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Which oils are best to cook with? A definitive guide

Coconut, rapeseed, olive, sunflower, avocado, vegetable...the world of cooking oils is a big, confusing place. Here's how to make sense of it all.


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When it came to buying oil to cook with, there used to be just two options: vegetable or olive. Nowadays, however, there are so many options out there that cooking oils often take up their very own aisle. With such a wide variety of oils currently on the market, browsing the oil aisle of your local supermarket can be an overwhelming experience. Not to mention the other factors that come into play when deciding which oil is best for your kitchen; smoke point, flavour profile, intended cooking method, storage and health considerations. It’s almost enough to make you ditch the shopping trolley and just order a takeaway.

But whether you're sautéing, marinating, drizzling, roasting or frying - it seems almost every recipe calls for oil. While the difference may seem insignificant, not all cooking oils are equal and it is important to know one from the other. Some perform well at high temperatures, making them ideal for frying and sautéing. Some are super flavorful but turn bad when heated. Some come in plastic bottles with the lifespan of several months where others come in decorative glass bottles that only getting better with age. How to differentiate between them all? How to know which oil to pair with what dish? And how to store them? Or how long will they last? So many questions! Thankfully, we've got the answers.

Before we can get into what the best cooking oils are and how to use them, there are just a few keywords we need to first understand. 

  • Smoke Point: 

One of the most common conversations around cooking oils is the smoke point. But what exactly is a smoke point? The smoke point is the heat at which the solids in the oil begin to burn and denature. All oils will eventually smoke, but each type of cooking oil has a different temperature threshold based on its composition that determines the ideal cooking method that particular oil should be used for.

  • Storage: 

Another factor to be aware of is how you store your cooking oil, and for how long. Different oils have different shelf lives. Olive oil, for example, will oxidize more quickly than coconut oil. The general rule when it comes to storing most oils is to avoid storing it right next to the stove or above the oven. Keep it away from heat in a cool, dark location (like a kitchen cupboard) with the cap on tightly. If your oil has a soapy, metallic or bitter smell, it’s gone bad and should be thrown out.

Eager to get cooking with oil but not sure where to start? Don’t sweat it—we’ve got you covered. From sesame to sunflower, here’s a rundown of 10 popular cooking oils.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

If olive oil is “virgin,” that means the oil was extracted from the olives by mechanical means only—in other words, no chemicals or solvents were used in the extraction process. Just like wine, extra virgin olive oil can vary in taste depending on the oils' origin. It can range in flavours from fruity to grassy to bitter and even buttery. It’s a common misconception that you can’t saute with olive oil. You can, just do so at a low to medium heat. Good-quality olive oil is also perfect for drizzling on top of finished dishes for an extra pop of flavour. 

Smoke point: 190 °C

Storage: Olive oil has three enemies: oxygen, light and heat. So keep in a cool, dry and dark cupboard away from the oven and sunlight. Store in a dark-coloured glass bottle to help keep out the light. Use olive oil soon after buying it, and always keep it stored with a cap or lid.

Best for: Frying, marinades, dressing, ice cream, finishing 

Light Olive Oil

Despite its name, light olive oil does not mean it has fewer calories. The "light" actually refers to how it is lighter in taste and colour than extra virgin olive oil. All olive oil is made by crushing the olives into a paste, then extracting the excess water from the mixture. This can be done on a stone press, but on a commercial scale, is often completed with high-tech steel machinery. 

Smoke point: 207°C

Storage: Olive oil has three enemies: oxygen, light and heat. So keep in a cool, dry and dark cupboard away from the oven and sunlight. Store in a dark-coloured glass bottle to help keep out the light. Use olive oil soon after buying it, and always keep it stored with a cap or lid

Best for: Sautéing, grilling, vinaigrettes, finishing, roasting at low temperatures, frying

Rapeseed Oil

If you want a light alternative to other cooking oils, rapeseed is a great choice and has experienced a surge in popularity in recent months. It’s low in saturated fat, so has been hailed for its health benefits and also has other nutritional bonuses – it contains omegas 3, 6 and 9. The delicate but pleasant taste of rapeseed oil means it can be consumed in its cold, natural form served as a dressing or dip. However, it can be used for a multitude of cooking methods as its delicate flavour does not bleed out during the cooking process, so it is a good, neutral fat. What's more, rapeseed oil is the only extensively-used culinary oil that can be widely found both grown and bottled in Ireland.

