Which oils are best for sauteing, frying, or baking? Which ones should be used exclusively for salad dressings? Use this guide to help you choose the oils that fit your cooking needs.
Light Olive Oil
Light refers to the oil's color and taste, not its calorie content. It has the same amount of beneficial monounsaturated fat that regular olive oil has. Because of an extremely fine filtration process, it has little of the olive oil taste and fragrance and a higher smoke point, making it a good choice for baking and high-heat cooking. It's usually a combination of refined virgin olive oils.
After olive and sunflower oil, canola is the next highest in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. It can be used as a salad dressing and for baking and frying. This neutral-tasting oil is obtained from rapeseed, a mustard relative. Because rapeseed is commonly sprayed with pesticides, be sure to look for organic, expeller-pressed brands of canola oil.
An all-purpose oil that's high in monounsaturated fats, peanut oil is also about 30 percent polyunsaturated fats and 20 percent saturated. Because it has a high smoke point, it's prized for frying. Most commercial brands are chemically processed, though expeller-pressed brands are available at specialty stores and online. Peanut oil has a longer shelf life than other oils.
Corn oil is high in polyunsaturates. Polyunsaturates are not inherently unhealthy, but they do contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which most Americans already get too much of. Although we need omega-6s in our diets, we should be getting fewer of them and more omega-3s.The current thinking among nutritionists is that other choices may be better.
Blended Vegetable Oils
Most commercial vegetable oils are a mixture of unidentified oils that have been extracted with chemicals.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil is the healthiest oil you can buy, as it contains the highest monounsaturate content. It's often used for dressings and drizzling on food. Extra-virgin is the oil that results from the first cold-pressing of the olives. Because it's the purest olive oil, it's also the most expensive. Because it has a low smoke point, it should not be used for cooking.
Virgin Olive Oil
This is also the result of the first pressing of the olives, but it is more acidic, and the flavor is less robust. Always choose cold-pressed. Most mass-produced varieties are extracted with chemical solvents. Use for cooking foods at low and medium temperatures.