Choosing the right cooking oil

With such a range of cooking oils on supermarket shelves, which are better for what purpose?
 
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01 .Introduction

Cooking oils

We use cooking oils for frying, baking, stir-fries, salads and marinades, but using the right one can be confusing. Consumers are bombarded with such a wide variety – not to mention all the different descriptors: “extra light”, “cholesterol-free”, “cold-pressed”, “mono-" and “polyunsaturated” and “blended vegetable oil”.

You'll also see references to "high smoke point" on some vegatable oils, tapping into our growing body of knowledge about the health risks associated with some oils if they're heated beyond a certain point. This makes some more suitable for frying than others. 

CHOICE bought all the different cooking oils we could find on supermarket shelves to analyse their fat breakdown. We recommend three versatile all-rounders and three specialty types in our What to Buy.

CHOICE assessed 14 different types of supermarket cooking oils:

  • Mustardseed oil
  • Almond oil
  • Canola oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Corn oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Olive oil
  • Light/lite/extra light olive oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Macadamia oil
  • Canola and red palm fruit oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Vegetable oil
  • Rice bran oil
 
 

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Sunflower oilAll-purpose oils

Grapeseed Oil 
Sunflower Oil




Peanut oilOils for stir-fry cooking

Peanut Oil
Macadamia Oil






Olive oilOils for low heat cooking and salad dressings

Olive Oil

The fat breakdown

All fats supply the same amount of kilojoules to the body (1g of fat provides 37kJ); however, they’re not all bad for you. Fats are the body’s most concentrated source of energy (in comparison, 1g of protein provides 17kJ and 1g of carbohydrate provides 16kJ) and help protect and insulate your vital organs. They also allow fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), to be absorbed and provide essential fatty acids, which are important building blocks for the brain, eyes and nervous tissues. It’s generally recommended that less than 30% of your daily kilojoule intake should come from fat, with no more than 10% coming from saturated fat.

Saturated fat is the main dietary cause of high cholesterol, raising levels of the harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. Too much saturated fat heightens your risk of heart disease. 

Trans fat behaves similarly to saturated fat. However, it not only raises levels of harmful LDL cholesterol, but also lowers levels of the good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. To earn the Heart Foundation tick, vegetable oils must contain no more than 1% trans fat as part of their total fat content.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (omega-3 and omega-6) fats are the types you should aim to include in your diet. They’re essential nutrients for the body, and also reduce the levels of the harmful LDL cholesterol. Keep in mind, however, that these fats are still high in kilojoules, so only use them in moderation.

When it comes to cooking, a small amount of the right oil can make your meals heart-friendlier. You can avoid the bad fats – saturated and trans – by staying away from processed and fast foods, while cooking with the right oils (instead of butter or margarine), adding nuts and seeds to stir-fries and salads, and including avocados in your diet will provide your body with the good monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats it needs. See The Good and Not-so-Good Oils, for more.

