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The Complete Guide to Cooking Oils

It can be difficult to find the right cooking oil for your home, especially when there are so many different options to choose from. There are various types of benefits that every cooking oil offers, along with separate cooking properties, and flavors. Each year you hear about new cooking oils bring introduced into the market, which further confuses people trying to buy the best cooking oil.

We are going to look at some of the most common cooking oils in market and give our recommendations for the best ones you should look to buy. You may even be surprised about common healthy cooking oils, which end up losing their benefits when exposed to intense heat.

There is no denying that everyone uses cooking oil at home, and there is nothing better than a pan-fried steak that has some freshly roasted vegetables drizzled in cooking oil. When you’re talking about cooking oils, it is important to know that not all cooking oils are the same. Each type of cooking oil has its own unique properties, and this guide is going to inform you about all cooking oils in the market today.

Some cooking oils should be avoided, some are best at room temperature, while others are the best for cooking. If you’re confused about the type of cooking oil you should buy, then this guide is for you. We are going to cover all the cooking oils, and help you choose a cooking that is healthy, and helps reduce your risk for diseases.

So, let’s dive into the complete guide for cooking oils.

What are cooking oils and how are they produced?

Cooking oils are fatty liquids that have been extracted from different seeds, nuts, fruits, and plants. The olive oil is the most common cooking oil and has been produced for several thousand years across China and the Mediterranean. It was used by ancient civilizations, who used to use pestles, and mortars to crush and squeeze the oil from the fruit. We have a long history with cooking oils and have been using different kinds of cooking oils for centuries.

Nowadays, people continue to use cooking oils, with the only difference being that the production process of these oils has become more efficient. That has resulted in more different types of cooking oils than ever before, which has led to confusion among people about the best type of cooking oil to buy. The production process of the oil and the way it is extracted and impacts a lot on the properties of that cooking oil. The major difference between cooking oils today is in their production process.

Types of fats found in cooking oils

When you visit your local grocery store, you will notice that there are different types of cooking oils that are lined up on the shelves, and most of them are viewed as ‘vegetable fats’. However, there is a lot of difference between vegetable fats and cooking oil. Each type of oil has various fats in it, which play a major role in the properties of the oil and determine whether it is a good oil or not.

The chemical structure of all fats tends to be similar as it includes carbon atoms that bond with hydrogen atoms to form a chain. The main difference between these fats is in how it reacts to cooking at high temperatures. The shape and length of the carbon chain, and the amount of hydrogen atoms connected with the carbon atoms also make a difference to the composition of the cooking oil.

Now we will look at different types of fats that are found in cooking oils, so that we can inform everyone about what goes on when you are cooking with these cooking oils.

Monounsaturated Fats

The MUFAs, or monounsaturated fats are fats that are commonly found in avocados, nuts, olive oils, and other fatty plant foods. The monounsaturated fats are commonly found in Mediterranean diets, which consists of nuts and olive oil. These MUFAs have a melting point that comes between polyunsaturated and saturated fats. This means that the fats remain in liquid form when the oil is at room temperature, but starts to become solid, when the oil is refrigerated or chilled. The structure of the fats also makes them more stable when exposed to heat than polyunsaturated fats.

Polyunsaturated Fats

The PUFAs or polyunsaturated fats are fats that are found in oils that are plant based, and can be found in abundance in canola, sunflower, soy, corn, and peanut oils. The polyunsaturated fats have a less stable structure, which means they don’t remain firm when exposed to high temperatures. A lot of people consume PUFAs in small amounts in their daily diet, but when you place them under heat, this can result in inflammation and create ideal conditions for critical diseases like cancer.

Saturated Fats

The saturated fats are generally found in small quantities in plant oils and are commonly found in animal cooking fats like tallow and lard. These saturated fats are the most popular choice when it comes to cooking at home, since they can resist heat damage. In the past, people used to demonize saturated fats, but modern researched has busted that myth. It has shown that saturated fats are an integral part of our diet and provide us with various benefits like improving blood pressure and increasing good cholesterol in the body.

What makes a good VS. bad cooking oil

To completely explain the benefits and differences between cooking oils, we are going to look at the chemical composition and bonds of cooking oils. This will help us find an oil that is best for cooking at home and is healthy for all individuals. If a fat contains more double bonds, it will become unstable when exposed to high heat.

This is the reason why polyunsaturated fats that have around two double bonds aren’t recommended for cooking, while monounsaturated contains zero, and saturated contains one bond. The other factors that determine whether a cooking oil is good or bad include how much heat exposure they can handle:

Smoke Point

The temperature at which an oil begins to break down and form compounds is known as the smoke point. When an oil reaches or exceeds the smoke point, it can become extremely damaging for the health of an individual. Therefore, if you are cooking at high heat, you may need to find a cooking oil that has a higher smoke point than others.

