You’ve probably heard by now how terrific extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil are for you. It seems everywhere I look, there’s another article about the benefits of coconut oil. This is great, except I can’t help but feel like there’s a disconnect out there between being told that certain oils are healthy and being told how to actually use them the way they’re supposed to be used. Maybe it’s just me, maybe you’ve all done your research and you’re shaking your head right now thinking, “Poor Crystal, she’s the last to catch on.” Either way, I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned over the years about healthy oils and how to cook with them, without smoking everyone out of the house.
This is not an exhaustive list of every healthy oil out there, this is just my list of the ones I use and finally feel comfortable not screwing up. I have yet to implement oils into my kitchen such as macadamia nut, hemp, hazelnut, or even tea seed (yes, it’s real, but I think it’s super scarce which means it’s super expensive and I’m likely not up for that at this particular point in my life). I hear those are all good and I do know nut oils are usually winners, but let’s just start with a few basics.
Smoke point: 480 to 520 degrees
Avocadoes are really high in monounsaturated fat, which is a great thing, and the benefits of this oil are plentiful. With that said, it’s on the pricey side so I don’t use it for an everyday cooking oil. If you’re okay with re-stocking more often, you could absolutely use this as one of your main oils. This oil has the highest smoke point of most oils out there which makes it nice for grilling and roasting. You can rest assured knowing the oil won’t break down when cooked at high temps. But as I mentioned, I prefer to use this sparingly for budget reasons so I really like it drizzled on my salads or thrown into pasta.
Extra virgin olive oil
Smoke point: 365 to 400 degrees
I find that, like I used to, a lot of people use this oil exclusively and don’t know that unless it’s a very high quality extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), it shouldn’t be cooked at really high temps. It took a few ruined dishes for me to learn this. Most conventional extra virgin olive oils we find and buy in the stores are lower quality, so they begin to break down at a lower temp. This doesn’t mean they’re not good for you, you’ll still get the beneficial free-fatty acids out of them (unless they’re SUPER cheap). But you’ll want to save this all-star oil for making things like dressings, pesto, sauces, or sautéing. We do use our Misto oil sprayer and put EVOO on our veggies when we bake/roast them, we just make sure the temperature is set at around 350 degrees.
Smoke point: 400 to 430 degrees
I think some people would argue whether this is a healthy oil, but I fall on the side of those who think it is, mostly because it’s high in the good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) and lower in saturated fat than other cooking oils. I’m not afraid of saturated fat but since this is our go-to oil for all high-heat cooking we do (which isn’t a lot), I like knowing I’m not adding in a bunch of stuff I don’t need.
Toasted sesame oil
Smoke point: 410 degrees
This one is a favorite of ours because we love the sesame flavor in our stir fries, salad dressings, and sauces. Sesame oil is full of antioxidants and, like the others, high in the two good fats. Plus you can safely make a marinade out of it and throw it on the grill without the oil breaking down.
Smoke point: 320 degrees
This is a fun and yummy oil, but the first time I used it someone had told me to bake with it. Wrong information. I didn’t know that the oil of walnuts is super fragile which means it’s bitter when it gets heated much past 300 degrees, which is kind of necessary in baking. I ruined some really promising pancakes. Since then, I’ve learned it’s best used in place of butter. So think about trying it on breads, in dips and sauces, or sprinkled over bruschetta.
Smoke point: 350 degrees
The trendiest of all oils right now, coconut oil is indeed pretty wonderful. But at some point you may have questioned why it’s so wonderful given it’s higher in saturated fat. Here’s the thing: Not all saturated fat is bad for you. The type of saturated fat in coconut oil is not derived out of the same type found in meat and dairy. In fact, it doesn’t even break down in your body the same way, therefore it doesn’t get stored as fat like you might expect. This stuff is the real deal. My favorite way to use it is a tablespoon in my green smoothies (heat it up gently into liquid form first, then pour into the blender while it’s mixing) or a ½ tablespoon to make homemade popcorn (if you like the slight flavor of coconut). But you can bake with it at moderate temps and use it in sautés. Be careful, however, when making things on the stove like pancakes unless you can guarantee the temperature will stay under 350. Again, more promising pancakes have been ruined because I didn’t know what I was doing.
I would love to hear what healthy oils you all use and how you use them!