7 Types of Cooking Oil: What Are the Key Strengths of Each?


Cooks in modern kitchens use many types of cooking oil. Each oil possesses different attributes, making them better choices for the chosen ingredients, cooking methods, or cuisines. From baking to sauteing to frying, oils remain core to preparing a tasty meal or treat. The seven types of cooking oil are coconut, extra-virgin olive, light olive, peanut, sesame, avocado, and canola oil.

The most important thing to consider when choosing an oil is its smoke point, or the temperature at which the oil starts burning.

When cooks understand the individual strengths of each type of oil, they can substitute to create new taste combinations and even new dishes. Choosing the oil with the right smoke point delivers healthier meals and precisely the right level of crispy when frying. Here’s the breakdown.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, which is why this flavorful oil is often used in place of butter when cooking at high temperatures. It’s thought to be helpful for weight loss due to the medium-chained fatty acids it’s composed of that deliver strong feelings of satisfaction. Many cooks use it to stir fry to bring out the flavors of the food and spices used. Although it has not been prevalent in western culture until recently, this oil has long been used worldwide. If you are looking for coconut oil, this is an excellent place to start.

Coconut oil’s smoke point and recommended use are:

  • 450 deg F
  • Sauteing and roasting at high temperatures

Check your technique to determine if coconut oil is the best choice.

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Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Nutritionists rarely agree on all healthy foods, but they universally call extra-virgin olive oil a healthy oil. Olive oil is packed with powerful antioxidants and good fatty acids and is one of the world’s most commonly used oils. However, since it has a low smoke point, it should only be used for low-temperature cooking. Since it is not associated with weight gain, it is the preferred choice for people on diets.

Extra-virgin olive oil’s smoke point and recommended uses are:

  • 350 deg F
  • Low-temperature saute and cold dips or salad dressings

Check your technique to determine if extra-virgin olive oil is the best choice.

Light Olive Oil

To gain the benefits of olive oil when cooking at high temperatures, the light version should be substituted. Its flavor is not as strong as the extra-virgin version, but it is still powerful. That’s why many bakers choose to use a different oil. Even though the name includes the word “light,” that doesn’t mean it packs reduced calories. Fortunately, this lighter version of the pressed olive product does keep the benefits of its extra virgin cousin. It is packed with antioxidants that are associated with the prevention of cancer.

Light olive oil’s smoke point and recommended uses are:

  • 470 deg F
  • Baking, grilling, roasting, and sauteing

Check your technique to determine if light olive oil is the best choice.

Peanut Oil

Peanut oil’s popularity for deep frying cannot be overestimated. Its high smoke point and low cost are a favorite when it comes to french fries and other foods using the deep-fry method. It transfers a delicate flavor balance to food as it cooks, but has a shorter shelf life than other oils. The refined oils are generally safe for people with peanut allergies, but the unrefined types have been associated with allergic reactions. However, since it can be used many times before it breaks down, it remains popular.

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Peanut oil’s smoke point and recommended uses are:

  • 450 deg F
  • Stir-fries and frying

Check your technique to determine if peanut oil is the best choice.

Sesame Oil

Sesame oil is beloved for its nutty taste and smell. With a smoke point in the midrange, this is one of the most versatile oils on the list. It works well drizzled over foods as a flavor enhancer, but it’s also a terrific choice for cooking on the stove-top. Best of all, it rivals olive oil when it comes to healthy cooking. While it is stable due to its high level of antioxidants, it retains its flavor best when it is kept refrigerated.

Sesame oil’s smoke point and recommended use are:

  • 350 to 400 deg F
  • Saute, stir fry, and added flavoring

Check your technique to determine if sesame oil is the best choice.

Avocado Oil

Avocados are known for their healthy fats, and the oil made from this beloved fruit contains them as well. With its exceptionally high smoke point, it is considered one of the best oils for searing food at high temperatures. It allows the flavors of the food to shine through since it is a carrier oil. Carrier oils have little scent. It is thought to reduce the risk of cancer and diabetes, which makes it a popular choice for people with health issues.

Avocado oil’s smoke point and recommended uses are:

  • 520 deg F
  • High-temperature frying, roasting, stir-fry, baking, and grilling

Check your technique to determine if avocado oil is the best choice.

Canola and Other Vegetable Oils

Canola oil differs from vegetable oil in one significant way. It is made entirely from the rapeseed plant, while vegetable oils are made from a wide variety of vegetables often mixed together. These oils are top-rated because they are neutral when it comes to taste. Instead of tasting the flavor of the oil, as happens with sesame and olive oils, the flavors derived from the food are enhanced. Experts offer mixed advice about their healthiness, so cooks should do their research before purchasing. However, canola and vegetable oils are considered good for all-purpose use.

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Canola and other vegetable oil’s smoke point and recommended uses are:

  • 400 degrees F
  • Roasting, baking, sauteing, and stir-fry

Check your technique to determine if canola and other vegetable oil is the best choice.

Try substituting a different type of oil to achieve a different flavor profile the next time a favorite dish is cooked. Knowing the seven different types of cooking oils and their attributes makes it easy to swap types. While its important to match technique to smoke point, there is room for experimentation.


Caralin Walsh

InnoVision Health Media reports on health content that is supported by our editorial advisory board and content published in our group of peer reviewed medical journals.

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