Oils are one of the most important aspects of the kitchen. Most dishes start, finish or at some point during the cooking process involve the use of oils. It’s important to keep a variety of oils in your kitchen, not only because they are necessary for cooking, but because they are essential to our health. With so many different types of cooking oil available on the market, it becomes difficult to sort through them all and choose the ones you need at home. This post will serve as a guide to home cooks, and an overview of the different types of cooking oil.
Importance of Oil at Home
Oils contain a high level of unsaturated fats, along with two types of essential fatty acids. Omega-6 (linoleic acid) and Omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) are two essential fatty acids that our bodies cannot produce on their own. They need to be ingested from outside sources. This is where oils come into play.
Oils are made from pressing and extracting fat from various fruits, seeds, nuts, plants and other fatty foods. Oil production is a very complicated process which involves cleaning, grinding, pressing, extracting through solvents, separating and refining. For all those interested in learning more about the process, this is a terrific article, “How cooking oil is made”.
Types of Cooking Oil
Oil is used in an array of different methods throughout the entire home, not just in the kitchen. In this post, we will discuss the different types of cooking oils, and how to use each one. I will recommend my favorite oil from each category, as well as listing various different substitutes. The 4 different types of cooking oils discussed will be:
Olive Oil *** High-heat Searing Oil *** Finishing Oil *** Coconut Oil
Olive oil is a staple oil in North America, and I believe it deserves a category of its own. The versatility of olive oil is tremendous, and it can be used for various different applications in your home.
Uses of Olive Oil
- Sauteing – great flavor added to dishes being sauteed in olive oil. Because of its relatively low smoke point, olive oil is not suggested for high heat searing
- Salads – again, the highly desirable flavor of olive oil is perfect to drizzle over salads
- Finishing Oil – especially true in Mediterranean cuisine, olive oil makes an excellent finishing oil, drizzled over fish, meat, pasta, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes…etc
- Marinating – olive oil is fantastic for marinating fish and meat, as well as anything else you may think to marinate. Olive oil penetrates into fish and meat to give it a delicate flavor
- Health and Beauty – Excellent for both hair and skin. I’ll let Allure Magazine explain the beauty uses of olive oil.
Olive oil is by far the most versatile of all the oil types available on the market. With that said, there is an entire world of its own and books can and have been written about olive oil. In this post, I will provide an overview of things you need to keep in mind when choosing olive oils for your kitchen.
Olive Oil Flavors
Olive oil can be divided into two flavors. The peppery type and the floral type of flavor. The peppery olive oils tend to be a bit stronger, bolder and times even a little spicy, while the floral tasting oils are much more subtle and nuanced in their flavor range.
The type you choose depends on you, as both are distinct and have their own benefits.
Tips for Buying Olive Oil
Because there are so many types and so many different brands of olive oil, I will try my best to provide some tips when shopping for the oil to keep in your kitchen.
The main difference between the different olive oils on the market is the price. As with all things we buy, the first thing we look at is price, and the price of olive oil varies greatly. Olive oil can be cheap or moderately priced and all the way up to very high prices for bottles of what you would think is gold.
A general rule I like to stick by is, avoid buying olive oil that is in plastic bottles. I’ve never run across a good brand of olive oil that came in a plastic bottle. You may save a few dollars, but generally you will be buying a very poor olive oil, and at that point, it’s better to substitute olive oil with a different type of oil. Good olive oils and even decent ones are always packaged in glass or metal containers.
My favorite olive oil is an Italian extra virgin olive oil made by Partanna. It’s made in Sicily, and has a very well balanced floral flavor. Excellent for sauteing, drizzling and finishing dishes with.
High Heat Searing Oils
Oils that fall into this category are neutral tasting oils with a very high smoke point. This means, the oil doesn’t begin to burn until high temperatures, above 400F. Another major advantage this category of oils have is that they are neutral tasting, which is important for various cooking applications.
Types of Searing Oils
- canola oil
- sunflower oil
- peanut oil
- safflower oil
- corn oil
- grapeseed oil
Uses for Searing Oils
- Searing food – the main use for these types of oil is to sear food at high heat. Because they don’t begin to burn until 400F-450F, the oil is a great medium to use for pan cooking at high temperatures.
- Salad Dressing – when preparing salad dressing, you will need to emulsify fat into an acid. Most of the time, this fat will be an oil. It is important to use a neutral tasting oil so that the flavor of the dressing can come through, and isn’t over powered by the flavor of the oil. Olive oil for example is too strong for salad dressings, so we tend to use a neutral flavored oil, such as grapeseed. Grapeseed oil is the preferred choice for salad dressings.
- Deep Frying – Because of the high smoke point, these oils are excellent for deep frying. My personal favorite is sunflower oil, because it has a very high smoke point, and is relatively cheap. Another great deep frying oil is peanut oil, which is becoming the popular choice for restaurants across America.
Tips for Buying Neutral Tasting Searing Oils
With so many different types on the market, its really difficult to choose one as the best. In the restaurant, the most commonly used oil from this category is grapeseed oil.
It is very versatile and can be used for every single application listed above. Grapeseed oil is excellent for both making salad dressing and for searing. If you need a good oil to sear, and plan to make salad dressing every now and then, I strongly recommend a bottle of grapeseed oil.
If however, you are more focused on deep frying, and things like wok cooking, searing meats, then both canola and sunflower are excellent choices. The main advantage to these oils is their price. They are relatively cheap, and serve their purpose very well.
These are the delicate, full flavored and aromatic oils we use to create a lot of flavor in our dishes. These oils are not used to cook with, and should not be in high heat, such as a hot pan. The intent of finishing oils is to be drizzled onto food, or whisked into salad dressings to provide flavor.
There are numerous types of finishing oils available on the market. I will list the most popular ones, and give brief descriptions of each.
Types of Finishing Oils
- Sesame Oil – Usually associated with Asian flavors, sesame oil is a delicious oil used to finish various salads and wok-fried dishes. Sesame oil also has tremendous health benefits, as it contains a number of minerals, vitamins and nutrients.
- Infused Oils – Infused oils are oils such as olive oil that have been infused with flavors, and are intended for drizzling on food or to be used in salad dressings. Examples of infused oils are chili oil, garlic oil, rosemary oil..etc
- Truffle Oil – the most expensive and sought after oil. It is actually an infused oil, one which truffle aroma has been infused to. High quality truffle oils use actual pieces of truffles to infuse the flavor, while cheaper variants use flavor extracts. Truffle oil is excellent for pastas, dressings, eggs, beef carpaccio, pizza and to enhance the flavor of mushroom based dishes.
- Pistachio Oil – delicious flavor of pistachio, used mainly in salad dressings, but also excellent for drizzling over vegetables, or to finish delicate pieces of fish and meat.
Coconut oil is becoming one of the most popular oils on the market, and with good reason. It’s a unique oil, as it’s solid at room temperature; a result of its high saturated fat content. It’s made from pressing and filtering coconut flesh.
Coconut oil has a relatively high smoke point of 390F, which makes it a good choice for searing and even deep frying.
It is quickly becoming the substitute of choice for animal derived fats. Baking techniques and recipes that call for animal fats such as lard or butter are being replaced with coconut oil. This is a go to for baked vegan goodies. (Mini Raw Mango Cheesecakes)
Coconut oil has a great range of uses, from cooking, to skin care. This video shows 10 Ways to Use Coconut Oil: