Healthy cooking oil: The ultimate guide from TKJ

Ultimate guide to healthy cooking oils

Finding a healthy cooking oil for your cooking and other usage is not always simple, what is good or not good for you is often hidden  with clever marketing.

This article gives you precise and easy to understand information.

Here are some of the key areas that we will look at:

How stable is the oil you are cooking with?

It is important to understand the properties of the oil that you are cooking with!

How well the oils you are using performs will be influenced by these:

Smoke point – the higher the smoke point the better the oil is for cooking with when it comes to things like frying and deep frying. If you push an oil to post its smoke point the oil will begin to break down producing potential harmful fumes and free radicals. For more on this read these:

http://www.healthchecksystems.com/antioxid.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free-radical_theory_of_aging

How refined the oil is – the more refined an oil is the higher the smoke point for that oil will be. But the more refined oils tend to have less taste and smell which is important to some people.

The less refined an oil is the more particles that the oil has, these are mostly organic and so have a low smoke point casing the oil to smoke quickly. Unrefined oils tend to taste a whole lot better and have a lot more nutrients in them . THis makes them better for enhancing the flavour of foods such as salads etc.

What types of oils are there and what are they good for?

Saturated fats – These oils are usually solid at room temperature and usually resist breaking down at higher temperatures because oxidation is less likely to  occur at the higher cooking temperatures.

Polyunsaturated fats – These are generally liquid at room temperature and are the least stable for cooking with.  You can find them in things like sunflower oil.

Monounsaturated fats – These are also liquid at room temperature but are more stable then their polyunsaturated cousins. Oils in this groups include oils from nuts, canola and olives.

Pressed vs Chemically extracted

How the oils are extracted makes a very big difference to the quality of the oils and to the taste of the finished product . Most Italians will tell you that Olive oil must come from cold pressed olives.
Olive avocado and walnuts will only need expeller pressing.

Oil will need to be extracted at less then 27 degrees C to be able to sell them as cold pressed.

Those in the know will seek out these high quality oils. While this process is less efficient and more expensive then chemically extracting it, the quality of the oils produced are far better, healthier and taste so much better.

Chemically Extracted Oils – Many of the mass market oils have been chemically extracted as this a cheaper process that is far more efficient.

Here is the problem with this process :

  • The chemicals that they use can be toxic like hexane
  • The oils will undergo harsh treatment to remove the solvent.
  • More chemicals and high temperatures are used to deodorise and bleach the oils
  • Oils that undergo this treatment will be inferior in quality, taste fragrance and nutrition.

Expeller pressed vs cold pressed oil – What is the difference?

The main difference for this process is that the oils that are undergoing a cold press of extraction are actually temperature controlled so as not to damage the oils. This is usually done on oils that may be temperature sensitive.

Expeller pressed oils will typically be done at a higher temperature and will often have an affect on the taste of the finished product.

Cold pressed is better than expeller pressed oils, but these are way way better then chemically extracted oils. Oils that are labelled as cold press will need to be extracted at temperatures below 80.6 Deg F (27 deg C)

Unrefined Oils

These are oils that have only been filtered lightly to remove large particles. These oils will have a more pronounced flavour and aroma and often may appear cloudy.

While they taste better there are a few catches:

    • They don’t last as long and they cannot be subjected to high temperatures like refined oils as the particles (which add to the flavour and nutrition) can burn and leave a bitter taste.
    • These oils are really best for being used unheated such as in  dressings etc.
    • Are prone to becoming rancid very easily if not stored correctly and don’t have a long shelf life.
    • You can bake with unrefined oils but you should expect to have a more pronounced flavour to your finished product.

Refined oils

Naturally refined oils are more thoroughly filtered and strained then unrefined and sometimes heat is used in this process but not enough to damage the oil.

While there are fewer flavors and nutrients in the oil it will last longer and will be suitable for cooking at higher temperatures.

These oils are better suited for deep fryers and other high heat cooking.

Once you have bought good quality oil, how do you store it?

Air, heat and light can cause oils to oxidise and go rancid ( this is more for your high quality cold pressed and unrefined oils). So for this reason you should be storing your oils in an airtight container in a cool dark place.

Are rancid oils bad for you?

It is also noteworthy to point out that rancid oils may promote cancer and heart disease so if you are in doubt it might be better to chuck it then eat it if you think it has turned.

I did find this article that backs this up and might be worth a read

For a little more understanding on what exactly makes oils and other things turn rancid
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rancidification

What are the healthiest oils to cook or to fry with?

While there are a large choice of different oils to cook with there are some that are a lot better to be using for cooking with than others. If you have read the above you will see that there are factors that you will need to take into account.