Cooking oil results
Brand/type Total Fat (g/100ml) Saturated fat (per 100ml) Polyunsaturated fat (per 100ml) Monounsaturated fat (per 100ml) Trans fat _(per 100ml) Size (ml) Price _($ per 100ml)
MUSTARDSEED OIL (low, medium temperature oil)
Naturally from Nature Mustard seed oil 91 5.5 ns ns 0 375 1.86
ALMOND OIL (low temperature oil)
Classique Gourmet Almond Oil Virgin Pure Bio Cold-pressed 92 7 23 62 ns 250 3.4
CANOLA OIL (high, medium, low temperature oil)
Black and Gold Canola Oil Monounsaturated 92 8 26 58 <1 750 0.42
Crisco Canola Oil 92 8 27.5 55.6 0.8 750 0.51
Dick Smith Foods Canola Oil 92 7.4 27.6 57 <1 750 0.39
Family choice Canola Oil Monounsaturated 91.5 6 28.8 52.4 <0.5 2000 0.35
Gold'n Canola Canola Oil 92 8 27.6 55.6 0.8 750 0.63
Home Brand Canola Oil 92 7.4 26 58 0.6 1000 0.35
Kebia Canola Oil High quality monounsaturated cholesterol free 92 7.4 27.6 56.1 0.9 2000 0.4
Pure Vita Canola Oil 92 7.4 26.7 57.2 0.7
1000 0.44
Gina Olio Australian Canola Oil 92 7 63 30 0.8 2000 0.35
You'll Love Coles Canola Oil 92 10 18 46 0.92 750 0.44
Brand/type Total Fat (g/100ml) Saturated fat (per 100ml) Polyunsaturated fat (per 100ml) Monounsaturated fat (per 100ml) Trans fat _(per 100ml) Size (ml) Price _($ per 100ml)
GRAPESEED OIL (high, medium, low temperature oil)
Azalea Grapeseed Oil 92.9 9 60 23 0.9 500 1.08
CORN OIL (high, medium, low temperature oil)
Gina Choice Olio Corn Oil 92 11.5 53.1 22 0.8 2000 0.5
AVOCADO OIL (low, medium temperature oil)
Grove Avocado Oil Extra Virgin Cold-press 90 13 8 69 0 250 3.79
EXTRA LIGHT OLIVE OIL (low, medium temperature oil)
Always Fresh Olive Oil Spanish Extra Light 91 14.3 8.8 67.4 0.5
1000 1
Bertolli Olive Oil Extra Light 100 17 13 70 0.2 500 1.38
Black and Gold Olive Oil Extra Light 93 13 10 67 0 500 1.08
Carbonell Olive Oil Extra Light Ligero 91 12 7 72 0.25 500 1.3
Coles Extra Light Olive Oil 91.6 12.8 8.2 70.5 <0.1 500 1.15
Home Brand Olive Oil Extra Light 91.6 11 7.3 73.3 0.2 500 0.94
La Espanola Olive Oil Mild & Light 91.6 12.8 8.2 70.5 <0.1 500 1.17
Lupi Olive Oil Extra Light 92 12 12 68 0.5 500 1.36
# Moro Extra Light Olive Oil 92 13 9 70 0 500 1.42
# Vetta Olive Oil Light Taste (Spanish olive oil) 92 18.4 4.6 50.6 0.5 500 ns
Brand/type Total Fat (g/100ml) Saturated fat (per 100ml) Polyunsaturated fat (per 100ml) Monounsaturated fat (per 100ml) Trans fat _(per 100ml) Size (ml) Price _($ per 100ml)
SUNFLOWER OIL (high, medium, low temperature oil)
Black and Gold Sunflower Oil 92 12 60 20 <1 750 0.67
Golden Fields Sunflower Oil Cholesterol Free 92 10.8 59.7 20.7 <1 2000 0.49
Home Brand Sunflower Oil 92 9.6 51.5 30.4 0.5 1000 0.45
Kebia Sunflower Oil high quality polyunsaturated 91.9 10.9 57.9 18.5 0.6 2000 0.4
# You'll Love Coles Sunflower Oil 92 13.8 46 13.8 1.8 750 0.62
Gina Olio Sunflower Oil Australian 92 11.5 66 23.8 0.6 2000 0.4
Crisco Sunflower Oil 92 13.8 max
46 min 13.8 min 0.9 max 750 0.67
OLIVE OIL (low, medium temperature oil)
Altis Olive Oil Classic 91.6 12.8 8.3 70.5 <0.1 750 1.24
Always Fresh Olive Oil 100% Pure Spanish 91 13 7.4 70.1 0.5
1000 1.05
Bella Italia Olive Oil 91.3 13 69.3 9 0 1000 1.1
Bertolli Olive Oil Pure Classico Mild Taste 100 17 13 70 0.2 500 1.49
Black and Gold Olive Oil Pure 93 13 10 67 0 500 1.16
Carbonell Olive Oil Equlibrio 91 12 7 72 0.25 500 1.3
Casa Barelli Olive Oil 100% Pure 90.5 14 12 64.5 <0.1 750 0.8
Colavita Olive Oil 100% Pure 91 12 8 71 0 500 1.6
Coles Smart Buy Olive Oil 100 14 9 75 0 1000 0.8
Dante Olive Oil 100% pure 92 12 12 68 0.5 500 1.28
Home brand Olive Oil Pure 91.6 11 7.3 73.3 0.2 500 0.94
La Espanola Olive Oil 91.6 12.8 8.2 70.5 <0.1 500 1.26
Lupi Olive Oil 100% Pure 92 12 12 68 0.5 500 1.3
Moro Pure Olive Oil (A) 92 13 9 70 0 500 1.29
# Oroysol Olive Oil 100% Pure 91.6 12.8 8.2 70.5 0.1 4000 0.55
Remano Olive Oil Pure 90.5 14 12 64.5 0.1 4000 0.55
Vetta Pure Olive Oil 100% Spanish Olive Oil (A) 92 18.4 4.6 50.6 0.5 500 1.26
You'll Love Coles Pure Olive Oil 96.1 12.8 8.2 70.5 <0.1 500 1.15
Brand/type Total Fat (g/100ml) Saturated fat (per 100ml) Polyunsaturated fat (per 100ml) Monounsaturated fat (per 100ml) Trans fat (per 100ml) Size (ml) Price ($ per 100ml)
MACADAMIA OIL (low, medium temperature oil)
Suncoast Vitality Macadamia Oil Extra Virgin 92 14 5 73 0 500 1.3
Classique Gourmet Macadamia Oil Virgin Pure Bio Cold-pressed 92 14 5 73 ns 250 2.8
CANOLA & RED PALM FRUIT OIL (high, medium, low temperature oil)
Carotino Canola & Red Palm Fruit Oil 92 14.5 26.7 50.8 0 500 0.86
PEANUT OIL (high, medium, low temperature oil)
Chefol Peanut Oil Cholesterol Free 92 18.4 max 10 min 36.8 min 0.9 max 750 0.8
Classique Gourmet Peanut Oil Virgin Pure Bio Cold-pressed 92 14 32 46 ns 250 2.23
Crisco Peanut Oil 92 18.4 4.6 36.8 0.9 750 0.82
Coles Peanut Oil 91.5 17.2 26.1 43.8 0.5 750 0.67
VEGETABLE OIL (high, medium, low temperature oil)
Black and Gold Vegetable Blended 92 12 30 40 <1 750 0.43
Coles Vegetable Oil 92 14 35 30 0.92 750 0.44
Crisco Vegetable Oil 92 18.4 max 18.4 max 36.8 min 0.9 max 750 0.51
Gina Olio Vegetable Oil Australian Blended 92 7.8 63 30 0.8 2000 0.35
Golden Fields Vegetable Oil Cholesterol Free 92 10 43 39 <1 2000 0.39
Home Brand Vegetable Oil Blended 92 10.3 42 39.2 0.5 1000 0.32
Kebia Vegetable Oil high quality blended 91.8 10.4 42.7 33.8 0.6 2000 0.35
Coles Smart Buy Cooking Oil 92 18.4 58.1 20.5 0.46 750 0.33
Pure Vita Vegetable Oil Blended 92 11 41.1 39.1 0.7 2000 0.27
RICE BRAN OIL (high, medium, low temperature oil)
Alfa one Rice Bran Oil 92 21 32 39 0 500 0.78
Pietro Coricelli Rice Bran Oil 92 22 31 39 0 1000 0.7
Cooking oils are a combination of saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fatty acids. We use oils in a wide variety of cooking practices, but you don’t need to buy a whole range, as some are versatile and multi-purpose. Using non-stick cookware and keeping in mind that stir-frying, grilling or baking rather than deep-frying foods will reduce your need for oil.

