The world of cooking oil is experiencing a major boom. If you haven't browsed the cooking oils section of the grocery store recently, you likely haven't seen how much the area has exploded in the last few years. Now, instead of just olive oil, vegetable oil, and canola oil, there are a lot of new faces. Hemp oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil, walnut oil, the list goes on. Although the selection may seem excessive, not all oils are created equal. This means that having more than two bottles of oil in your pantry might not be as over the top as you think, particularly if you love to cook.
Walk down any baking aisle in your local grocery store and you might see upwards of twenty different types of cooking oil. This post summarizes eight of the ones most commonly used.
Light Olive Oil (also called "pure" or "regular")
First, it should be pointed out that light olive oil and extra virgin olive oil are actually different things. Light olive oil undergoes the same process as EVOO but has an extra step at the end where it is treated with chemical solvents to neutralize flavor while EVOO is not. This means that the "light" part of the name refers to the oil being lighter in flavor and in color--not in calories. Light olive oil has a fairly high smoke point between 465-470°F, making it ideal for high-heat cooking. It is also good in vinaigrettes.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
Because extra virgin olive oil does not have the added step involving chemical solvents like the light olive oil, it has a more robust flavor. Depending on the origin of the olives used, the flavor notes can range from fruity to grassy to butter or even bitter. EVOO is not great for use in cooking as it has a low smoke point at 325°F. It is actually best used as a finishing oil in vinaigrettes. The higher price point also means that you won't want to use it in everyday cooking.
Vegetable oil is typically a blend of several other refined oils. Despite being a blend, vegetable is fairly neutral both in taste and small. With a smoke point around 400°F, it's a good all-purpose oil for everyday cooking. It's especially good for things like sautéing
Similar to vegetable oil in almost every way (flavor, smoke point, color, etc.), canola oil is made from the rapeseed plant. Good for salad dressings or for everyday cooking, canola oil, like many in this list, is relatively high in monounsaturated fats (the 'good' fat). However, this oil is one you'll want to use regularly once the bottle is open as it can go rancid within one year. Yes, some oils can go bad.
Peanut oil is a favorite among Asian cuisine. It typically has a nutty scent and a powerful flavor. Because of its high smoke point (450°F), this oil is great for high-heat cooking like making stir-fry, and works well in conjunction with other complementary flavors. In addition to being high in calories and monounsaturated fats, peanut oil is also high in omega 6 which should be kept in mind. Like canola oil, peanut oil can go rancid quickly, so it is recommended that the oil be used within a few months of opening the bottle.
Coconut oil is possibly the oil of the times. It has catapulted into the spotlight in the last few years and has quickly become a favorite for use in cooking as well as a moisturizer for hair and skin. As its name suggests, coconut oil is made from coconuts. Because it is solid at room temperature, this oil is not ideal for vinaigrettes, marinades, or as a finishing oil. Better for sautéing, roasting, or even in baked goods, coconut oil has a moderate smoke point at 350°F. However, while coconut oil may be praised for its many good qualities, it is also high in saturated fat and experts recommend using it sparingly in cooking as a result.
Like coconut oil, avocado oil is made from its namesake, avocados. Also praised for its health benefits, avocado oil does have some anti-inflammatory properties. Although harder to find and more expensive, avocado oil has an extremely high smoke point at 520°F making it a great versatile oil for multiple cooking methods such as sautéing, searing, and roasting
. Unlike whole avocados, there is no need to refrigerate anvocado oil once it has been opened.
Sesame Seed Oil
Sesame seed oil is another oil often used in Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern cooking. It's a good general oil that has a relatively neutral flavor and its moderate smoke point (410°F) means it can be used for making different types of dishes. Sesame seed oil also has a lot of antioxidants. It's related to toasted sesame seed oil which has a stronger, nuttier flavor.
The next time you're at the grocery store, try one of these oils (or another not listed!) and transform your cooking experience.