Some oils will have a high smoke point but would have gone through a refining process that will leave them a shadow of what they were and often using process that are questionable to your health.
Other oils are good for you but are not great for cooking. In many cases how refined an oil is will make a big difference on how healthy it is for cooking with and more importantly what you can cook with them.

So much so that we have made a table for you to what you can do with the different oils and what they are best for.

When you are looking for a healthy option (once you have found good quality options) you should be looking at how stable an oil is.

The more stable an oil is at high temperatures then the less likely you are going to get things like oxidation happening.

Oxidation is the process where the oil reacts with oxygen to more free radical and harmful compounds.

There are three categories of oils and the table below breaks this down to show what you should be looking for in a “stable oil”

The degree of saturation is one of the most important factors that determines the stability of oil:


Basically the more double bonds in an oil the more chemically reactive and sensitive to heat it is.
Check out the

Table below and you will see that Coconut oil is the best for cooking at high temperatures as it has the highest percentage of sat oils.

Another interesting mention is butter, contrary to popular belief butter is good for cooking with. But wait you may say butter burns so easily…That is because there are other sugars and proteins in there that cause the smoking.

To avoid this you can use Ghee (Just under butter on the table) This is just pure butter fat. You can buy this or make you own.

the-best-oils-to-cook-and-fry-with

Type of oilPolyMonoSatWhat this oils is good for
Almond Oil18%73%9%Great for baking, putting in sauces, flavoring
Avocado oil14%74% 12%Great for frying, sautéing, dipping oil and salad oil.A good all rounderif you have bought good quality
Butter4% 30%66%Good for cooking, baking, condiments, sauces, flavoring. Please remember butter has other foods in it that make burn at lower temperatures. We love using butter to make omelettes 
Ghee3%32%65%Good for deep frying, cooking, sautéeing, condiment, flavoring. Ghee is much better for frying as it is far more pure.
Coconut oil2%6%92%Commercial baked goods, candy and sweets, whipped toppings, nondairy coffee creamers, shortening. Great for frying as well as it has a high smoke point. A good oil for using with cast iron skillets
Corn oil57%29%14%Frying, baking, salad dressings, margarine, shortening
Cottonseed oil54%19%27%Margarine, shortening, salad dressings, commercially fried products
Canola28%64%7%Frying, baking, salad dressings.Made from GM rapeseed and often not as “healthy” as you might think.
Grapeseed oil73%17%10%Cooking, salad dressings, margarine. Good if cold pressed.
Hemp oil79%12%9%Cooking, salad dressings
Lard12%47%41%Baking, frying
Margarine, hard6%14%80%Good for baking, condiment. Stay away from cooking with Margarine there are better options
Margarine, soft33%47%20%Good for baking, condiment. Stay away from cooking with Margarine there are better options
Mustard oil23%64%13%Good for cooking, frying, deep frying, salads, dressings. Very clean flavored & palatable.
Olive oil (virgin)11%75%14%Good for cooking, salad oils, You can do so many things with good olive oil. Good for using in non stick pans
Palm oil10%39%52%Good for cooking, flavoring, vegetable oil, shortening
Peanut oil34%49%18%Good for deep frying, cooking, salad oils, margarine
Rice bran oil37%42%21%Good for cooking, frying, deep frying, salads, dressings. Very clean flavoured & palatable.
Safflower oil78%15%7%Good for cooking, salad dressings, margarine
Sesame oil44%42%15%Good for cooking
Soybean oil60%24%16%Good for cooking, salad dressings, vegetable oil, margarine, shortening
Sunflower oil69%20%11%Good for cooking, salad dressings, margarine, shortening
Walnut oil66%24%10%Good for cooking but can leave a slightly bitter taste if heated too much, cold dishes, salad dressings

The Breakdown of Oils into Saturated, Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated oils

Avocado vs Olive oil – Which one should you be cooking with

Both of these are really good options when using the cold pressed or extra virgin products. Avocado oil actually comes from the fruit and not the seed as is with the case of some of the other oils and is a lot easier to produce.

In fact you can quite easily make avocado oil if you are feeling that way inclined.

Avocado oils has a higher smoke point than olive oil and so the refined version of avocado oil would be better for things like stir fry etc where you need a high temperature.

Those who use the better unrefined olive oil will already know that it is not great for cooking with rather you use it on salads etc because of the flavours associated.

Extra virgin avocado oil has a monounsaturated fatty acid level of around 72% to 76% which is a bit higher the olive oils at around 67%. The saturated fat content is around the 13% mark while olive oils is about 17%.

While these are both very good oils to be using there are a few things that you should keep in mind when deciding this:

  • Avocado oil that has been refined has a higher smoke point than olive oil which can vary quite a lot depending on the level of refinement.
  • For Both of these oils , the more refined they are they better they are for cooking but they lose a lot in the process.


