I have been pondering over this question: what is the best oil to use for various cooking purposes?
Oils contain fat, which is either saturated or unsaturated.
Saturated fats are abundant in ghee and oils that tend to solidify at room temperature like coconut oil. This means that their carbon-hydrogen backbone cannot take any more hydrogen atoms. Hence they are stable at high temperatures.
Oils from seeds like canola, olive contain unsaturated fats. Their carbon atoms have a potential to get “saturated” (oxidized) or bond more hydrogens. They are more unstable when heated and can form free radicals. Free radicals, we know are not good for the body, they are associated with cancers and other chronic diseases. Even a high amount of processing can lead to oxidation of these oils and thus produce free radicals.
Canola and olive oils have monounsaturated fats, which have a lesser tendency to form free radicals. Sunflower and safflower oils have polyunsaturated fatty acids which have a higher tendency to form free radicals when heated.
Another important factor is smoke point. Higher smoke points are better for tempering and sauteing. From the following table canola and safflower oils seem to be ranking high in smoke points but then we know that safflower oil may form more free radicals due to the presence of many unsaturated bonds. So, the best choice seems to be canola oil. Also, cold-pressed or extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoke point and should not be heated.
Smoke Points of Fats and Oils
|Vegetable Shortening (Hydrogenated)||325°F|
|Olive Oil||325°F – 375°F|
|Corn Oil||400°F – 450°F|
|Canola Oil||425°F – 475°F|
|Clarified Butter||450°F – 475°F|
|Sunflower Oil||450°F – 475°F|
|Soybean Oil||450°F – 475°F|
|Safflower Oil||475°F – 500°F|
Experts in the field would tell you to stay away from genetically modified foods, as they are in the long term known to cause harm to the body. All corn, canola as well as vegetable oil (which is mostly soybean oil) in the U.S is genetically modified, unless labeled “non-GM”.
In Indian cooking we use oil everyday at least in small amounts. There are other seed oils too, which are unique to each cuisine. For example in South India, we need to temper with sesame oil to add flavor in some dishes (refined would be the way to go). In other parts of the country peanut, mustard oil are used (I have never tried those).
more smoke point data:
Sesame oil: unrefined- 350 °F; semi-refined- 450°F
peanut oil- 440 °F
So, then, do we turn to organic canola oil? That is what I have done, at least in part. I use it for everyday cooking, in small amounts, in combination with coconut oil and ghee (clarified butter) . Extra-virgin olive oil for salads. And when I have to deep-fry, for religious occasions or those indulgent moments, I use regular canola oil, but throw the used oil away that very same day. It is going to produce more free radicals when heated the next day.
What about baking? For the same reasons stated above, I think the best choices are coconut oil and non-GM canola oil. There are many brands of coconut oil available, that have negligible smell, which makes them suitable to use everyday.
What is your choice of oil? Do you have more ideas and information to share? I would like to learn more…
Here’s a piece of information I got from my blogger friend Tanusree Roy, although refined canola oil is inflammatory, expeller-pressed organic canola oil has anti-inflammatory properties. Check this:
Sources and links:
Chapter “Basic Food Science” in “The Healthy Indian Diet” by Dr. Raj Patel et. al