How to Choose the Right Cooking Oil

Not every cooking oil is suited to every cooking technique. Though many oils (such as olive oil) have health benefits, these benefits are voided by cooking them at the wrong temperature or storing them improperly. Cooking at a temperature beyond the oil's smoke point causes the oil molecules to break down into harmful compounds. Exposing oil to light also hastens its decomposition. The next time you fry or saute with oil, use this guide to choose the right oil and learn how to keep your oil from going rancid.

The first thing to know is that when oil is heated beyond its smoke point (the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke) it starts to break down and is no longer safe for consumption. Oil that has been over-heated loses its ability to cook food and doesn't taste very good either. To buy the right cooking oils, you should make a note of the temperatures you use when cooking. Here is a list of cooking techniques and their associated temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit:

sautéing: 350-400
light sautéing: 300-350
pan frying: 350-375
baking: 300-400
stir frying: 350-400
deep frying 350-400

Select an oil that has a higher smoke point than the temperature you cook with. For example, if you pan fry fish at 350 degrees, you should use refined corn oil, refined sunflower oil, refined vegetable oil, or virgin olive oil, all of which have smoke points above 420 degrees F.

Unrefined oils, butter, and extra virgin olive oil have various health benefits, but their smoke points are in the 300's. This is too low for frying at a high temperature.

You must also consider the length of time you cook. For example, even though butter and certain kinds of olive oil have lower smoke points than refined oils, they are still suitable for sautéing, since the cooking duration is very short.

When you deep fry and pan fry large foods, such as egg rolls, fried chicken, or french fries, you have to cook the food for a long time. Therefore, you should use an oil with an extremely high smoke point. Peanut and safflower oils are good for this purpose. Peanut oil is particularly good for frying because the same batch of oil can be reused one or two more times before the oil starts to degrade.

All kitchen oils stay fresher longer when they are stored in dark bottles or inside opaque cabinets. If you buy oils in a clear bottles, store them in a dark place.

© Had2Know 2010