Heat pan. Add oil. Cook food. It’s that simple, right? Nope. The type of cooking oil you choose affects not only the flavor but the safety of your food. Cooking oils also vary widely in their effects on our health.
Oils have a smoke point, the temperature at which the oil literally starts to smoke. At this temperature, the oil will start to break down and can change the taste of the food and release toxic byproducts. It is, therefore, wise to choose a cooking oil based not only on the flavor you want, but the temperature at which you expect to cook.
Here are three of my favorite oils and fats that I use when cooking. There is no one best option for all methods or all people. Experiment and find what you like best for the dishes you create!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
(Smoke Point: 325° F)
Use in dressings or when cooking at low heat.
This is the oil extracted from olives when they are pressed. It is not refined, meaning chemicals are not used in the extracting process. Research brands for quality and stick with reputable companies. EVOO contains monounsaturated fats, which have a host of health benefits. It is also rich in antioxidant polyphenols.
(Smoke Point: 520° F)
Use for pan-frying, stir-frying, searing, grilling, and roasting.
This is the oil extracted from avocados when they are pressed. Avocado oil contains mono- and polyunsaturated fats, both of which are linked to heart health. Its high smoke point allows for safe cooking at high heats.
(Smoke Point: 370° F)
Use for pan-frying, baking, and roasting.
Lard is fat from a pig. It can be rendered to yield a semi-soft, smooth, white fat. Don’t misunderstand…I do NOT mean vegetable shortening here or fat that comes from conventionally-raised pigs. I mean rendered pork fat from pigs that are humanely-raised on one of our local NW Louisiana farms. Lard is saturated fat, so use in moderation. Talk to your doctor, too, because some people should limit their intake of saturated fat. Lard is a stable fat and does not smoke at high heat.
Oils to Avoid
What oils should you avoid? Soybean and Corn Oils top the list because they are usually extremely refined, unstable and prone to oxidation, and high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can be inflammatory when consumed in excess.