Fat isn't just a nutrient essential to your body, it's also a key player in healthy cooking. It carries heat and helps cook foods quickly and evenly. It also coats your taste buds, making flavor linger longer.
But which oil is the best to cook with? And which is the healthiest cooking oil? With all the different oils in the market–avocado oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil and more–how do you know when to use each one?
A note on storing your oils properly-heat and light can damage oil and may alter its taste, so store oil in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Be sure to read labels carefully, though, because some oils have specific storage requirements. Grapeseed oil, for example, should be refrigerated.
- The Best: Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
What it is: Oil cold-pressed from ripe olives. (Regular and light olive oils are more refined.)
People who regularly eat extra-virgin olive oil in place of saturated fats have a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke–and lower cholesterol. That's why it wins our healthiest oil prize.
Has a fruitier flavor and aroma than most oil, making it great for salad dressing, drizzling and moderate-heat sautéing. While we think it's the best, it's not the best for cooking with high temperatures because of it's lower smoke point.
Avg. Smoke Point:190°C
- 78% monounsaturated fats
- 8% polyunsaturated fats
- 14% saturated fats
The healthiest oils
What it is: Oil extracted from ripe avocados after the skin and seed are removed.
The green hue of avocado oil comes from carotenoids (specifically eye-healthy lutein) and chlorophyll. Though chlorophyll has been touted as a blood cleanser and detoxifier, there's no solid science backing these claims.
With a hint of avocado flavor, this oil works well in a salad dressing and its high smoke point makes it good for stir-frying or sautéing. Try it in Quinoa Avocado Salad.
Avg. Smoke Point: 250°C
- 65% monounsaturated
- 28% polyunsaturated
- 7% saturated
- Canola Oil
What it is: Oil extracted from the crushed seeds of the canola plant.
Canola oil has the smallest amount of saturated fat and the most heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids of any of the common cooking oils. It's also a good source of vitamins E & K.
With a high smoke point, light texture and neutral flavor, it's an excellent choice for sautéing, baking and frying. Its neutral flavor also makes canola a good choice for some dressings.
Avg. Smoke Point: 242°C
- 62% monounsaturated
- 31% polyunsaturated
- 7% saturated
What it is: Oil extracted from the meat of mature coconuts. It's solid at room temperature, but liquid above 75°F. Can be used in solid or liquid state.
Although coconut oil is high in saturated fat, it contains a type of fat that elevates "good" HDL cholesterol. More research is needed to support coconut oil's purported therapeutic benefits-such as potential antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.
Use it for baking and low-heat sautéing because of its smoke point. Match it with foods that go with its coconut flavor.
Avg. Smoke Point: 176°C
- 6% monounsaturated
- 2% polyunsaturated
- 92% saturated
What it is: Oil extracted from peanuts. Available in refined, unrefined and toasted versions.
Though in small amounts, it's the only oil that contains resveratrol, a compound that may protect against certain cancers and heart disease. Also a good source of vitamin E.
Great neutral flavor; try roasted peanut oil for a toasty flavor. Use refined peanut oil for frying, grilling, sautéing or roasting due to its higher smoke point. Unrefined has a lower smoke point and is good for medium-heat cooking or salad dressings. Enjoy it in Carrot-Peanut Noodle Salad.
Avg. Smoke Point:
- 232°C when refined
- 160°C when unrefined
- 48% monounsaturated
- 34% polyunsaturated
- 18% saturated
- Safflower Oil
What it is: Oil from the seeds of the safflower.
In a study, adding a daily dose of safflower oil (about 1 2/3 tsp.) to their diet helped obese women with type 2 diabetes trim belly fat, improve their insulin sensitivity and "good" HDL cholesterol and lower C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation.
Safflower oil (sometimes labeled "high heat" or "high oleic") has a high smoke point and very light flavor, making it good for stir-frying, sautéing and baking.
Avg. Smoke Point: 265°C
- 75% monounsaturated
- 13% polyunsaturated
- 8% saturated
- Walnut Oil
What it is: Oil cold-pressed from the meat of dried walnuts.
Just like its whole-nut counterpart, walnut oil has been shown to promote heart health. There's also research to suggest walnut oil improves your body's response to stress: in one study, when adults added walnuts and walnut oil to their daily diet, they lowered their blood pressure response to stress (as well as their resting blood pressure).
Its rich, nutty flavor makes it ideal for salad dressings or finishing a dish. Don't heat it-it can become bitter.
Avg. Smoke Point: 160°C
- 23% monounsaturated
- 63% polyunsaturated
- 9% saturated
- Sunflower Oil
What it is: Oil extracted from sunflower seeds.
Sunflower oil has one of the highest concentrations of vitamin E of all oils. Like soybean oil, sunflower oil is rich in omega-6 fats and it's commonly used in processed foods.
Avg. Smoke Point: 247°C
- 45% monounsaturated
- 40% polyunsaturated
- 10% saturated
- Vegetable Oil
What it is: A general term that can include a combination of soybean and other oils such as corn, canola or sunflower.
Despite previous thinking, new studies have found that the omega-6 fat, linoleic acid, in vegetable oil does not promote inflammation and can be part of a heart-healthy diet.
Flavor is generally neutral, but varies based on the blend. Best used in baking, sautéing and frying.
Avg. Smoke Point:
Varies based on blend, but generally good for high-heat cooking.
Fat Breakout: Varies based on blend
- Corn Oil
What it is: Oil extracted from the germ of corn.
Recent research found corn oil superior to extra-virgin olive oil in lowering total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Corn oil has a unique combination of plant sterols and healthy fatty acids that may contribute to these heart-healthy benefits.
Its mild flavor and high smoke point make corn oil very versatile: use it for baking, sautéing, grilling and stir-frying.
Avg. Smoke Point: 232°C
- 28% monounsaturated
- 55% polyunsaturated
- 13% saturated
What it is: Oil extracted from soybeans.
- 23% monounsaturated
- 58% polyunsaturated
- 16% saturated