Cooking oil is a staple in every kitchen; however, it is not always given much thought. Whether frying ingredients in a pan, roasting vegetables in the oven, or greasing a dish for baked goods, many people use cooking oil multiple times a day without being intentional about which oil they choose.
Why Do Cooking Oils Matter?
Different oils have varied flavors and nutritional properties. Some people prefer the ease of having one oil that they use for everything, while others like having a few oils to select from, depending on the flavor and cooking style they are working with at a given time.
Whatever oils you choose, make sure you look into how they were produced and pick the highest quality option available in your price point. Some oils are obtained through the use of chemical solvents, while others are processed by pressing plants or seeds. Consumers who wish to avoid chemically-extracted oils can opt for cold-pressed products. Check the label on oils before purchasing to ensure you know what you are buying.
It is also important to know the smoke point of your cooking oil. The smoke point is the point at which an oil begins to burn. Oils with lower smoke points begin to burn at lower temperatures than those with higher smoke points. Knowing the smoke point of your oil helps you prevent unpleasant burned flavors in your cooking. Additionally, it can prevent the consumption of potentially harmful free radicals, which are released when an oil reaches its smoke point. 1 2
Commonly Used Cooking Oils
The nine most common cooking oils are canola oil, olive oil, vegetable oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, coconut oil, butter/ghee, and sesame oil. Sesame oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil generally have a stronger taste while vegetable oil, butter/ghee, canola oil, and grapeseed oil are more neutrally flavored. Olive oil, which is part of the nutrition-heavy Mediterranean diet, can have a strong taste or a very mild one, depending on the variety you choose.
Discover how each of these oils are made, what they are best used for, and their pros and cons using the handy table below.
|Oil||Use||How is it Made?||Pros||Cons|
|Canola||Candles, soaps, lipsticks, lubricants, inks, biofuels, insecticides, and food||Produced from a genetically modified rapeseed plant||Inexpensive cooking oil used for a wide range of industrial uses; may improve cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity||Often GMO, uses chemical (hexane solvent) extraction, increases exposure to potentially harmful chemical residues|
|Vegetable||Deep-frying, stir-frying, sautéing, baked goods||Can be any of rapeseed, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower, or other seed oils||Inexpensive and accessible||High amounts of omega-6 fatty acids may increase inflammation; contains trans fats when hydrogenated|
|Avocado||High-heat cooking, salads, frying||Pressed from the fleshy pulp surrounding the avocado pit||High smoke point, good raw or cooked; may benefit skin health, arthritis, and heart health||High cost, not available in all stores or regions|
|Grapeseed||Deep-frying, stir-frying, sautéing, baked goods||Pressed from the seeds of the grape plant||High smoke-point; neutral flavor; naturally occurring antioxidants; cardio-protective properties||High omega-6 content may contribute to inflammation|
|Olive||Salad dressings, condiment, medium-high heat cooking||Pressed from raw olives||One of the healthiest oils, contains high amounts of antioxidants and monounsaturated fats||Can be costly, especially if organic and extra-virgin|
|Coconut||High-heat cooking, baking, cosmetics, sunscreens, desserts||Pressed from the white pulp of the coconut, often giving it a pearlescent look when solidified||Great for high-heat cooking due to high saturated fat content, widely available, antimicrobial and antifungal properties||Contains a high percentage of saturated fat, costly, strong flavor that may not work with all foods|
|Sesame||Common in Asian and Indian food cooking oil; flavor-enhancer, as well as some industrial and cosmetic uses||Pressed or extracted from dehisced sesame seeds||Contains a moderate amount of vitamin K, inexpensive, nutty flavor/aroma, withstands high heat||Low quality products may be extracted with chemical or high heat extraction methods, may be allergenic for some|
|Butter||Sautéing, stir-frying, roasting, baked goods||Dairy cream goes through a churning process until it becomes a solid||High vitamin A content, adds rich, creamy flavor to cooking||Contains a high percentage of saturated fat, low smoke-point, can be costly|
|Ghee||Commonly used in South Asian recipes, good for sautéing, stir-frying, roasting, baked goods, high-heat cooking||Butter is heated and milk solids are removed, leaving behind clarified liquid fat (ghee)||High smoke-point, low lactose content, high vitamin A content, rich, creamy, slightly nutty flavor||Contains a high percentage of saturated fat, can be difficult to source in some locations, costly|
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2020 and has been updated in September 2023 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.