Today’s parents have many healthy cooking oil options, but it can be confusing trying to learn when to use them. If you’ve ever heated oil to the point where it starts to smoke, then you have exceeded its smoke point. Once it gets too hot, the oil just isn’t fit for consumption. Some oils can handle high heat better than others.
What’s the big deal about a little smoke? It’s not just the annoying high-pitched beep of your smoke detector going off. When an oil is heated beyond its smoke point, its molecular structure begins breaking down. It may even form trans fats. The oil may lose its nutritional value and give your food a bitter or burnt taste. The smoke from overheated oils isn’t even healthy to inhale. Once it starts smoking, the oil really shouldn’t be consumed.
All oils have a smoke point, so match your oils with your cooking methods. Oils with lower smoke points, such as olive oil and walnut oil, are ideal for such things as salad dressings.
For high heat, Malaysian palm oil is the most versatile. It has one of the highest smoke points among cooking oils and doesn’t have a strong flavor. It can be used in everything from appetizers to desserts.
The Everyday Healthy Oils
Each of these healthy fats deserves a place in your pantry.
Olive oil: Use it for salad dressings and drizzling over bread, but don’t use for high-temperature applications. This healthy oil starts to degrade before you hit 400 degrees.
Butter: There’s no need to avoid this tasty fat. Butter is fine to use in moderation for adding flavor to veggies or potatoes. Don’t heat it beyond 350 degrees.
Malaysian palm oil: This healthy tropical oil is non-GMO and tolerates heat up to 450 degrees, so it’s an ideal all-purpose cooking oil. All palm oil isn’t the same though. Malaysia’s own Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil certification program will be fully effective by the end of 2019.
Coconut oil: Another tropical oil which is gaining in popularity, coconut oil’s natural sweetness makes it a great choice for baking foods, up to 350 degrees.
The Special Occasion Oils
Avocado oil: Avocado oil tolerates heat up to 500 degrees, which makes it great for broiling.
Macadamia nut oil: Although more commonly used as a beauty aid, this sweet and buttery oil is good for your health, too. Try macadamia nut oil in salads.
Flaxseed oil: Flaxseed oil is a nutritious, yet delicate oil. It begins breaking down at just 225 degrees, so it can’t be exposed to heat. Consider adding a teaspoon of flaxseed oil to your next smoothie to reap its health benefits.
Sunflower oil: Unfortunately, sunflower oil is high in inflammatory compounds, so instead of cooking with it, rub some on your cuticles or use it to smooth your hair.
Chef Gerard Viverito is the Director of Culinary Education for Passionfish, a NGO non-profit organization dedicated to educating people around the globe on the issue of sustainability in the seas (passionfish.org). He is also operator of Saveur Fine Catering, a company whose beliefs and products center on local, sustainable, and organic foods. Chef Viverito’s pantry is loaded with items commonly overlooked in the supermarkets, yet he has a thorough understanding of them and a passion to teach others how to cook more healthfully.