Whether you are a regular in the kitchen or not you have more than likely utilized oil for cooking at some point. For most of us olive oil is the go to but did you know it might not be the right move depending on what you are making? Vegan cooking usually involves a lot of flavoring of veggies, plant based meats, pasta, lentils etc. More often than not oils are the preferred way to do so it's important to know what works for what and when. As different oils possess a variety of elements that make them more ideal candidates than others based on the dish they are being used for. Keeping this in mind, also be cognizant of an oil's smoke point. A smoke point, according to the Michelin Guide (sometimes called flash point) "is the temperature at which an oil begins to smoke and oxidize (break down into free fatty acids)." The smoke point is going to affect the safety of your food along with taste, smell and texture. Read on to learn about the 10 most popular oils to cook with and what they fare best in.
WHAT OIL, FOR WHAT?
COCONUT: Is solid at room temperature, will have to heat it slightly to get it into liquid form. A fav of ours as a vegan butter substitute in baking as well. It has vitamin E and very high in MCTSs (which provides you with a source of energy and ketones- fuel for a powerful and healthy brain) Even though it is high in saturated fats this isn't bad. As these fats have different effects in the body compared with most other dietary fats that are found in animal proteins.
VEGETABLE: Is a chemically processed oil perfect for high heat dishes. Due to its processing much of its mineral content is lost. However it results in a almost tasteless oil which is ideal for achieving a high smoke point giving your food the right texture and consistency.
YES: Baking, roasting, frying
NO: Salad dressings, sautéing
FLAXSEED: Known for it's high content of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) of the three omegas (essential fatty acids) this is a necessary, perfect oil for all vegans and vegetarians. As those diets don't include any consumption of seafood, primarily fish which are known to be the best source of it. Since it has a relatively low smoke point, oxidizing quickly this isn't what you will be using for any high cooking. Use it instead to provide extra nutritional value to salads, dips including hummus and even smoothies.
YES: Cold dishes as an added nutrient or to drinks
NO: Cooking with any heat
SAFFLOWER: The seeds from the safflower plant are what make up this particular oil. Being a rich source of unsaturated fatty acids, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, safflower oil might be a healthier option than even olive oil when cooking at high temperatures. With the highest smoke point of all the oils (canola, olive, sesame, corn) and neutral flavor this oil also aids in reducing inflammation, lowering cholesterol, soothes dry skin (when applied topically) improving heart health and blood sugar levels. Use a monounsaturated (high-linoleic) safflower oil for high heat cooking and a polyunsaturated (high-oleic) version for uncooked items.
YES: Frying, stir-fries, baking
NO: solo for dressings and certain dips
SESAME: An oil which is a good source of vitamins and minerals. As stated in the US National Library of Medicine Institutes for Health- "one serving has more than your daily copper needs, as well as significant levels of manganese, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, selenium, vitamin E, and vitamin B1." Making it an ideal oil to use instead of canola or vegetable when the flavor of your dish allows for it. It isn't chemically processed and a little goes a long way so be mindful! With a mild, distinct taste (think nutty, toasty) and a medium-high smoke point (use dark sesame for extreme heat cooking like deep frying) it's a go to for Asian, Middle Eastern and often Indian dishes. It contains sesamol and sesaminol, two antioxidants that may have powerful effects on your health when consumed. Also, sesame (light or cold-pressed versions) oil is popular in Ayurvedic medicine as well due to its high antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. When regularly applied to skin or used in conjunction with a massage it prevents the skin from drying out.
YES: Stir fries at the end before serving, vinaigrettes, marinades, dips, sautéing
NO: Baking, dishes that don't call for this type of flavoring
CANOLA: Often found in traditional Indian dishes this oil isn't as scary as you may have been led to believe. It's high in monounsaturated and low in saturated fats with a pretty much non-existent taste making it a great option for frying or anything that required high heat to get the job done. You can rest easy that this won't flavor anything funky so go crazy on the french fries! It has also been said to improve cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease. It's higher in the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) than any other oil except flaxseed oil. ALA is particularly important to have in your diet because your body can't make it. One caveat people tend to have with canola oil is that it doesn't come from a natural plant. Most of the time its produced from GMOs (genetically modified plants). That in itself doesn't make it necessarily but nowadays some GMOs are sprayed with chemicals that are harmful to people. There is definitely some controversy and debate surrounding whether or not its safe to consume GMOs. So its important to do your research and find non GMO varieties if that makes more sense for you.
