The world of oils and cooking fats can be complicated when you’re trying to balance both health and taste considerations. Coconut oil is trendy right now, but is it really the best for everything? Olive oil is a popular classic, but is it true you shouldn’t use it for high-temperature cooking? Where does butter fit into all this? It’s okay, we got you.
The big concern when it comes to cooking with oils is the “smoke point” — that’s the temperature at which the oil starts to break down and compromise the flavour, smell and nutritional value of the fat. You don’t want to use oils with low smoke points for high-temp cooking. At lower temperatures, you want to use the “healthiest” oil you can. Here’s what you should be selecting from the pantry when it comes to common cooking oils.
Olive oil has received some flack recently for having a “low smoke point” with rumours circulating that you should only use it for low-heat cooking and salad dressing. Yes, olive oil works great for both those things, but don’t be too concerned about its supposed fragility. This oil’s smoke point is 391 degrees Fahrenheit so it’s good for most of your sauteing and grilling needs. You can cook veggies, eggs and meat with olive oil without worrying about it breaking down.
Something to note when buying olive oil is that the best stuff is dark, has a flavour to it and can get expensive. It has a lot of monounsaturated fats (those are good for you) and the darker the olive oil, the more of those you get.
Butter is about 50 per cent saturated fat, which we should always use in moderation. It has a smoke point of about 350 degrees F, so you wouldn’t use it for cooking anything on really high heat, but it’s perfect for baking (duh).
Don’t count butter out just because it’s gotten a bad rep lately for being a “bad fat.” The relation between saturated fat and heart disease has been proven to be more complicated recently so it’s not necessarily something you need to avoid altogether. Butter also contains butyric acid which has been proven to be good for gut health and for normalizing cell functions in the body.
The thing about coconut oil is that it’s almost entirely saturated fat. While we just said that’s not exactly the automatic no-no it’s been in the past, we still shouldn’t get too much of it. The reason coconut oil has gained popularity especially in health circles in recent years is that it contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) which have been linked to an increase in metabolic rate. So it could speed up your metabolism, but keep in mind that one tablespoon is about 120 calories so it should be used in moderation.
Coconut oil also has a pretty low smoke point (about 350 degrees F) so it’s really best for low-heat cooking and for baking. A cool bonus to using it for baking instead of butter is it can add an extra coconut flavour to your desserts.
We don’t talk about canola oil a lot but it’s kind of the hidden gem among the oils. It’s got a great health profile: it’s high in monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats and it’s got a good omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 2 to 1 (you want a ratio as close to 1 as possible). It also has a high smoke point of about 400 degrees F so you can cook pretty much anything with it. You can grill, stir-fry or even deep fry to your heart’s content.
It also has a very light and neutral flavour so it works well in recipes you don’t want to add any olive or coconut flavours to.