Have you noticed how many different types of cooking oils available in grocery stores? Do you know which of these oils to choose? Should you select based on taste, price, brand, or nutrition value? Or, should you select based on how you are planning to cook the meal—frying versus sautéing?
Oils are classified as refined and unrefined. Refined oils have been extracted using a solvent and heated to produce clear oil. These oils, such as vegetable oil, peanut oil, canola oil, etc., can withstand high and medium-high heat temperatures that range between 320 – 500ºF. Refined oils are good for baking, sautéing, searing/browning, stir-frying, and deep frying. On the other hand, unrefined oils are extracted by two different methods, cold-pressed (an extraction process that occurs under a controlled, low heat (<120ºF) temperature used) and expeller-pressed (an extraction process that requires no heat). Unrefined oils, such as extra virgin olive oil, corn oil, or coconut oil, can withstand a medium heat temperature that ranges from 212- 320ºF. These oils are best for low-heat baking, light sautéing, sauces, salad dressings, and pressure cooking.
Another important fact to be aware of when selecting oils is to pay attention to the amount of saturated and unsaturated fats in the oils. Saturated fat typically comes from animals and some derivatives of tropical vegetable oils and is solid at room temperature—this fat raises the bad cholesterol (LDL). Unlike saturated fats, unsaturated fats are liquids at room temperature and come mostly from vegetables and some fish. Unsaturated fats are classified as either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats—many times we call these fats the “good fat”, because they lower the LDL and raise the HDL (the good cholesterol). When unsaturated fats have undergone a hydrogenation process, the fat will become saturated.
So, the next time you find yourself in the oil aisle of the grocery store staring at the 30+ varieties of oils, just take a look at the nutrition facts label and select the brand that has more unsaturated fat and less saturated fat (less than 2g). Click the link to download the “Cooking Oil Quicksheet.”