Friday, October 17, 2014

Cotton, Coconut or Canola: Which Food Oils Are Best?

Anyone who has read an ingredients list on food items knows that oil is an important part of cuisine. But for do-it-yourself cooking, knowing when and how to use oil can better your food and save your taste buds.

One of the more common uses of oils in cuisine is actually applied before any cooking is started: lubrication. Oils don’t burn as fast as butter or margarine and are useful to keep food from sticking to metal, so it’s used in pan-fried meals to prevent a choppy, burned mess.

According to, canola oil is best for stir-frying and baking, while sunflower oil is great for high-heat frying, searing and browning.

For fuller pans or less experienced cooks, coconut oil is a good alternative for frying because of its high heat tolerance, making it less likely to suddenly start a blaze. However, it’s comparatively sweeter than other oils and might create an unexpected taste.

Palm kernel oil can also be a welcome substitute for pan frying due to its lower cost, but it’s not quite as good for you as other oils.

Deep frying is another common use for oils, and peanut oil is often considered the best for the job. Perhaps two of better-known examples of its usage are by fast food chains Five Guys and Chick-fil-A, who gleefully advertise the oil’s use for all of their frying needs. Its rich taste also makes it the go-to oil for Asian cuisine.

The deep frying market certainly isn’t exclusive to peanuts. According to, many other restaurants use cottonseed oil for its stability and lack of trans fats, and its neutral flavor makes it ideal for preserving taste. In fact, the oil’s neutrality makes it a favorite “yardstick” for comparing other oils. Cottonseed oil is also a good source of essential fatty acids, Vitamin E and antioxidants.

Other oils used in frying include soybean oil and corn oil, which have high smoke point temperatures and are valuable for some applications.

Italian cuisine benefits greatly from cooking oil, and one type in particular stands out as the preferred choice. Here’s a hint: Olive Garden. According to, olive oil is ‘liquid gold’ to Italian chefs and is used in sauces, salad dressings, grilling or even as a condiment. The extra virgin variety is considered the cream of the crop, and authentic chefs look forward to the November olive harvest to get their hands on fresh batches.

Many other types of oils are in the market and have their own distinct flavors, properties and applications. To name a few, there’s sunflower oil, almond oil, pumpkin seed oil, safflower oil, grape seed oil, sesame oil, rice bran oil, argan oil and many different vegetable oils. To complicate things even more, many of the oils mentioned above have different refinements, providing even more choices for cuisine.

The bottom line: Oils in cuisine aren’t unlike oils on canvas. They can add to a chef’s personal palette to create unique, delicious works of art.