Cooking oils are a basic necessity in every kitchen. They enhance, carry flavours and help conduct heat for better cooking. But did you know not all oils are created equal? Generally, cooking oils are used for either high heat cooking like frying, or for dressings and finishing.
With the large variety of cooking oils available in the market, it makes it harder to determine which cooking oil should be used for frying, roasting, sautéing, dressing, etc. Processed from any number or combination of different vegetables, soy beans, and nuts, common cooking oils you’ve probably heard of are palm, canola, coconut, olive, grapeseed, sesame, sunflower and peanut.
Here is a guide when using cooking oils and it won’t leave you wondering if you used the right cooking oil.
Flavourful vs. Bland Oils
All oils have different tastes. Flavourful oils such as peanut and walnut oils will have a nutty flavour. Sesame oils used in small dosage (typically used in Asian cooking) gives your meal a fuller taste as it has a heavy flavour. While there is a range of distinctive flavours among olive oils, the general rule is to use lighter, 'pure' olive oils for sautéing, and high-heat cooking, while 'denser' olive oils can be used for dipping, sautéing, salad dressings, and finishing. Bland oils such as canola and sunflower oils are great for high-heat cooking and allows the flavours of food cooked in it to come through.
Unrefined vs. Refined Oils
Unrefined oils are minimal heat processed (cold-pressed) oils and also referred to as “virgin” or “extra virgin”. The minimal processing allows a high quality, nutrient-rich oil that is true to its smell, flavour and colour. Some unrefined oils you can expect in the market are olive, avocado, coconut, and sesame oils. Refined oils are oils that has been further processed and treated to remove impurities or ‘undesired’ elements. Such treatments are bleaching/deodorisation to fade the colour or remove the smell. This leaves refined oils with a much blander taste and less beneficial compared to unrefined oils. Some examples are canola, soya and sunflower oils.
When oil gets kept for a long time, it oxidises over time and develop free radicals which makes it rancid. Unrefined oils are typically often less stable than refined oils, thus they are easier to go rancid in a shorter time and will affect the shelf life. As refined oils have been processed and are more heat-stable, they have a longer shelf life. Keep you oil as fresh as possible by storing them in a cool, dark dry place. Exposure to heat, light and oxygen will decrease the shelf life.
Know The Smoking Point
When cooking, be sure to keep the oil below its smoking point. As all cooking oils have different smoking points, it is good to have a chart on hand to know each one. Why is it important to keep the oil below its smoking point? This is because heating oil where it begins to smoke not only produces harmful free radicals, the food also loses beneficial nutrients and phytochemicals when the oil is overheated. It is good to know that the more refined an oil is, the higher its smoking point. Oils that have high smoking points (and better for cooking at higher temperatures) are sunflower, canola, grapeseed, peanut, sesame, refined avocado. Unrefined oils such as walnut and flaxseed oils have low smoke points and should not be heated.
Specific Cooking Types
As there are several methods to cook, there are different types of oil to use for each one. For marinades, use flavour oils such as olive oil for meat, fish, or poultry. For dipping oils to serve with bread, use nut oils or extra virgin olive oil. High-heat cooking such as deep frying and baking require oils such as avocado, peanut, and vegetable oils such as canola, and sunflower.