Over the weekend I took a cooking class and, among many things, I learned something surprising. Chef Katy Parker (Austin-based and fabulous!) was sautéing chicken for our homemade pizzas and revealed that her go-to fry and sauté oil is Grape Seed Oil. Now understand, I like to cook but I don’t love to cook so this was news to me. I soon learned though, that as with many cooking ingredients, choosing the right oil can make all the difference in the world and in your dish.
Most of you, myself included, might automatically reach for the so-called “healthy oil,” Olive Oil, but as Katy instructed us, when frying or sautéing, it’s not your best bet. It comes down to what’s called “smoke point,” the temperature at which oil burns. Olive Oil has a very low smoke point, meaning it burns quickly. This not only essentially ruins the oil, it will also leave a yucky residue in your pan that can prove nearly impossible to remove.
Grape Seed Oil, on the other hand, has a higher smoke point and a mild flavor. It is more expensive then Olive Oil, but since it’s advised to buy oils in small bottles to prevent them from aging, you can shop around and find some at an affordable price. Canola Oil is also a great choice and it’s packed with plant-based omega-3s.
In addition, research is showing that Olive Oil is not as nutrient-rich as once thought and that the oil’s health-promoting antioxidants diminish significantly after processing, storage, exposure to light and air, and high heat. Olive Oil is best used for antipasti dishes and for drizzling over salads and pasta dishes, specifically extra virgin oil, which comes from the first pressings of olives. Many consider Olive Oil from the Tuscany region of Italy the world’s finest and it boasts a full-bodied, intense flavor with a hint of pepper.
Whatever oil you prefer, be sure to use the refined version whenever possible, as refining removes impurities and raises smoke points.
There are many oils on the market today and they all come with different smoke points, flavors, and uses. Here is just a quick snapshot to get you started:
OIL SMOKE POINT
Extra Virgin Olive Oil 320F
Vegetable Oil 325F
Grape Seed Oil 420F
Corn Oil 450F
Peanut Oil 450F
Safflower Oil 450F
Sunflower Oil 450F
Canola Oil 470F
Avocado Oil 520F
There are different varieties of Olive Oil: extra virgin, virgin, extra light, and refined. Extra virgin olive oil is the most common. There are many uses for all varieties, such as stir-frying and in salads. It is considered by many to be one of the most healthy of all the oils as it is high in mono unsaturated fat, which may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Vegetable Oil is probably the most commonly used of all the oils. It is actually a blend of several oils, such as corn, soybean, palm, and sunflower and health-wise, it’s one of the most discouraged.
Grape Seed Oil
An aromatic oil and light medium-yellow oil that is actually a by-product of wine making. Ideal for sautéing and frying.
Corn Oil is relatively low in both saturated and mono unsaturated fats. It is popular in baking but should only be used when frying on medium temperatures.
Peanut Oil is a great oil to use when frying in high temperatures. You may be familiar with it particular during Thanksgiving as many people use it in their turkey fryers.
A clear, almost flavorless oil made from the seeds of safflowers. Safflower Oil is a favorite for salads because it doesn’t solidify when chilled. Safflower Oil is pale yellow and has a bland flavor. It is a good all-purpose oil low in saturated fat and high in polyunsaturated fat.
Sunflower Oil is low in saturated fat and high in Vitamin E and can be used in the home to fry, cook, and for use in salad dressings. Many food manufacturers are recognizing the health benefits of Sunflower Oil and are using it as the preferred oil in snack foods like potato chips.
Canola Oil is considered one of the most healthy of the cooking oils because of its low saturated fat content and high mono unsaturated fat. It is commonly used in frying, but only at medium frying temperatures.