The 13 types of oil you really need to know about : Health Benefits, Best Uses and More

If you’re searching for the healthiest cooking oils, know this: Olive oil isn’t your only option. Yes, we all know and love olive oil, but here’s the thing: It may not be the best choice, depending on what you’re cooking.

What are Cooking Oils

Cooking oils are fats, fats are essential to overall health. Fat can also add incredible flavor, help the absorption of nutrients and are used to create a heat-conducting lubricant (think, sautéeing vegetables) so that food can be heated and cooked without sticking to your pan.

Which cooking oil is right for you?

That depends largely on the type of cooking you’re doing.

Every oil has a “smoke point”, which is the temperature at which an oil starts to smoke continuously–no need to worry if you see a little bit of smoke, but if it is continuous while cooking your oil has probably reached this point. If the oil has reached its smoke point, it has been heated to the point where the minerals in the oil have started to break down and oxidize, creating potentially harmful free radicals that you don’t want to be consuming. At this point, oils will also produce acrolein, the chemical that gives burnt food a bitter, unpleasant flavor and smell.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is – that oil behaves differently when heated, it changes texture, colour, taste as well as it’s nutritional properties.

Different oils have varying amounts of fats – Polyunsaturated, Monounsaturated and Saturated fats.

There are two main types of oils: refined (or processed) and unrefined (typically cold-pressed).

Refined oils are heated during production and often processed with chemicals, which increases their shelf lives and their smoke points but also eliminates many of the healthful vitamins and nutrients.

Unrefined oils are not processed and are typically bottled immediately after pressing. Technically, any oil can not be heated past 120°F to be considered truly cold-pressed. Unrefined oils have strong, robust flavors and are higher in nutrients and minerals, but they also have a lower average smoke point and a shorter shelf life than their refined counterparts.

In a nutshell, refined oils have a higher smoke point and are better for cooking, while unrefined or cold-pressed oils are more nutrient-dense but break down at a lower temperature.

Which cooking oil is best to use, and why?

Below I’ve shared a breakdown of some of the oils that I use, their health benefits, and what dishes and recipes they fit in with best!

No. 1: Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Let’s start with olive oil since it is one of the most popular and widely used oils. Extra virgin olive oil is unrefined, cold-pressed olive oil. It is high in Vitamin E and antioxidants, has anti-inflammatory properties, and improves the HDL: LDL ratio of cholesterol to keep a healthy heart. It also has amazing flavors, which is why it is so prevalent in the cooking community. Extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point of 325-375°F, so it is much better used for salad dressings, dips, and low-temperature recipes. If you choose to use this oil, keep an eye on the stovetop and keep the temperatures as low as possible.

Best for: Sautéing and drizzling

Not recommended for Frying or roasting above 375 degrees F

Here are some healthy dips recipes!

No. 2: “Pure” or “Light” Olive Oil

I think it’s pretty confusing to market a processed version of something pure. However, “pure”,” light”, or any other description of olive oil that isn’t “extra virgin” is refined and processed to neutralize the flavor, increase the shelf life, and bring up that smoke point to about 465°F. This process also strips the product of its antioxidants, vitamins, and other benefits from using the cold-pressed version. This type of olive oil won’t break down as quickly as extra virgin olive oil when heated, so it’s best for high-temperature cooking.

I find olive oil brilliant for any Mediterranean dish, brilliant with risottos, and it’s my top pick for breakfasts, works like a dream with eggs, pancakes, you name it.

Best for Frying

Not recommended for Salad dressings

No. 3: Coconut Oil

A popular topic these days is coconut oil. Coconut oil is the edible oil extracted or pressed from the mature coconut meat. By some measures, it’s about as healthy as butter, the reason is this oil will be solid at room temperature and melts around 76 degrees F, with a smoke point of 350°F. Coconut oil, unlike most other saturated fats, raises both your “good” and “bad” cholesterol, and since it’s the ratio of those that matter most to heart health, it gives the oil an edge over butter or lard.

