With many options of cooking oil on the grocery shelves it may be difficult for the at-home cook to decide which oils are right for the foods they are cooking. With a little knowledge, the most novice cook can choose the correct cooking oil for every dish.
First to consider is the difference between refined and unrefined cooking oils. Refined cooking oils have been stripped of most taste and color and likely are light in color. They will not add smell or taste to the foods that are fried in them. Refined cooking oils are best for frying foods while unrefined cooking oils are usually considered ‘salad oils’. Unrefined cooking oils have greater nutritional qualities than do refined cooking oils.
Refined cooking oils have a higher smoke point than their unrefined counterparts. This means that they won’t begin to decompose and create smoke until they reach a much higher temperature. Most unrefined cooking oils should not be heated above 320 degrees Fahrenheit. This will cause the cooking oil to add unpleasant tastes and odors to the food being cooked in it.
As a word of caution about heating cooking oils: Even refined cooking oils have a fire or “flash” point. At 600-700 degrees Fahrenheit cooking oils may start to boil and create small flames. Cooking oil fires should never be distinguished with water, which can cause the oil to splatter and spread, but instead should be smothered with a lid, baking soda or a fire extinguisher.
The most popular of cooking oils include olive oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, peanut oil, corn oil, safflower oil and sesame oil. Each can be used with certain dishes to enhance flavors. Olive oil is great for sautéing and stir-frying. Canola oil is one of the least expensive oils and also one of the healthiest. It can be used in both baking and cooking as it has a very mild flavor. Vegetable oil can also be used in both baking and cooking due to its light taste. Peanut oil also has a bland flavor and is great for cooking because it will not put unwanted flavors into foods. Corn oil can withstand high temperatures and is great for frying. It is nearly tasteless, also. Safflower oil will stay liquid when cold and is great for salad dressings. It, too, is light in flavor. Sesame oil, especially the dark variety, will add flavor to foods and is best used as oil for adding taste and not for actually cooking food in.
There are many choices when it deciding on a cooking oil. The well stocked pantry will likely contain several types of cooking oils. Foods prepared in the correct cooking oil and at the right temperature will taste great.