The Dish

Cooking Oils – Which One to Use?

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Happy May Everyone!  I hope spring is here or soon on it’s way to you where you live!

This week I am, again, in California helping my brother, Steve, get to his V.A. appointments over the next few days.  You remember Steve, right?  Wicked sense of humor, gentle in nature, and not doing as well as he could.  I’ve had 3 previous trips this year, which is unusual for it only being the first week of May.  Finally, he seems to be better this trip and with the tests and appointments this week, I hope we get him better yet.

I was wondering what type of post to do this week, when it occurred to me I haven’t shared a chart in quite some time.  So, it is going to be a chart week.  

Recently, I had the question “could another oil be substituted for safflower oil in a recipe”.  The answer is almost always yes, you can. But it depends on what you are making and what oil you want to use as the substitute. 

There are 4 characteristics to consider in choosing a cooking oil:

Heat Resistance or Smoking Point – At what temperature will the oil break down and smoke? This is especially important to consider if you are frying.

Taste – Does this oil have a flavor? Or is it tasteless and neutral in flavor? If it is not neutral, does the flavor compliment the dish?

Viscosity – How thick is the oil?  Does the weight of it match how it is being used?

Nutrition – Does this oil contain large amounts of saturated or trans-fats?

This week lets look at the first two items on this list, Heat Resistance and Taste

The last thing you ever want to have is a fire in the kitchen, which is why understanding the smoking points of oils is important. Oils with a low smoking point will break down if you heat them beyond their smoking point.  As the oil breaks down, evidenced by smoking, your food may gain an “off” taste after being fried… and very importantly, the oil could catch fire while being overheated.  Yikes!

Another thing to consider when choosing an oil is taste.  Most of the time choosing a neutral flavored oil is the best choice.   When frying, you might have a seasoned batter or crumb that you want to stay true to its flavors.  In baking you might be using flavors that are delicate and not want them to compete with the oil.

But there are times when the oil, if flavored, can give a boost to the other flavors in your dish, like a drop or two of sesame oil in your stir fry, or hazelnut oil in your vinaigrette.  Last week I shared my recipe for Coconut Crumb Banana Muffins and I used coconut oil.  It was a good choice for this recipe as it gave a flavor boost to the Coconut Crumb Topping and also to the muffin.

So, this week I am sharing a great chart comparing 2 of the 4 characteristics of cooking oils.

This chart, “Cooking Oil Smoking Point and Flavor Neutrality” compares the smoking points of commonly used cooking oils and I have also noted which oils are flavor neutral.  On the left side of the chart the oils are listed alphabetically.  The graph on the right-side lists oil by smoking point, highest at the top and lowest at the bottom.  As you look at this information, you might notice that refined oils are grouped toward the top and unrefined oils are at the bottom.  Fruit and nut oils that are cold pressed are mostly in the center.  Interestingly, the neutral flavored oils appear to be mostly toward the top of the graph sorted by smoking point.

If you want to know more about a specific cooking oil, I recommend Wikipedia.  There is outstanding information about individual cooking oils on that website.  I found the listing on cottonseed oil very interesting, with lots of history, and some discussion about American brand names like Wesson Oil and Crisco Shortening can be found there.

This week’s chart is: Cooking Oils

Chart showing cooking oil smoking points and whether the oil is neutral in flavor.