An Oily Situation in the Kitchen


Even in the smallest grocery stores, there are always multiple kinds of cooking oils with little to no difference indicated between them. Every type of oil will create a different flavor, serve a specific purpose, be better at one cooking method over another, and may even catch fire quicker than others.

A story my parents love to torture me with at public events is when I almost burned their house down making roasted potatoes. I had covered my wedges of red potatoes thickly with extra virgin olive oil and rosemary and put them in a 450 degree oven. The oil began to sizzle and pop then spray onto the burners in the oven. I opened the oven door only to be almost singed with huge flames coming out of the oven. Thankfully, my firefighter brother was home at the time, and saved us all from a grisly fate. This started the running joke, “Jenni uses the smoke alarm for her kitchen timer.”

The lesson is that while cooking can be a rewarding and bonding experience, not knowing what you’re doing can have horrible consequences.

Light (AKA “Pure” or “Regular”) Olive Oil
Olive oil is made by crushing the olives into a paste, then extracting the excess water from the mixture. It’s lighter in taste and color than straight extra virgin olive oil, but has more calories. It has a smoke point of 465-470˚ Fahrenheit, which makes it ideal for high-heat cooking. It can be used in vinaigrettes to add more flavor then finish with a splash of extra virgin olive oil. Use pure olive oil to make your own infused flavors.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is robust in flavor and can have buttery, spicy, fruity, or grassy notes depending on the olives point of origin. Extra virgin olive oil’s lower smoke point (about 325˚) means it’s not great for cooking. Depending on its place of origin, it can range in flavors from fruity to grassy to bitter and even buttery. Save it for vinaigrettes and finishing oil or even combine with plain yogurt as a dipping sauce.

Peanut Oil
Peanut oil is pale in color with a nutty scent and powerful flavor. It can become rancid quickly, so be store it in a cool, dry place, and use it within a few months. It’s best to buy in small batches, unless you’re doing a lot of deep-frying. It’s recommended for high-heat cooking (smoke point: 450˚), and in tandem with complementary flavors. It’s tasty in Asian cuisine, and often used in dishes like stir-fries and Thai Larb.

Palm Oil
Palm oil is a saturated fat made from the oil palm tree. It isn’t to be confused with palm kernel oil, which comes from the seeds of the same plant. It’s semi-solid at room temperature, and has made recent appearances as a substitute for trans fats in commercial baking. It is a very efficient frying oil with a smoke point of just under 450˚. It would be perfect to be used in recipes, such as spaghetti squash fritters fried in palm oil.

Corn Oil
Refined corn oil is often used in frying because of its smoke point of 450˚. It has a neutral flavor and is used frequently in commercial kitchens because it is cheaper. It is most often used in French fries.

Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, which means it’s not ideal for vinaigrettes or as a finishing oil. It is, however, good for moderate-heat roasting. It melts and gives off a tropical scent when heated. Be careful to not exceed its smoke point of 350˚. Its similar-to-butter consistency when cold makes it good for non-dairy baked goods. These 13 recipes offer some great ways to cook with coconut oil, from a carrot soup to waffles.

Vegetable Oil
This is typically a blend of many different refined oils, is neutral tasting and smelling, and has a smoke point of about 400˚ which can vary depending on the oils used in the blend. Because it doesn’t add much flavor, it is good for high-heat sautéing and frying. It is perfect for

Canola Oil
Pressed from the rapeseed plant, canola oil is similar to vegetable oil in flavor, color, smoke point, and usage qualities. Both canola and vegetable oil can be used in salad dressings. Finish with extra virgin olive oil for more flavor. It will become rancid in about one year. Store them in a cool, dark place, away from the stovetop and oven.

Grapeseed Oil
Grapeseed oil is light green in color, and is prized by restaurant chefs for its high smoke point (420˚), but also for its clean and universal taste. It’s often used in vinaigrettes because it is less expensive than extra virgin olive oil, and allows other ingredients like specialty oils or herbs to shine through.

Avocado Oil
High in monounsaturated fat , avocado oil has a smoke point of about 520˚, which makes it an efficient pantry item: Use it for sautéing, roasting, searing, and vinaigrettes alike. There’s no need to refrigerate it when opened, although it should be stored in a cool, dark cupboard.

Sunflower Seed Oil
With a smoke point of 440-450˚, sunflower oil is the pantry hero for all things sear and sauté related. Because it is pressed from seeds, it does turn rancid quicker than other oils. Store it in a cool place and use within a year.

