Cooking Oils: A Comparison of the Most Popular Options
Deciding on which oils to use in your cooking, with so many options out there, can be a complicated process. While most oils have similar textures and fat content, they can differ greatly when it comes to odor, smoke point, health benefits, and flavor, and thus not all cooking oils are one size fits all. While some are great for baking and vinaigrettes, some aren’t so great for frying.
So, to help you pick your best oils depending on your health needs and what you’re making, I’ve compiled some of the most popular options and stacked them up.
But first, let’s dive into what makes an oil respectively healthy:
What makes an oil healthier than others?
Contrary to what health campaigns in the 80s and 90s had us believe, oils are full of essential fatty acids and vitamin E, and thus are a great part of a well-rounded diet. Not only that, but some oils are also full of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (the “good’ fats), which have been linked to a reduced risk of stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
That said, all consumable oils contain varying degrees of the “unhealthy” fat — saturated fat. These kinds of fats work against good properties and tend to raise cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease when consumed regularly.
All the oils we’ll discuss below vary in their fat content, and it’s key to note that the more mono- and polyunsaturated fats an oil has, the more healthy it is believed to be, and the more saturated fats, the less healthy.
Of course, this is just a guideline, and we’ll get into the nitty-gritty below!
Ah, olive oil — the shining jewel on the grocery store shelf, or so it has been thought in recent years. We’ve written before on the pros and cons of olive oil, but the cliff notes are that olive oil is derived from olives and there are three main types: pure, virgin, and extra virgin.
Olive Oil Pros: Olive oil has many health benefits due to its monounsaturated fat content and antioxidants. Studies have shown that extra virgin olive oil (the “healthiest” version of the oil) helps lower cholesterol and is great for heart health.
Also, with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) being relatively unprocessed, the taste can be truly an adventure. For this reason, it’s great to use in salad dressings and drizzles.
Olive Oil Cons: If you’ve ever put EVOO in your frying pan, then you know its smoke point is quite low — 370 degrees Fahrenheit (187 Celsius) to be exact. So, if you’re set on frying your food in olive oil, then I recommend using “pure” or “light” olive oil instead — the smoke point for which is 465 degrees Fahrenheit (240 Celsius). Of course, when you switch from EVOO to other, more refined, olive oils, you lose some of the health benefits and flavor.
The other downside? Comparing it to other oils on this list, it can be quite expensive, especially for extra virgin.
Well known for its benefits on hair and skin, grapeseed oil is the oil produced from, you guessed it, grape seeds — which are mostly derived from wine production.
Grapeseed Oil Pros: This oil is lauded by cooks for its neutral taste and high smoke point, 420 degrees Fahrenheit (215 Celsius). Generally speaking, Grapeseed oil is less expensive than EVOO, and it is an excellent source of vitamin C and essential fatty acids. For these reasons, this oil is great for roasting, sauteing, frying, and searing. It’s also great for vinaigrette dressings.
Grapeseed Oil Cons: Although it has many health benefits, it also contains omega-6s, a protein that has been linked to weight gain and inflammation.
Also, when purchasing grapeseed oil, make sure you see a food-grade label on it. As this oil is also used in skin and hair care products, getting the right kind is crucial.
For more information, check out this article on foods that help reduce inflammation!
The oil derived from avocados, avocado oil is a relative newcomer to the cooking oil scene but has been making waves ever since its arrival.
Avocado Oil Pros: Avocado oil is especially high in monounsaturated fats, Vitamin E, and has a smoke point of 480 degrees Fahrenheit (248 Celsius) — the highest on this list. Because of these properties, it’s great for frying, sauteing, and using uncooked.
Avocado Oil Cons: Let’s be real, if you’ve ever seen Avocado oil on the grocery store shelf then you know it’s incredibly expensive. Not unlike whole avocados, depending on where you live, avocado oil could cost you a pretty penny.
Also, virgin avocado oil does have a bit of an avocado flavor and doesn’t necessarily pair well with everything. On this note, use your discretion.
Solid at room temperature and a liquid when heated, Coconut oil has made waves in recent years for its health benefits and sheer useability. Besides cooking, coconut oil is also often used to moisturize, condition, and even clean.
Coconut Oil Pros: According to Healthline, coconut oil contains healthy fatty acids and may have antimicrobial effects. These effects include staving off bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
Coconut Oil Cons: Despite its being known as a “healthy” oil option, coconut oil is low in healthy unsaturated fats, and has a low smoke point of 350 degrees Fahrenheit (176 Celsius) which makes it unsuitable for high heat frying. In fact, according to the Harvard Health Journal coconut oil is about 90% saturated fat, which is higher than butter and even lard.
Also, because coconut oil is solid at room temperature, it’s not a great choice for drizzles or vinaigrettes and is best used for moderate-heat roasting.
For more information, check out our article on the truths about coconut oil.
One of the most popular oils on this list, vegetable oil is typically a blend of many refined oils (usually palm, corn, canola, soybean, sunflower, etc.) and is generally neutral in flavor and scent.
Vegetable Oil Pros: Because it doesn’t add much in the flavor department, this oil is great for sauteing and frying. Plus, it has a smoke point of 400 degrees (204 Celsius) Fahrenheit, which makes high-heat cooking a breeze.
In the health department, vegetable oil is generally fairly high in polyunsaturated fats. However, because vegetable oil is a mix of other oils, definitely look at labels and know where your oil is coming from.
Vegetable Oil Cons: While vegetable oil is high in polyunsaturated fats, it also tends to be high in Omega-6s, which as I said above, can cause inflammation and weight gain. But again, it’s worth checking the labels before you purchase vegetable oil – depending on what you buy, the health benefits can differ.
Usually one of the oils used to make vegetable oil, sunflower oil is derived from the seeds of sunflowers. There are four types of sunflower oil, and while I won’t get into the specifics here (there’s a lot of science involved, and it would be an article all on its own), the consumable type we’re going to touch on here is the high oleic varieties (80% oleic acid or higher).
Sunflower Oil Pros: Studies have shown that a diet with high oleic sunflower oil has tendencies to marginally reduce the risk of heart disease and lowers cholesterol, due to the high monounsaturated fat content.
As far as cooking with it goes, sunflower oil has a smoke point of 437 degrees Fahrenheit (225 Celsius), which makes it great for high-heat sauteing and frying. This oil is also known for having a relatively neutral taste, which makes it pair well with most foods.
Sunflower Oil Cons: While it does have high polyunsaturated fats, it’s also high in Omega 6s, which, you guessed it, can lead to inflammation and weight gain.
I hope you enjoyed and learned from our list of cooking oil comparisons! Of course, there are dozens of other types of cooking oils out on the market, many of which are worth doing research to find out the health benefits. Let us know your thoughts and which cooking oil is your favorite in the comments!