From olive to coconut to flax, it's no secret that oils are having a major culinary moment. Good thing, too, since most of them are rich in unsaturated fats that'll help keep your heart in tip-top shape, says Stephanie Hoban, RD, a Houston-based natural foods chef. But what's the smartest way to fit all of these different lipids into your kitchen repertoire? And which oils hold up to each kind of cooking? Read on to learn the best (and worst) oils for eight everyday cooking methods.
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You can't go wrong with safflower or canola oil. But if you're looking to add an Asian-inspired flavor, try toasted sesame oil. All stand up to stir-frying's hot temperatures because of their high smoke point, the temperature at which an oil starts to burn and emit (you guessed it!) smoke. "When oil smokes, it's actually oxidizing and turning rancid, and oxidized oils are carcinogens," Hoban says. If you opt for canola, make sure it's organic and certified non-GMO: In the US, nearly 90% of canola is genetically engineered.
What not to use: Olive oil. With a smoke point that tops out at around 325 degrees, it can't stand up to the high temps required for stir-frying.
Rich in heart-healthy fats, olive oil of any kind works well for this medium-heat, stove top cooking method (pair it with one of these other 25 heart-healthy superfoods). Refined or light olive oil is paler in color and more neutral in flavor than its extra virgin cousin, making it a good choice for all-purpose sautéing. Go for the greener, grassier (and often more expensive) extra virgin stuff in dishes where you want a more pronounced olive oil flavor, like marinara sauce.
What not to use: Steer clear of oils that break down in the presence of heat, like flaxseed or wheat germ.
Dips, sauces, and dressings
When making uncooked items like hummus, pesto, or vinaigrette, reach for rich, flavorful extra virgin olive oil. Looking for something a little different? Try avocado oil. Though you can cook with it at high temperatures, its buttery essence really shines when used raw.
What not to use: Canola or safflower oil. Though perfectly safe, the neutral flavor will leave your food tasting lackluster. (Want to know what isn't safe? Check out these 7 Foods That Should Never Cross Your Lips.)
Refined coconut, organic canola, or safflower all fare well in medium temperatures typically used for baking, says Hoban. Among those, the one you pick depends on the taste you're looking for: Coconut oil's distinct, nutty flavor will stand out in baked goods, while canola or safflower will fade into the background.
What not to use: Flaxseed or wheat germ oils. Though you might think they'll give muffins and quick breads an extra boost of omega-3s, "these oils are fragile and break down in the presence of heat," Hoban says.
Your oil here depends on the temperature at which you'll be cooking. If you're roasting higher than 325 degrees, pick a heat-stable oil, like organic canola. Cooking low and slow? Regular olive oil is a good choice, Hoban says. (Try it out on these turkey drumsticks and eat for a week!)
What not to use: Just like you'd skip flaxseed or wheat germ oil for baking, avoid them for roasting, too.
Consider organic canola or safflower oil your kings of the grill. Able to withstand temperatures reaching close to 500 degrees, these sturdy fats are the least likely to oxidize in the presence of flames or hot coals.
What not to use: Olive oil. Even though tons of recipes call for brushing proteins and veggies with the stuff before slapping them on the grill, the heart-healthy fat can't take the heat.
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A high oil temperature is key to turning out fried fare that's crisp--not soggy--which means the food has absorbed too much fat. With smoke points of up to 450 degrees, peanut, safflower, and soybean oils get the job done. If you choose soybean oil, though, be sure to pick an organic variety to avoid GMOs.
What not to use: Olive oil. Tempted though you might be to make your fried foods feel slightly more virtuous, its smoke point is too low for this type of cooking.
Flavoring or finishing
For extra nutrition and depth of flavor, try nutty flaxseed or wheat germ oil in smoothies or drizzled over cooked dishes (like whole grains or roasted vegetables) right before serving. Toasted sesame oil, too, can make a finished dish even more delicious. (Check out 5 MORE Ways To Make Vegetables Taste Amazing!)
What not to use: Canola, safflower, or regular olive oil. They won't do anything except make your food taste oily!