The best oils for cooking and which to avoid

Canola, grapeseed, olive, hemp, avocado, vegetable… the world of cooking oils is a big, confusing place. Here's how to make sense of it all.

When it comes to the performance and flavour, not all cooking oils are created equal. Some perform well at high temperatures, making them ideal for frying and sautéing. Some are super flavourful, but turn rancid when heated. How to differentiate between them all? And how to store them? How long will they last? So many questions! Thankfully, we've got the answers.

LIGHT (SOMETIMES CALLED "PURE" OR "REGULAR") OLIVE OIL

All olive oil is made by crushing the olives into a paste, then extracting the excess water from the mixture. This can be done on a stone press, but on a commercial scale, is often completed with high-tech steel machinery. Light olive oil is then treated with chemical solvents to neutralise the flavour. It's lighter in taste and colour, not calories, than straight EVOO. It has a smoke point of 240˚ Celsius, which makes it ideal for high-heat cooking. It can be used in vinaigrettes; to add more flavour, just finish with a splash of EVOO. Making your own infused flavoured oil? Use pure olive oil.

EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

Once the olives are pressed and the oil is extracted, you're left with extra virgin olive oil; it's robust in flavour, and can have buttery, spicy, fruity, or grassy notes, depending on the olives point of origin. EVOO's lower smoke point (about 162˚) means it's not great for cooking. Depending on its place of origin, it can range in flavours from fruity to grassy to bitter and even buttery. Save it for vinaigrettes and finishing oil.

It does also make for tasty ice cream! To make olive oil ice cream, choose a fruity, herbaceous oil (rather than a spicy, peppery one), and whisk it into a traditional custard ice cream base, then process in an ice cream machine. The only thing this concoction needs is a sprinkle of sea salt.

PEANUT OIL

Peanut oil is pale in colour, with a nutty scent and powerful flavour. It can go rancid quickly, so store it in a cool, dry place, and use it within a few months. It's best to buy in small batches, unless you're doing a lot of deep-frying. It's recommended for high-heat cooking (smoke point: 230˚), and in tandem with complementary flavours. It's tasty in Asian cuisine, and often used in dishes like stir-fries.

PALM OIL

Palm oil is a saturated fat made from the oil palm tree (not to be confused with palm kernel oil, which comes from the seeds of the same plant). It's semi-solid at room temperature, and has made recent appearances as a substitute for trans fats in commercial baking. However, it is a very efficient frying oil with a smoke point of just under 230˚.

CORN OIL

Refined corn oil is often used in frying, thanks to its smoke point of 230˚. It has a neutral flavour, and is used frequently in commercial kitchens, thanks to its low price point. Not sure what to use it for? French fries are a solid win, every time.

COCONUT OIL

Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, which means it's not ideal for vinaigrettes or as a finishing oil. It is, however, good for moderate-heat roasting. It melts and gives off a tropical scent when heated. Do not exceed its smoke point (176˚). Its similar-to-butter consistency when cold makes it good for non-dairy baked goods.

VEGETABLE OIL

This is typically a blend of many different refined oils, is neutral-tasting and -smelling, and has a smoke point of about 200˚ (although it can vary, depending on the oils used in the blend). Because it doesn't add much flavour, it is good for high-heat sautéing and frying.

CANOLA OIL

Pressed from the rapeseed plant, canola oil is similar to vegetable oil in flavour, colour, smoke point, and usage qualities. Both canola and vegetable oil can be used in salad dressings. Finish with EVOO for more flavour. It'll go rancid in about one year—your nose will tell you when it's time to toss the bottle. Store them in a cool, dark place, away from the stovetop and oven.

GRAPESEED OIL

Grapeseed oil is light green in colour, and is prized by restaurant chefs for its high smoke point (215˚)—but also for its clean, plays-well-with-others taste. It's often used in vinaigrettes because it is less expensive than EVOO, and allows other ingredients (like specialty oils or herbs) to shine through.

AVOCADO OIL

High in monounsaturated fat (typically touted as a "good" fat), avocado oil has a smoke point of about 270˚, which makes it an efficient pantry item: Use it for sautéing, roasting, searing, and vinaigrettes alike. There's no need to refrigerate it when opened, although it should be stored in a cool, dark cupboard.

SUNFLOWER SEED OIL

With a smoke point of 226-230˚, sunflower oil is the pantry hero for all things sear- and sauté-related, for example). Because it is pressed from seeds, it does turn rancid quicker than other oils, so store it in a cool place and use within a year, max.

SESAME OIL

Sesame oil has a high smoke point (210˚) and relatively neutral flavour. It's a great general-purpose oil (use it for sautés, roasts, and more), but if it's a big finish you're looking for, use its nuttier sibling, toasted sesame oil. Store it with the veggie and canola oil in a cool cupboard.

HEMP SEED OIL

Hemp seed oil has a very nutty, rich flavour and dark green colour. It's too sensitive to be heated, so skip the sauté and use it as a finishing oil for soups or grain bowls. If using it in a vinaigrette, cut with a less-intense oil. Store it in the fridge. To take home some 100% Australian Grown Hemp Seed Oil see our range here.

FLAXSEED OIL

Flaxseed oil is also nutty tasting, but too much can impart a fishy, funky flavour. Use sparingly in dressings or as a finisher—it's also great as a seasoning agent for cast-iron pans. Keep it in the fridge.

TOASTED NUT AND SEED OILS (WALNUT, PISTACHIO, SESAME, ETC.)

These oils are delicate in smoke point (don't heat them at all), but they're big on flavour. They're a rich, luxurious addition to soups and salads. If using in a vinaigrette, don't waste half a bottle (they're expensive!) Make the dressing with a pure olive oil or other neutral-tasting oil, and "top it off" with the nut oil.

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"Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?"

Henry Ford