Smoke point: 200°C

Storage: Rapeseed oil can be stored like any other oil for many months, as long as it’s in a sealed container or bottle and stored at room temperature in an area shielded from sunlight.

Best for: salad dressing, dips, shallow and deep-frying, baking, roasting.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has taken the internet by storm in recent years, with bloggers discovering myriad uses outside of the kitchen ranging from eye makeup remover to DIY cleaning products. Its solid consistency at room temperatures, similar to butter, means coconut oil isn’t practical for cold dishes or in salad dressings. It is, however, good for moderate-heat roasting. It melts and gives off a tropical scent when heated. Its similar-to-butter consistency when cold makes it a good alternative for non-dairy baked goods.

Smoke point: 177ºC

Storage: Coconut oil has a naturally long shelf life: about two years. Just keep it a room temperature in a sealed, ideally airtight container. 

Best for: sautéing, stir-frying, curries, baking

Vegetable Oil

Perhaps one of the most common oils found in kitchens across the country, vegetable oil is a combination of various refined oils. A neutral oil made from various ingredients (including soybeans, sunflower seeds, corn, canola, sesame and more), it imparts little to no flavour and helps achieve crispy, crunchy textures.

Smoke point: 232°C

Storage: To keep vegetable oil fresh longer, store it away from heat, light, and air and seal it tightly. 

Best for: deep-frying, marinades, roasting, high-heat sautéing, baking

Sesame Seed Oil

Nutty and flavorful, sesame oil is often used as a flavour enhancer for Asian cuisines. Divided into regular and toasted varieties, the former can be used for light frying, whereas the latter should be used for lower-heat cooking. And because of its strong flavor, a little oil goes a long way. 

Smoke point: 177ºC

Storage: Sesame seed oil should be treated like any other vegetable oil. That means you should keep it in a cool and dry area, away from sunlight or heat sources. 

Best for: Stir-frys, marinades, dressings, sauces, soups, finishing

Avocado Oil

If there's one thing that's hot right now, it's avocados. Avocado oil is made by (you guessed it) pressing avocados—specifically the delicious, green, fleshy part around the pit. It has one of the highest smoke points of any cooking oil, which makes it perfect for when you are using a high temperature to cook, everything from frying to wok stir-fries. Avocado oil has a very neutral taste, which makes it also easy to use in salad dressings, marinades, or homemade mayonnaise in place of vegetable oil.

Smoke point: 271°C

Storage: There's no need to refrigerate it when opened, although it should be stored in a cool, dark cupboard.

Best for: sautéing, roasting, searing, stir-frying and vinaigrettes

Sunflower Oil

Sunflower oil comes from pressed seeds of a sunflower. It has a high smoke point and neutral flavour, which means it won’t overwhelm a dish. Perfect when you don't want a pronounced flavour from the oil in a recipe (think stir-fries, curries, and baked goods). 

Smoke point: 232 °C

Storage: Because it is pressed from seeds, it does turn rancid quicker than other oils, so store it in a cool place and use within a year, max

Best for: deep-frying, sautéing, stir-frying, searing, baking

Peanut Oil

Most commonly used in deep frying and in Asian dishes, this bold-flavoured oil is extracted from peanuts, giving it a strong nutty flavour. Its high smoke point and versatility make it a popular choice in culinary kitchens. It tends to be a little on the fatty side but makes up for it with high levels of vitamin E.
Smoke point: 232ºC

Storage: Peanut oil can go rancid quickly, so store it in a cool, dry place, and use it within a few months. It's best to buy in small batches unless you're doing a lot of deep-frying

Best for: Frying, deep-frying, stir-frying

Flaxseed Oil

Sometimes referred to as linseed oil, flaxseed oil is made by extracting oil from the dried seeds of the flax plant, often by cold-pressing the ripened seeds. Flaxseed oil is also nutty-tasting, but too much can impart a fishy, funky flavour. Use sparingly in dressings or as a finisher—it's also great as a seasoning agent for cast-iron pans.

Smoke point: 107 °C

Storage: Unlike most of the oils featured in this guide, flaxseed oil needs to be refrigerated in a sealed container. For the best quality, buy flaxseed oil in smaller bottles and use it within the shortest time possible.

Best for: Dressings, finishing, seasoning cast-iron skillets 

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