What you need to know.
With so many oils popping up on shelves these days, it’s hard to keep track of which ones are best for salad dressings or cooking. And what in the world is a smoke point anyway? Here’s a quick guide to help you navigate some of our favorite oils.
What is a smoke point?
Simply put, when it comes to oils, a smoke point is the temperature at which an oil begins to break down and smoke. You can cook with an oil and heat it up until it reaches its smoke point. At the smoke point, the fat in the oil starts to break down and releases the chemical acrolein, which gives burnt food its bitter flavor. If you reach this point, you’ll want to start again or consider takeout for dinner!
Cold-pressed, unrefined, or extra-virgin oil
These are labels for oil that has been extracted from nuts or seeds (or olives) through mechanical crushing or pressing (think expeller pressed). These oils are bottled immediately after this process and therefore are unhindered by processing or any heat treatment. They therefore better retain their nutrients and original flavor. These oils are particularly wonderful for dressings.
Refined oils are heat extracted. This process may involve chemical solvents. The end result is oil with a higher smoke point, shelf life, and often a more neutral flavor.
Types of Oils
More commonly used in personal care products, sweet almond oil can be used for cooking.
- It is available refined and unrefined.
- Refined almond oil has a smoke point of 420 degrees.
- Light, nutty and slightly sweet in flavor, its high smoke point means it can be used for stir fries and roasting as well as for salad dressings and drizzling on rice or grain dishes.
- It’s many health benefits include helping to manage our cholesterol and supporting the immune system.
Avocado oil can be compared to olive oil in its mild flavor and versatility.
- Like avocados themselves, avocado oil has a creamy, rich, yet mild, almost buttery flavor, which makes it an ideal partner for cooking.
- It has a very high smoke point of 520 degrees.
- Use for roasting, grilling or sautéing veggies, or even making French fries or zucchini fritters. It’s also a good choice for salad dressings and even pesto, or dishes using a variety of herbs.
- It contains the monounsaturated fat, oleic acid, which helps to lower cholesterol.
- Avocado oil is available as refined or unrefined
- It’s also found in personal care products, such as shampoos and body lotions.
One of the most commonly used cooking oils, canola oil derives from rapeseed, which is part of the mustard plant family.
- Canola oil can be unrefined and expeller-pressed. Typically it is refined and chemically extracted, which involves the use of solvents.
- It has a smoke point of 400 degrees, which makes it versatile in the kitchen.
- It’s best used as a staple for cooking, roasting and baking. Use it if a neutral-flavored oil is needed in a salad dressing, but for true yumminess, there are many tastier oils to choose from for dressings.
- It contributes to managing cholesterol and insulin regulation.
Even if you’re not a coconut fan, it’s hard not to like the many benefits coconut oil has to offer.
- Coconut oil is relatively mild in flavor, offering just a hint of its coconut roots. It’s nothing like the stronger taste of the dried coconut found in baked goods and cereals.
- Unrefined coconut oil has a smoke point of roughly 350 degrees Fahrenheit, while refined oil has a smoke point of 400 degrees F.
- It’s suitable for both cooking and baking. Or, add a scoop straight from the jar to a smoothie.
- Full of healthy saturated fats, coconut oil’s health benefits include helping to balance cholesterol, and boosting our immunity and metabolism.
- Coconut oil can be stored for years without spoiling.
- It too is found in many personal care products. Use it as a moisturizer or it’s an excellent make-up remover.
The neutral flavor of this light oil makes it a worthy staple for any kitchen.
- Grapeseed oil is typically extracted from the grape seeds of wine grapes. This can be done with the aid of chemical solvents. To avoid solvents, look for expeller-pressed grapeseed oil.
- Grapeseed oil’s mild flavor and aroma make it the right choice when a neutral flavor is needed.Notably, it doesn’t cloud when refrigerated.
- It has a smoke point of 390 degrees Fahrenheit.
- It’s smoke point is good for frying and roasting foods. Its neutral flavor is suitable for baking and salad dressings. The fact it doesn’t cloud when refrigerated often makes it the oil of choice for mayonnaise.
Macadamia Nut Oil
Not your everyday household oil, macadamia nut oil’s light flavor makes it a suitable substitute for butter or vegetable oil.
- It has a smoke point of 413 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Use it for high-heat cooking, such as sautéing, roasting and grilling, but it also works well for baking.
- It doesn’t go rancid easily and can keep on your shelf for up to two years.
- It’s high in monounsaturated fats (the good fats).
One of the most versatile and trusty oils on the marketplace, there’s not much olive oil can’t do.
- Extra-virgin olive oil is cold-pressed and is bottled after the first pressing. It is unrefined and it contains more of the nutrients from the olives. It tends to be a bit darker in color, and even a bit more peppery or earthy in flavor.
- The less common virgin olive oil is also unrefined, but the production standards are not as stringent as extra-virgin olive oil and it doesn’t tend to be as flavorful as extra-virgin.
- Refined olive oil is heat extracted and has a higher smoke point.
- Olive oil has a smoke point of 420 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Its high smoke point makes it suitable for cooking, grilling, roasting and sautéing. The mild, yet earthy flavor of extra-virgin olive oil makes it a flavorful choice for salad dressings, drizzles and to use for dipping bread.
- Like, avocado oil, it contains the monounsaturated fat, oleic acid, which is thought to help lower cholesterol. It’s also rich in Vitamin K.
Rice Bran Oil
This oil is similar to grapeseed oil in its light, neutral flavor.
- Rice bran oil derives from the germ and inner husk of rice grains.
- The oil is typically refined and extracted through a chemical process.
- Cold-pressed unrefined rice bran oil does exit.
- Refined rice bran oil has a smoke point of 490 degrees.
- The high smoke point makes it another good choice for roasting, sautéing, and high-heat cooking. It also works well in salad dressings and condiments such as mayonnaise, which require no-flavor oils such as rice bran oil or grapeseed oil.
- It’s health benefits include helping to lower bad cholesterol and fending off inflammation.
Often used for Asian-influenced dishes, sesame oil is a handy cooking partner to keep in your cupboard for when you want to mix up your flavor palette.
- Sesame oil is extracted from sesame seeds. This can be done through chemical extraction or by expeller pressing.
- It’s available refined and unrefined.
- Refined sesame oil has a smoke point of 410 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Sesame oil has a slightly nutty flavor. Toasted sesame oil has an even smokier, nutty flavor.
- The unique flavor of unrefined sesame oil is best for salad dressings, marinades and drizzling over dishes with grains such as rice or quinoa.
- Refined sesame oil has a higher smoke point and can be used for sautéing, grilling, roasting and cooking.
- Sesame oil is thought to be rich in antioxidants.