How to Choose the Right Cooking Oil for Your Needs 1

How to Choose the Right Cooking Oil for Your Needs

With most grocery stores carrying dozens of different cooking oils, choosing the right one for your needs can be a chore. In fact, you might not even recognize the names on half the bottles on the shelf! Furthermore, not every cooking oil does equally well in every situation, so it is usually a good idea to keep several different cooking oils on hand in your kitchen. Here are seven tips to help you choose the right cooking oil at the store or at home:

Understand the different types of fats.

Each cooking oil has a unique ratio of three main fats: saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Saturated fats are the most unhealthy and their consumption should be limited as much as possible. Both polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats are better for you. You might see polyunsaturated fats listed as omega-3s or omega-6s on the label. However, fats are still fats, and when looking at your entire diet, all fats — including cooking oils — should average out to about 25-35 percent of your daily caloric intake.

Cooking Oil

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Sauté foods instead of frying them.

If you are worried about your oil intake, then consider sautéing your foods as opposed to frying them. Sautéing uses much less oil, which is good for both your wallet and your health. The oils that are suitable for deep frying are also not that healthy, so sautéing will allow you to use an oil with more nutritional benefits and a lower smoke point, which gives you more options to choose from (only a select few oils are best for deep frying). We especially love olive oil for sautéing due to its delicious taste and great health benefits, but there are other oils that you can use for sautéing as well. Just be sure to check the smoke point first.

Read olive oil labels.

Two oils that come from the exact same plant can taste completely different depending on how they are harvested and processed. These extra steps can drastically affect the taste, smell, color, smoke point and nutritional benefits. For example, a heavily refined olive oil will be completely different from an extra virgin olive oil that has not been refined at all. Some terms to familiarize yourself with include refined vs. unrefined oils, cold pressed vs. expeller pressed, virgin olive oil vs. extra virgin olive oil, pure oils, light oils and hydrogenated oils. When shopping for cooking oils, make sure to read the fine print so you fully understand what product you are getting.

Cooking Oil

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Know the smoke point.

Different oils have different smoke points. Some of them, such as corn oil, can tolerate very high heats, while others, such as walnut oil, cannot really tolerate any heat at all. Certain post-harvesting processes — in particular, refining the oils with high heats or chemicals — can also increase each oil’s natural smoke point (but decrease flavor and nutritional benefits), which is another reason why it is important to read the label. When cooking at home, choose an oil with a suitable smoke point for whatever cooking method you plan to use, and be especially careful if you are deep frying.

Learn how your stove cooks.

Every stove and oven cooks differently, and knowing your equipment is vital to choosing the right oil for the job. Some burners take forever to heat, while others heat up in a flash and will burn your food before you know it (and possibly make the oil smoke and set off your fire alarms). Both burners and ovens can also have hot spots, meaning that they heat the food unevenly. You need to be more mindful of rotating the pan or pot while you cook. Similarly, your cookware will also factor into what oil you choose: whether it has hot spots or not, whether food sticks to the bottom or not, etc. By choosing a cooking oil that complements both your stove and your cookware, you will increase your odds of making a perfectly cooked meal that is neither underdone nor overdone.

Cooking Oil

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Cook low and slow.

If your stove or cookware is finicky, and you are worried about overheating your flavored olive oil, cooking low and slow is never a bad idea when using oil in the kitchen. This will give you more control over how your foods are cooking and help you to avoid accidentally overcooking them. It will also help to prevent the oil from reaching its smoke point. When oil starts smoking, it begins to degrade and form free radicals, resulting in a burnt taste and reducing the nutritional benefits as well. Usually, it is smart to throw out the food and oil and start over if it begins to smoke, so trying to prevent smoking is always a good idea.

Check the expiration date.

Not every oil can offer the same level of freshness. Furthermore, oils that you buy from the grocery store may have been sitting in a warehouse, on a truck or even on the shelf for much longer than you think. This is especially true for oils that are manufactured abroad by huge conglomerates, since shipping overseas via container takes a very long time. Before buying or using an oil, check the expiration or best buy date that is stamped on the bottle. If it does not have a date on it, then we recommend choosing another brand that does. Keep in mind that incorrectly storing oils can shorten their estimated lifespan. A bottle of oil left by a window next to a hot stove will degrade much more quickly than a bottle stored in a cool, dry pantry away from heat and light.

We hope you found this guide helpful when it comes to choosing the right cooking oil for your needs. Do you have any favorite guidelines for choosing a cooking oil? Let us know in the comments!


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