YES: Grilling, baking, stir-frying, great butter substitute
NO: Dressings, flavored dips, sautéing
AVOCADO: Made from the natural oil pressed from the pulp of an avocado it is rich in healthy fats, AKA what you should be eating! According to the nutrition self data center, "almost 70% of avocado oil consists of heart-healthy oleic acid, a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid" which provides the bulk of the many wellness benefits avocados posses. Which includes heart health, reduced blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. Avocado oil is also a great source of lutein which a carotenoid- a nutrient that improves eye health and may lower the risk of age-related eye diseases. It's versatile in its uses being a good replacement for canola oil in certain dishes as well.
YES: Baking, marinades, condiments, frying
NO: If you are on a budget or frying items in mass quantities
OLIVE: If you want to do some heavy duty high heat cooking including frying using regular olive oil is where it's at. Unlike it's cousin extra-virgin it's not as flavorful and lacks the fats to aid in a healthy heart since it's chemically processed. Regular olive oil also lacks the important antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that extra virgin olive oil has become so beloved for.
YES: Grilling, frying, sautéing
NO: Marinades, dressings
PEANUT: Being a nice source of unsaturated fats and high in vitamin E- a known antioxidant which assists in keeping the body harm free from radical damage. In addition it can imporve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar in people with diabetes. Possessing a strong peanut flavor and aroma only use in dishes that would complement this flavor. Peanut oil is often used in frying because it can withstand long periods of high heat without oxidizing which helps keep the flavor in tact. Due to it's high smoke peanut oil is also great for maintaining the texture of fried foods like tempura and french fries.
YES: stir-fries, deep frying, peanut butter flavored cookies, cakes desserts
NO: anything non peanut flavored or dishes that would taste odd with a nut flavor
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL (EVOO): Probably the most popular and common oil on this list. It is used in almost every type of cuisine not only for it's cooking properties but excellent health benefits. It is the most potent and highest quality of olive oil available. It retains it's nutrients because its extracted from olives without using any chemicals or heat in the process. As stated by the Olive Wellness Institute, evoo "contains over 30 various types of phenolic compounds, which are powerful antioxidants that help protect the body against free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that cause cell damage and contribute to disease and the aging process. It's also a rich source of antioxidants and monounsaturated fats, both of which are thought to protective cardiovascular health." Due to evoo's versatility it's equally complementary to both savory and sweet dishes.
YES: Sautéing, poaching, dressings, marinades, baking
NO: heavy heat required dishes including frying and roasting in oven
COMMON OIL USES
BAKING- vegetable, coconut or canola. All of these oils are pretty neutral and almost unidentifiable taste wise. Coconut oil will become distinguishable in large quantities and can lend an additional touch of sweetness more so than the other oils
DRESSINGS- Virgin Olive (you knew it was coming!), flaxseed, walnut, and avocado oil. These oils all are more outright flavorful which will lend a nice taste to any salad or dip its used in. Also with their lower smoke points, these are ones you can feel good about consuming raw
FRYING- Soybean, peanut, vegetable, canola, sunflower, cottonseed, corn oil are some of the better options for frying as they are more refined. Making them oils with a high smoke point, which is key for deep frying and higher heat pan cooking. In addition this group of oils is diatonic- so whatever you are cooking up does not absorb any flavors unnecessarily. Keep in mind that you usually fry foods at 375 degrees F so a high smoke point would be anything above that.
SAUTE'ING- Rice bran and grapeseed for high temperature sauté cooking including peanut and sesame oil for when you want to incorporate Asian flavors. Use extra virgin olive, canola, and vegetable oil for more of an all purpose sauté/lower temperature dishes, when the focus is more on body and texture of the dish. This allows you to flavor it manually with herbs, spices or aromatics of your choice