Sesame Oil
Sesame oil has a high smoke point (410˚) and relatively neutral flavor. It’s a great general-purpose oil for use in sautés, roasts, and more, but if it’s a big finish you’re looking for, use its nuttier sibling, toasted sesame oil. Store it with the veggie and canola oil in a cool cupboard.

Hemp Seed Oil
Hemp seed oil has a very nutty, rich flavor and dark green color. It’s too sensitive to be heated, so skip the sauté and use it as a finishing oil for soups or grain bowls. If using it in a vinaigrette, cut with a less-intense oil. Store it in the fridge.

Flaxseed Oil
Flaxseed oil is also nutty tasting, but too much can impart a fishy, funky flavor. Use sparingly in dressings or as a finisher. It’s also great as a seasoning agent for cast-iron pans. Keep it in the fridge.

Toasted Nut and Seed Oils (Walnut, Pistachio, Sesame, etc.)
These oils are delicate in smoke point and should not be heated, but they’re big on flavor. They’re a rich and luxurious addition to soups and salads.  A great use for them is in a Blood Orange and Beet recipe with pumpkin seed oil. Make the dressing with a pure olive oil or other neutral-tasting oil, and top it off with the nut oil.

Aren’t Fats Bad for You?

The body can synthesize most of the fats it needs from a balanced diet. However, two essential fatty acids, linolenic and linoleic acid, cannot be synthesized in the body and must be obtained from food. These basic fats, found in plant-based foods, are used to build specialized fats called omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important in the normal functioning of all tissues of the body.

Deficiencies in these fatty acids lead to a host of symptoms and disorders including abnormalities in the liver and the kidneys, reduced growth rates, decreased immune function, depression, and dryness of the skin. Adequate intake of the essential fatty acids results in numerous health benefits. Documented benefits include prevention of atherosclerosis, reduced incidence of heart disease and stroke, and relief from the symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis, menstrual pain, and joint pain. Omega-3 fatty acid levels have also been associated with decreased breast cancer risk.

It is not only important to incorporate good sources of omega-3 and omega-6s in your diet, but also consume these fatty acids in the proper ratio. Omega-6 fatty acids compete with omega-3 fatty acids for use in the body, and therefore excessive intake of omega-6 fatty acids can inhibit omega-3s. Ideally, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids should be between 1:1 and 4:1. Instead, most Americans consume these fatty acids at a ratio of omega-6:omega-3 between 10:1 and 25:1, and are consequently unable to reap the benefits of omega-3s. This imbalance is due to a reliance on processed foods and oils, which are now common in the Western diet. To combat this issue it is necessary to eat a low-fat diet with minimal processed foods and with naturally occurring omega-3 fatty acids. A lower omega-6:omega-3 ratio is desirable for reducing the risk of many chronic diseases.

Other Benefits of Fatty Acids

Though the fat-free craze peaked in the ’90s, many dieters still avoid oils, butter, nuts, and other fatty foods. Their logic is that if you don’t want your body to store fat, then don’t eat fat. Many dieters also know that one gram of fat packs nine calories, while protein and carbohydrate both contain just four calories per gram. Dieters can stretch the same number of calories a lot farther if they eat mostly carbs and protein in place of fat.

Studies have shown that eating moderate amounts of fat can actually help you lose weight. The key is to make sure you’re eating the right kinds. Saturated and trans fats are unhealthy because they raise your levels of LDL (so-called “bad cholesterol”). Trans fats may also lower your HDL (or “good cholesterol”) levels and increase your risk for heart disease not to mention weight gain. But unsaturated fats, which include mono- and polyunsaturated, have important benefits.

  1. Keep You Satisfied:Unsaturated fats promote satiety, reduce hunger, and minimally impact blood sugar. This is important because if your blood sugar dips too low, you may experience cravings, brain fog, overeating, and low energy, making it difficult to lose weight..
  2. Protect Heart Health:Unlike trans-fats, monounsaturated fats found in vegetable oils, such as olive and canola, and avocados have the added power to help lower LDL and reduce your risk of heart disease.
  3. Reduce Injury:Unsaturated fats can help stave off injuries, such as stress fractures. A 2008 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that female runners on low-fat diets are at increased risk of injury.
  4. Decrease Joint Pain:Omega-3 fatty acids, which are a type of polyunsaturated fat found in walnuts, and ground flaxseed, possess anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe knee, back, and joint aches and pains.



Bilow, Rochelle. “Everything You Need to Know About Choosing, Storing, and Cooking With Oil.” Bon Appetit. 23 July 2015. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.

Goldman, Leslie. “Eat the Right Fats.” Runner’s World. 13 Mar. 2009. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.

“Essential Fatty Acids.” The Physicians Committee. 2010. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.







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