Coconut oil is amazing for baking and has an incredibly sweet, tropical flavor. That creamy, fatty quality makes coconut oil a great vegan butter alternative. If you do want to use it for other methods like sautéing or roasting, know that it has a relatively low smoke point.

BONUS: use it in your beauty routine. I don’t mean to burst any bubbles, but coconut oil isn’t quite the miracle cream it’s advertised as. Well, actually, as a cream, it is kind of a miracle worker there are so many ways to use it for beauty.

Best for Baking

Not recommended for: Frying

Check out the food for glowing skin.

No. 4: Avocado Oil

Avocado oil is a great choice. This cold-pressed oil is incredibly versatile, unrefined like extra virgin olive oil, with a smoke point of 375-400°F and a neutral flavor that carries other, stronger flavors very well and is great for stir-frys.

It doesn’t have much flavor, which makes it a good option for cooking. It’s just creamy, like an avocado. Avocado oil contains both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (it has one of the highest monounsaturated fat contents among cooking oils) as well as vitamin E. One downside is that it tends to be more expensive, but it is a great healthy option from time to time!

It glides on very well in a dressing, in mayonnaise, vinaigrette and I find it adds tremendous panache to a simple grilled fish.

Best for Frying

Not recommended for Budget cooking

No. 5: Flax Oil

Flaxseed oil has a very low smoke point and breaks down easily with heat, which means it also shouldn’t be used for cooking. However, this oil is an amazing vegan source of omega-3s with a great nutty flavor, so for this reason, she says you’ll want to use it in salad dressings and drizzle it over dips like hummus or in smoothies for an omega-3 boost!

Buy small bottles so you can use it up quickly, and be extra sure to store it a low-temperature location, like in the refrigerator or dark place.

Best for Drizzling and salad dressings

Not recommended for: Cooking

Related: Nutrition Facts about chia seeds.

No. 6: Sunflower Oil

Sunflower oil (pressed from sunflower seeds) is high in Vitamin E and is a mixture of monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fatty acids. It has a high smoke point (440°F), as well as a pleasant, light flavor making it a great oil candidate for lots of recipes!

However, sunflower oil contains a lot of omega-6 fatty acids. The body needs them, but omega-6s are thought to be pro-inflammatory, while omega-3s are anti-inflammatory. Consuming too many omega-6s without balancing with omega 3s, could lead to excess inflammation in the body, so moderation is key.

People with diabetes may need to be careful about sunflower oil as it may lead to the possibility of increasing sugar levels. This oil is widely used in deep-frying chips, samosas and vegetables.

Best for Frying and sautéing

Not recommended for Salad dressings

Related : Why You Should Focus on Improving Omegas Ratio

No. 7: Sesame Oil

This oil is often used for its potent flavour; a little goes a long way. Sesame oil also contains magnesium, copper, calcium, iron and vitamin B6. Sesame oil comes in two colors. The lighter one is used in India and the Middle East and is pressed from untoasted seeds. It has a mild flavour and a high smoking point. The darker variety has a distinct nutty aroma, an incredibly strong flavour, taste and works very well in Asian food as a marinade or in stir-fries.

Cold-pressed sesame oil has a high smoke point, so it’s great for frying up some flavorful veggies on the stovetop! Both types of oils are high in polyunsaturated fat but they should never be heated for too long.

Best for Sautéing

Not recommended for: Foods that shouldn’t taste like sesame

No. 8: Groundnut Oil

Nut oils, like peanut, can be fun to experiment within the kitchen, especially since there are so many different types. Groundnut oil or peanut oil is got a good combination of fats, and has good monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and is low in bad saturated fats. It’s good all-purpose oil, usually flavorful with a nutty taste and smell, cooks well at high heat and I think it works particularly well for Asian foods like tempura that are prepared in the wok.

