Many stores, including the Natural Food Exchange, have a large selection of plant and animal oils and fats to choose from. But how do you choose between avocado and coconut oil, or canola and grapeseed? Here we discuss the uses and benefits of all these oils. There’s more to them than meets the eye!
From left to right: Artisana Organics Virgin Coconut Oil, Spectrum Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Farm Batched Solio Canola Oil, La Tourangelle Grapeseed Oil, Spectrum Avocado Oil, Simply Ghee Original Ghee
Virgin coconut oil is produced by drying the coconut meat and then pressing out the oil, or wet-milling the meat, which first produces coconut milk. While coconut oil is very high in saturated fat (about 90%, compared to butter’s 64%), it also is very effective at raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. Its saturated fat content make it a better pick to use sparingly, but its wonderful flavor and good-cholesterol benefits make it a good choice for occasional use.
Smoking Point: 350°
Flavor: Fairly strong coconut flavor, especially in unrefined varieties.
Use In: Coconut-flavored dishes, or as a butter substitute in small amounts
Olive oil is extracted by pressing ripe olives. It is high in monounsaturated fats. Choose extra-virgin olive oil for a more flavorful and healthier oil, or regular partially refined olive oil for a milder flavor and higher smoking point. Olive oil is rich in antioxidants that destroy harmful free radicals, so keep it away from damaging high heat.
Smoking Point: 320° (extra-virgin) or 420° (regular)
Flavor: Bold, fruity, and grassy in extra-virgin oils. A milder olive flavor in refined varieties, although it is not a neutral oil.
Use In: No-cook or low-heat preparations, and to add bold flavor and richness to salads, fresh vegetables, or finished dishes. Perfect for salad dressings.
Canola oil is a plant oil produced by the crushing and extraction of the canola seeds. Canola oil is very low in saturated fat (about 7%) and contains many healthy polyunsaturated omega-3s. It additionally contains phytosterols, which help to stop the body’s absorption of cholesterol. As with all oils processed in this way, canola oil does contain small amounts of trans fats, about 1.9-3.6%. To avoid damaging the healthy omega-3 fatty acids, do not overheat or burn the oil.
Smoking Point: 400°
Flavor: Very mild. Little distinct taste.
Use In: Baked goods, low-heat sautés
Grapeseed oil is made by extracting oil from the seeds of grapes, which are a by-product in wine-making. With a mild flavor and high smoking point, grapeseed oil is perfect for high-heat cooking. Grapeseed oil may contain phenolic compounds that act as antioxidants, but it is important to be aware of the oil’s high omega-6 fatty acid content.
Smoking Point: 420°
Flavor: Very mild. A neutral oil
Use In: High-heat preparations, such as stir-fries and sautés
Avocados can be from 5-30% oil, which is often extracted by crushing the fruit and separating the oil with solvents or spinning it at high speeds. The oil has a high smoking point and, in unrefined varieties, a rich green color and avocado flavor. It contains “healthy” monounsaturated fats, which cn reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Smoking Point: 520°
Flavor: In unrefined varieties, a bold, buttery avocado flavor. Refined varieties taste milder.
Use In: High heat sautés and searing. The bold flavor of the unrefined oil is perfect for finishing dishes.
Ghee, a staple of Indian cooking, is actually clarified butter. It is made by boiling unsalted butter to remove the milk solids and moisture. It remains a solid at room temperature, but gains a higher smoking point! Ghee does not require refrigeration, and it keeps for much longer than butter. Additionally, unlike butter, it contains no lactose, making it a perfect butter substitute for the lactose-intolerant or those avoiding milk products. While ghee still maintains butter’s high saturated fat content, it is ideal for those searching for a high-heat butter substitute.
Smoking Point: 485°
Flavor: Similar to butter but with a less-creamy texture and a nuttier taste.
Use In: Dishes that call for butter, roasting, or sautéing