In a perfect world, the only consideration you would have to make when selecting what type of oil or fat to use to fry up your dinner would be what tastes best. Alas, we don’t live in that world.
Various types of cooking oils and butters each possess wildly differing nutritional content, so pay close attention to what exactly you’re putting into your body. What’s more, the smoke point – the temperature at which a fat burns – varies by almost 200 degrees across the most common types of cooking oils. Read up, so you (and your dinner) don’t get burned.
Unrefined flaxseed, safflower & sunflower oils
Smoke point: 225ºF
Polyunsaturated fats like these three in their unrefined forms have the lowest smoke points among today’s popular oils, limiting their usefulness when cooking. On the other hand, they are more nutritionally dense than the more commonplace refined canola and vegetable oils that many home cooks default to.
Flaxseed possesses some redeeming inflammation-fighting powers, but these three aren’t usually sought after on their own. In fact, many products like tortilla and potato chips tout labels that say they are “fried in canola, safflower or sunflower oil,” allowing chipmakers to use whichever product is most affordable and in season.
Use it when cooking: The low smoke points of these three mean you’re better off using them in a vinaigrette than you are frying anything up in them.
Extra virgin olive oil
Smoke point: 320ºF – 405ºF
People who live in the Mediterranean and whose diet includes extra virgin olive oil have the lowest mortality rates in the world from cardiovascular disease. Does it sound like a good idea to add some extra virgin olive oil to your meal? #oliveoil #olives #healthy #healthylife #healthydiet #foodie #catalanoil
Olive oil, because of its spectrum of formulations and levels of filtration, has a pretty wide range when it comes to smoke point. A bottle of quality EVOO usually clocks in somewhere on the lower end of the spread, whereas bottles specifically sold as “low acidity” can resist burning up until 400ºF or so. Plus, extra virgin olive oil is rich in phytonutrients, antioxidants and even has anti-inflammatory properties. This makes olive oil the default cooking oil for plenty of cooks the world over.
Use it when cooking: Olive oil’s relatively high smoke point makes it a perfect choice for sautéeing or baking dishes in the oven, just as long as your oven isn’t set to a temperature higher than the smoke point. But remember, the very nutrients that make olive oil so attractive begin breaking down nearly immediately when exposed to heat.
Smoke point: 350ºF
Butter, that old kitchen standard, melts at 98.6ºF, which coincidentally happens to be the temperature of your mouth. This foodie phenomenon makes for an entirely pleasant mouthfeel experience that other oils and fats just can’t compete with: foods cooked in butter appear to melt in your mouth But expose butter to temperatures over 350ºF and butter can impart a charred, bitter taste upon your dish.
Use it when cooking: You can simmer, sauté, bake and even poach dishes in butter to great success. But keep it away from foods that you’ll be baking at high temperatures, or scarier yet, broiling.
Smoke point: 350ºF
Like butter, coconut oil shares a smoke point of moderately high 350ºF. But unlike butter, coconut oil melts at just 76ºF, robbing you of that wonderful melt-in-your-mouth sensation. Still, coconut oil is rich in medium-chain triglycerides, which are sought after by health trends as varied as the keto diet and even butter coffee.
Use it when cooking: Anything you would otherwise use butter or olive oil to cook, really. But coconut oil’s unique ability to slip back and forth between its liquid and solid forms will have to be considered if you’re not planning on eating your dish fresh out of the oven.
Smoke point: 400ºF
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Likely the oil you grew up unknowingly ingesting, canola oil’s high smoke point and inexpensiveness has long made it (along with vegetable oil) the go-to oil for frying foods. Both your grandmother’s cast iron skillet and your favorite restaurant’s deep fryer have utilized this versatile oil to great effect.
There’s one catch though: canola oil is quite calorie-dense, with a mere tablespoon clocking in at 120 calories. If you’re deep frying with this oil, be mindful about your caloric intake.
Use it when cooking: The high smoke point of canola makes it ideal for pan frying and deep frying foods, cooking methods most other oils on this list would never work for.
Smoke point: 485ºF
Have you replaced your butter with ghee yet? If you don’t know what ghee is, it’s basically a form or clarified butter. It’s a healthy alternative, as it has less dairy proteins and is rich in good fatty acids. I use it for cooking all the time (or melt it to dip my artichoke in!) What you need to know: 1. Ghee has a smokier taste. 2. You don’t need to use a lot, because I find the flavor’s much stronger. 3. Do not store it in the fridge! I know it’s weird but you get used to the idea. 4. You can pretty much buy it everywhere! 📷 @fooddreamer
Ghee is a form of clarified butter that has been cooked down until all water and milk solids have been removed. As such, it has a complex and concentrated flavor, and a serving is more nutritionally dense than an equal serving of plain butter. Ghee has restorative properties that reportedly can help alleviate symptoms of digestive issues like Crohn’s disease and Leaky Gut Syndrome.
Use it when cooking: There isn’t much you can’t do with ghee, thanks to its smoke point being nearly double that of some other oils on this list. Not only will ghee hold up to the highest cooking temperatures, it will also impart a rich, buttery flavor upon foods. And while it would likely be too expensive to fry something entirely in ghee, it’s perfectly suited for sautéeing.
Smoke point: 520ºF
Smoke points just don’t come much higher than that of the avocado’s oil. If something is burning while you’re cooking with this, it certainly isn’t the oil. Plus, avocado oil is rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, and is rich in vitamin E.
Use it when cooking: Like other fats with high smoke points, avocado oil is great for frying. Snacks like crackers and chips at the grocery store are increasingly advertising their usage of this oil, but you can just as easily pick up a bottle of your own and begin experimenting.