Best for Frying and sautéing

Not recommended for: Foods that shouldn’t taste like peanut

No. 9: Mustard Oil

It has a high smoking point. Has a near-ideal fat composition but not very good as it contains high amounts of erucic acid ranging from 35 to 48%. It is recommended that you don’t use mustard oil as the sole cooking medium.

Best for deep-frying

Not recommended for healthy cooking

No. 10: Canola Oil

A recent entrant into the Indian market, canola is flying off the shelves. Canola oil, which is made from the crushed seeds of the canola plant, is said to be amongst the healthiest of cooking oils. Canola oil is derived from rapeseed, a flowering plant, and contains a good amount of monounsaturated fats with a decent amount of polyunsaturated fats and is high in Omega 3. “Cold-pressed” or unprocessed canola oil is available, but it can be difficult to find.

It has a high smoke point, which means it can be helpful for high-heat cooking and is an oil that works well for fries, baking, sautéing etc. I use it liberally in Indian food, which seems to embrace quite well.

Best for Frying, roasting, and baking

Not recommended for: drizzling and salad dressings

No. 11: Rice Bran Oil

A fairly new kid on the block and a fast-rising favourite amongst the manufacturers, rice bran oil is made from the outer layer (bran) of the grain of rice. Health experts claim that it’s the healthiest oil on the planet. While I cannot vouch for that, I do know that while trying it out on my food show series, called Guilt-Free, the taste did not clash with Indian food and it worked pretty well in cookies and cakes.

Apparently, rice bran oil has a chemical called oryzanol which is good for your cholesterol. It is high in monounsaturated fats and has a fair amount of polyunsaturated fats too, both the good type of fats and has a high smoking point.

Best for deep-frying

Not recommended for Salad dressings

No. 12: Grapeseed Oil

Grapeseed oil is pressed from grape seeds left over from winemaking. It is believed to have very little saturated fat, is filled with good fat, has a very mild taste. It is considered good for cooking and frying, but am afraid I have had little experience with it.

No. 13: Vegetable Oil

The term “vegetable oil” is used to refer to any oil that comes from plant sources, and the healthfulness of a vegetable oil depends on its source and what it’s used for. Most vegetable oils on the market are a blend of canola, corn, soybean, safflower, palm and sunflower oils. It’s chemically processed, has a high smoke point (400 to 450 degrees F), and its neutral flavor.

Again, these characteristics make it good for roasting, frying, and baking. it’s not the healthiest oil ever since the chemical processing depletes the natural mineral content—and that’s why it has that high smoke point.

Vegetable oils are refined and processed, which means they not only lack flavor but also nutrients. Vegetable oil is guaranteed to be highly processed. It’s called ‘vegetable’ so that the manufacturers can substitute whatever commodity oil they want—soy, corn, cottonseed, canola—without having to print a new label. Processed oils have been pushed past their heat tolerance and have become rancid in the processing. Some of these oils, especially palm, are associated with more degradation of land for production.

Best for Frying, roasting, and baking

Not recommended for: Sautéing and salad dressings

As far as the mixing of oils goes, I seem to be following the cooking orders. What works is olive for breakfast, kinds of pasta and salads, sunflower for deep frying, sesame for Asian, and I alternate between Rice bran and Canola for Indian.

Take your pick!

Which oils do you use for cooking? What questions do you have about these ingredients? Share them and ask in the comments below!

Published by Priyanshi Bhatnagar, Founder of Detoxpri

Hi, I'm Priyanshi! As a Holistic Nutritionist and as a leading voice in mindful nutrition, my purpose is to teach you how to take care of yourself using simple sustainable mindful eating and living practices so you feel empowered, balanced, and at ease. In my teachings, you'll learn both the science of nutrition and the art of healthy eating so you design a way of to eat for healthy mind, body & soul that's unique to you. At detoxpri, the meaning of good health is a combination of nutrition and fitness, which are essential to your well-being.

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