In our opinion you should be looking at having both in the house, cold pressed and unrefined , they are both great for salads and adding flavour.

Also cold pressed avocado oil retains high levels of vitamin E (which is well known in aiding the improvement skin tone and appearance).

You can also use these oils in cooking things like eggs where you are cooking at low temperatures, they both add great flavor.

Read more on olive oil 

Read more on Avocado oil

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Avocado oil vs Coconut oil

In their refined states both of these oils are great for cooking for, in fact these are possibly the best two. The best thing to do here really is to try both and see which one works better for you. Personally I cook with coconut oil as I find the test and the smell of the oil very pleasing.

There are a lot of other uses for these oils, not only for cooking but in other products that you might be using such as skin care and hair care.

Here is an article that covers some of the other areas of use from a user’s perspective:
http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-22504/is-avocado-oil-the-new-coconut-oil-i-tested-9-uses-heres-what-i-found.html

Avocado oil processing

Coconut oil vs Olive oil

Again these two are very similar, I use both of these and I tend to use them for different things. If I am cooking something that will require a higher temperature I am more inclined to be using the Coconut oil as it has a higher smoke point.

If you want to cook with olive oil (as most of the Mediterranean does!) then you will need one that has been refined as the organic particles in the oil burn off at a much lower temperature.

But Remember, the more refined though the less the flavour is. If you are cooking use refined for salads and cold pouring on food get the unrefined.

For me personally cold unrefined olive oil has the best taste than any of the other cold pressed oils, but that is just my opinion.

coconut-oil

By PaulReis123 via Wikimedia Commons

Try cooking with coconut oil when you are cooking with cast iron pans and skillets

Vegetable oil vs Olive oil

There is a bit of a trade-off here as because vegetable oil is often a blend of oils such as peanut or canola. My gripe with vegetable oils is that there is a lot of mass produced oil on the market and I recommend that you stay away from these at all costs.

These are often cheaper and are so because they have been extracted via a chemical process and as I have said before this process is not pretty and what you are cooking with is not great for you either.

While Vegetable oil will have a higher smoke point than olive oil in general you need to make sure that you are getting something that has been cold pressed or expeller pressed .. but never chemically extracted that is just nasty.

Cooking with Olive oils is great but you just have to be aware of the temperature that you are cooking at as you don’t want to burn the oil

Here is some further reading on this subject
http://www.thekitchn.com/which-is-better-vegetable-oil-61853

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Canola oil vs Olive oil

Canola Oil is made from rapeseed

It should be noted that Canola oils are made from genetically modified rapeseeds. You should consider this before you think about using the oil. If you have a look at the video below you will see that the oils has been subjected to a high temperature. Canola oil has also been deodorized and has the toxic solvent hexane.
Most olive oil is cold pressed and therefore so much better for you and will have its own taste.

Peanut oil vs Canola oil

I think that the first and obvious point about peanut oil is that it may not be safe for those with peanut allergies. You should seek medical advice if you believe you are allergic to peanuts.

I have also just slammed Canola oil in the section above, please have a look at the video.

I need to be clear that what I am talking about here is not the mass produced oils under high temperature, I am talking about the better quality and far more expensive cold pressed versions

Having said that these are both great oils for frying with peanut oils has a smoke point of about 450 deg F while canola comes in at about 400 deg F.

If you are searing steak or something like that then these are great to use.

Peanut oils is also great for using in deep fryers and in some asian dishes as it gives a slight peanut taste to it

As with all of the other oils please make sure that you are buying the best quality oil that you can get as this will make a big difference in both the taste of the oils and the quality .

Extra reading
http://www.livestrong.com/article/406520-canola-oil-vs-peanut-oil/

Sunflower oil vs Olive oil

sunflower-oil

      • Both of these oils are ok to use for cooking but should not be subjected to too higher temperatures.
      • Both oil are rich in antioxidants
      • Sunflower oils is good for the heart
      • Olive oil offers some protection against certain carcinogens form when cooking

Both are good in our opinion, we like the taste of olive oil more. You should also be making sure that you are buying oils that have been cold pressed. There are commercial oils that have not been cold pressed, avoid these where possible.

What can you take away from this ?

I think that that real underlying massage for readers is that when it comes to buying oils, the quality that you are buying is very important.

Sadly we live in a time when what they say on the label is not always the whole truth. This means that you have to be a little more savvy and less trusting in what you read.

Always do your research and as I say often in my articles ALWAYS BUY THE BEST QUALITY THAT YOU CAN AFFORD. There is no one looking after you in your home, just you.

One last piece of advice, you can always have more them one type of oil in your house, this article gives you an idea of what you can do with the different types of oils on the market.

Remember – Just because it says it is healthy on the label, it is not always so.