Cooking Oils

Cooking oils are a staple in any household. Originally they were used as a healthier alternative to butter. Many of us are accustomed to the common vegetable/canola oil or the popular olive oil, but there are many other different varieties that are used for different cooking methods and have different health benefits. Oils are used in baking, stir-frying vegetables, roasting chicken, or can even be a great base for a homemade salad dressing. The uses are endless, however each oil has a specific “smoke point” and different nutritional values.

According to Wikipedia a Cooking oil, “is plant, animal, or synthetic fat used in frying, baking, and other types of cooking. It is also used in food preparation and flavoring that doesn’t involve heat, such as salad dressings and bread dips, and in this sense might be more accurately termed edible oil.Cooking oil is typically a liquid at room temperature, although some oils that contain saturated fat, such as coconut oil are a solid” (Wikipedia)

Whether you are baking, cooking, or adding flavor or any meal knowing the differences between oils and their different health and nutritional benefits are important to recognize. Whole foods has a great nutritional guide, as well as Eating Well on which oils they recommend for different purposes. Here are some classic  oil staples as well as some new ones to incorporate into your pantry.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is Pressed from the fruit of the coconut palm tree. It can retain a high-heat when cooking since 90% of the fatty acids in it are saturated. The oil remains a semi-sold at room temperature, but can lasts for months without spoiling.  It has also been linked to overall reductions in blood lipid content and helps promote a healthy digestive tract. It is rich in fatty acids with can help improve cholesterol and help kill bacteria.  It is great melted down to its true oil form for baking. It does have a slight coconut taste, so if sensitive to that flavor, be aware.

Recommended: High heat frying, popcorn, hash browns, cookies

Olive Oil

Olive oil is a Mediterranean staple. The most important factor when buying olive oil is to make sure it is “extra virgin” which has to do with how the olive is pressed. While I was in Italy, I participated in an olive oil tasting. The best olive oils are from one origin or country and have a grassy taste.  Olive oil is great for cooking because it is known for its heart healthy effects. It is key to the Mediterranean diet and is one of the most versatile and popular oils to cook with. Tip: it is most flavorful in its raw form.

Recommended: Dip for bread, drizzled on bruschetta

Canola Oil

One of the least popular in terms of dieting and healthy eating, but one of the cheapest items on the market is canola oil. It has fatty acid and omega-3s and low saturated fat contents. This oil is perfect for baking. The oil is not actually that bad for you, however, canola oil needs to go through very harsh processing methods which is where the bad rep comes from.

Recommended: Cakes, muffins, other baked goods

Avocado Oil

A pricy alternative that can best be compared to olive oil. It is pressed from avocados and can be used cold or heated. Its texture is smooth with a slightly nutty flavor. It is primarily monounsaturated (more than 50%) which is a heart healthy choice, with some saturated and polyunsaturated mixed in.

Recommended: Use it in salad dressings or sautéed fish

Grape Seed Oil

Extracted from the seeds of grapes and  a byproduct of the wine-making industry. This oil along with other nut oils (Sunflower, Almond, etc) are not suitable for cooking but rather to be consumed raw. This oil is also high in polyunsaturated fats, which can lower blood cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease.

Recommended: Salads, dipping sauces

Red Palm Oil

One of the newer oils on the market and coconut oil’s cousin, is red palm oil. This oil is extracted from the fruit of the oil palm tree. This oil contains a combination of saturated and unsaturated fats. That bright-orange hue indicates the presence of carotenes—more than ten varieties, including alpha-, beta-, and lycopene. Although there are other varieties, red palm is the best because it is rich in Vitamin E, coenzyme Q10.

Each of these oils have their own unique flavor and nutritional benefits. Incorporating different oils into your diet and eating habits can be beneficial to see which one best suits your needs. If you are interested in learning more, please visit the following sites. Resources: Greatist, Eating Well, Whole Foods, Authority Nutrition,

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