.
However, the beauty of choices is you get to experiment! Experimenting with different types of oil for different types of cooking is the best way to find what you like. The two things to keep in mind are:
- What is the smoke point?
- How mild is the flavor?
If you are going to be using high heat for a dish, use an oil with a higher smoke point. If you don’t want your dish influenced by the flavor of the oil, choose an oil with a more neutral flavor.
Go ahead! Have a couple of different types of oil in your kitchen and experiment with what you like!
Let us know what oils your trying and what the results were!
Here are a few recipes to get your experimentation started:
Rosemary Garlic Roasted Potato Wedges