How to Choose the Right Oil for Cooking

4 years ago
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How to Choose the Right Oil for Cooking How to Choose the Right Oil for Cooking

You hear from me often about regular, modest consumption of “healthy fats” as a vital part of our gluten-free diet. Recently, I even shared how to use certain fats to support weight loss (in a Food Solutions Magazine article). We’ve discussed the right fats to consume, but what about fats in liquid form, as oils?

I receive many questions from readers wondering which oil to use in different applications. After all, some fats turn rancid faster than others, and some oils  should never be heated to high temperatures.

To help you decide which oil to use, depending upon the cooking method (or lack of cooking, as is the case in dishes like salads and dips), I’ve put together this simple overview. While not all-inclusive, it does answer the most-asked questions I receive about oils and cooking, and makes a great guide to get you started as you cook for optimal health!

Always remember, a little healthy fat at each meal goes a long way to help us along the path to wellness!

How to Choose the Right Oil for Cooking

Oils in Uncooked Dishes

In dishes that are not cooked, like cold salads, or in dishes with cooked ingredients where oil is added after the ingredients are cooled (like hummus), use a high-quality rich and flavorful olive oil.

A premium extra virgin olive oil has a very low acidity and is considered the best choice for uncooked dishes. In general, the darker the color, the richer the flavor of olive oil. Of course, country of origin, soil conditions where the olives grew, as well as level of ripeness of the olives all impact the color and flavor of the oil you choose.

If you find premium extra virgin olive oil too pricey for everyday use, invest in a terrific bottle for uncooked dishes only, and another, less expensive virgin olive oil for other applications.

Don’t like olive oil? Give avocado oil a try! With its rich, buttery flavor, it makes a terrific finish to an uncooked dish. (Note: avocado oil does stand up to cooking, as well.) Flaxseed oil, while not recommended for use in cooking (it is simply too delicate an oil and breaks down quickly), makes a wonderful addition to uncooked dishes, dressings and dips.

Whatever you use, avoid bland oils like canola and “vegetable” oil. While there are non-GMO varieties on the market, these oils really add zero flavor to foods, so aren’t ideal choices for uncooked dishes where the oil is an integral part of the dish.

How to Choose the Right Oil for Cooking

Oils in “Hot & Fast” Dishes

For dishes that require “hot & fast” cooking like stir-fry type dishes, quick frying and even grilling, choose an oil with a high smoke point.

{smoke point the temperature at which an oil (or other fat) begins to break down}

When heated to its smoke point (or beyond), the fat you are using is breaking down at the molecular level (oxidizing) and at that point can produce carcinogens, releasing them into the food being prepared in the oil. This also causes the oil to taste bitter.

Chinese dishes often call for peanut or sesame oil; both have high smoke points. Sesame oil definitely imparts a more traditional flavor into Chinese dishes, and a little goes a long way! Of course, always use caution if you have food allergies and avoid the oils produced from those foods (i.e., do not use peanut oil if you have a peanut allergy; for more on peanut allergy and products to avoid, be sure to check out this terrific resource from  Food Allergy Research & Education).

Oils like safflower and canola also have high smoke points; however, while GMO-free varieties of these oils are available (choose organic to be sure), they may be challenging to locate or more expensive than their GMO-derived counterparts since about 90% of these oils in the US are GMO-derived. For those reasons, you may wish to avoid those oils. If so, venture out and try oils like grape seed oil and avocado oil, both with very high smoke points, making them excellent choices for “hot & fast” dishes.

Whatever you choose, avoid olive oil in “hot & fast” applications, as its smoke point peaks around 400F, making it incapable of withstanding the high temperatures required for hot & fast dishes. The same goes for flaxseed and unrefined coconut oil.

Oils in “Slower & Lower” Dishes

If you are roasting at 325F or below, a nice olive oil is a great choice, as it lends flavor and this temperature is below its smoke point.

Olive oil is also a great choice for sautéing on the stove top. Keep your heat around medium-high and select paler, milder flavored olive oil if you desire the oil to blend into the dish (more neutral flavor). I’ve found some of the organic California-grown olive oils a terrific choice for this application.

For both applications – slow, low-temp roasting and sautéing – coconut oil would work, as well. Unrefined coconut oil (the type you want to use if you’re going for this oil’s health benefits) has about the same smoke point as olive oil. (As a general rule, the more refined an oil, the higher the smoke point.)

Of course, if you’re preparing a soup, stew or an Italian red sauce (like marinara or other pasta sauce), a deep and flavorful olive oil is an excellent choice – this is a time those premium extra virgin oils from Italy are what you want in the pantry. Their rich, grassy flavors really enhance such dishes.

Again, as with higher heat applications and no-cook dishes, avocado oil makes an excellent choice for “slow & low” dishes if you’re not an olive oil or coconut oil fan.


How to Choose the Right Oil for Cooking

Oils in Baking

When baked goods call for liquid fat (oil) and are cooked at moderate temperatures (the 325-375F range), choose non-GMO, organic varieties of vegetable oil of your choice (canola, safflower, sunflower, etc.), a neutral-tasting olive oil or melted coconut oil.

Of course, be mindful of the flavor profile of the food you’re cooking. In savory foods like homemade bread, olive oil makes a terrific choice within temperature range; however, you may want to choose an alternate oil for sweet treats like cakes, cookies or muffins.

For those, a neutral oil is typically best; however, some of us enjoy the sweet, nutty mild flavor coconut oil imparts. It really is a matter of taste.

Whatever you choose, do not use delicate oil like flaxseed oil for baking, as mentioned earlier, it breaks down at these temperatures.

 A Word about GMOs and Oils

I want to add a word about genetically engineered foods here, as they relate to oils. As you are likely aware, oils from corn, soybeans, cottonseed and rape seed (canola oil) in North America are almost exclusively from genetically altered plants, unless labeled otherwise. There are non-GMO varieties of most of these oils available, but you may have to search a bit to locate them, depending upon where you live.

Currently, non-GMO oils include: coconut, pure olive oil, nut oils and seed oils such as sunflower seed oil, safflower oil, sesame and grape seed oils.

Buying organic is one way to insure you avoid GMO ingredients. Current USDA regulatory standards for organic products prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms.

I hope this brief guide helps you decide the best oils to include in your healthy gluten-free, allergen-free diet.

Which oils do you use most often? Let me know in the comments below!


Gigi ;)

All content copyright Gluten Free Gigi, LLC. Please share courteously, providing link back and full credit for my work. Thank you. 

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