Oxidative Stability

The oxidative stability of a cooking oil describes the ability of the oil to resist oxidation, which is a process that causes fat molecules in the oil start creating free radicals. There are a host of different health problems that can be caused by these free radicals, which include Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer, aging, heart disease, and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. These free radicals can severely damage the DNA and therefore, it is imperative that you choose a cooking oil that has an extremely high oxidative stability.

The oxidative stability of a cooking depends on its chemical composition, which will include its antioxidant content, and a high smoke point, which protects from oxidation.

Health effects of overheated oils

When a cooking oil starts to break down, it can start creating compounds that will become extremely damaging for the health of an individual. There are numerous compounds that can harm the health, and one of them is acrolein, which is a chemical found in cigarette smoke and is linked with hemorrhages in the gut lining and ulcers.

Apart from acrolein, there are other compounds like free radicals that can be created in oxidized oils and can damage the DNA and lead to serious disease. There are numerous studies that have shown the effects compounds in heated oil can cause to the human body. These free radicals and compounds can result in an increased risk of cancer, an increased risk of heart disease, and altered glucose metabolism, when the cooking oil is heated repeatedly.

Worst oils to cook with

After learning about the basic structure and composition of cooking oils, and things to look for in quality cooking oils, we are going to discuss the worst cooking oils in the market. You shouldn’t be using any of these cooking oils, because most of these oils have polyunsaturated fats that have low smoke points, and low amounts of antioxidants that make them unstable under heat. It is important to find a cooking that has a smoke point that is close to 400ºF for cooking, but most of the worst cooking oils are well below this smoke point.

Corn, Peanut, and Soy Oils

Smoke Point: 320ºF

The worst cooking oils in the market today are soy, peanut, and corn oils, which are bad for consumption, even if you don’t heat the oil. Numerous studies have shown that these cooking oils are rich in unstable polyunsaturated fats, which increase your risk of heart disease.

All these cooking oils are easily oxidized and have a low smoke point, which can lead to a creation of dangerous compounds like free radicals. A lot of corn and soy oils are created at genetically modified plants, which makes them unsuitable for cooking.

Canola Oil

Smoke Point: 350ºF

Canola cooking oil also makes it to the list of worst oils to cook with, because it has a low smoke point, and is extremely susceptible to oxidation. It also has a lot of GMO ingredients.

Safflower Oil

Smoke Point: 225ºF

Safflower cooking oil has large amounts of PUFAs, and a low smoke point, which makes it susceptible to creating free radicals.

Sunflower Oil

Smoke Point: 225ºF

Sunflower cooking oil is mainly PUFAs, and has a low smoke point, which can lead to negative health effects and inflammation.

Walnut Oil

Smoke Point: 320ºF

Walnut cooking oil is a healthy oil, since it has a large amount of monounsaturated fats, but the oil has a low smoke point. This means that you can only use walnut oil when drizzled on salads or when cooking under gentle heat.

Best oils to cook with

Now that we have looked at the worst cooking oils to work with, it is only fair if we follow that with the best cooking oils you should be cooking with. These cooking oils have high smoke points, high antioxidant levels, and high resistance to oxidation.

Coconut Oil

Smoke Point: 350ºF

Coconut oil is a healthy choice since it is mainly saturated fat and has a medium smoke point, which makes it one of the best cooking oils to work with.

Animal Fats (Lard and Tallow)

Smoke Point: 370ºF

Animal fats technically don’t come under cooking oils but are excellent when used for cooking. They have saturated fatty acids that resist heat damage, have high smoke points and can resist oxidation.

Macadamia Nut Oil

Smoke Point: 390ºF

Macadamia nut cooking oil is excellent for cooking, as it has a great balance between polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. This makes it stable under high heat and has fewer double bonds.

Olive Oil

Smoke Point: 405ºF

Olive oil mainly consists of monounsaturated fats, which makes it stable when placed under heat. It also contains mainly antioxidants like vitamin E, which helps it resist oxidation.

Avocado Oil

Smoke Point: 520ºF

If you want to cook at high heat, then avocado oil is the best choice, since it has a smoke point of 520ºF. The cooking oil is made of monounsaturated fats, which resists free radical formations.

How to properly store oils

If you want to ensure that your cooking oils remain in the best shape, you must store them properly in your home. It is important to properly store oil, since their storage impacts on avoiding rancidity, minimizing oxidation, and retaining their smoke points. It is recommended that you should always store cooking oils in a dark and cool place. Exposure to light and heat can cause a cooking oil to go bad.

The Bottom Line

It’s important that you learn about the different smoke points of cooking oils before buying them. Everyone that is cooking at home, should learn about the best cooking oils to cook with, so that they don’t have to worry about any health complications for their family and loved ones.

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