Mustardseed oil has the lowest saturated fat content of any edible oil. It also has a good balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. In cooking, it has a distinctive strong flavour and very nutty aftertaste, but it can overpower the rest of the dish.

Almond oil is high in monounsaturated fat and comparatively low in saturated fat, so it’s a good heart-friendly choice. Like mustardseed oil, almond oil has a strong nutty flavour and aftertaste. It’s a low-heat oil, so it should only be used to drizzle over vegetables, in salad dressings, or to make mayonnaise.
grapseedCanola oil is high in monounsaturated fat and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. It’s versatile and comparatively inexpensive; you could easily replace peanut or vegetable oil with canola oil in the kitchen as it’s much higher in monounsaturated fat and lower in saturated fat. It performs very well for low-heat cooking and has no strong aftertaste, allowing the food flavours to dominate. It also performs well for high-heat cooking purposes.

Grapeseed oil is high in polyunsaturated fat, and not only lowers the bad LDL cholesterol but also raises levels of the good HDL cholesterol. It’s a rich source of vitamin E and has a light, pleasant taste that brings out the flavours of the other foods being cooked. CHOICE recommends grapeseed as a good multi-purpose oil.

Corn oil is effective in lowering blood cholesterol levels because it’s high in polyunsaturated fat. It has a high smoke point that makes it ideal for frying, and its mild flavour means it’s good to use for baking where oil is only needed to provide moisture and texture. It performs well for both low- and high-heat cooking however we found it developed a slightly unpleasant smell when frying chips.

avocado-oilAvocado oil is very high in monounsaturated fat, but comparatively low in polyunsaturated fat. It’s packed with the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E, and also contains B-group vitamins. Avocado oil is green in colour with a mild flavour and pleasant aftertaste. It’s a low-heat cooking oil and we found it performed very well – a great addition to salads, poultry and seafood. Unfortunately, it’s also the most expensive cooking oil on test. 

Olive oil is a great source of monounsaturated fats and a key ingredient in the Mediterranean diet – a heart-healthy style of cooking that traditionally includes fruits, vegetables, pasta and rice. Olive oil is best used for low- to medium-heat cooking in salads or marinades.

Sunflower oil comes in two main varieties. Polyunsaturated sunflower oil represents the traditional composition of the sunflower seeds, being rich in polyunsaturated fats and vitamin E. For monounsaturated sunflower oil, the sunflower seeds are bred to be higher in monounsaturated fat. Both varieties help reduce cholesterol levels. Sunflower oil is versatile for cooking; we found it worked very well for high-, medium- and low-heat temperature cooking. It’s also comparatively good value for money.

macadamia-oilMacadamia oil is very high in monounsaturated fat but comparatively low in polyunsaturated fat. It’s also relatively expensive and performed poorly in our mayonnaise test due to its strong nutty flavour and aftertaste, but we recommend using it in stir-fries and for salad dressings.

Canola and red palm fruit oil is high in monounsaturated fat and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as pro-vitamin A and vitamin E. It has a medium smoke point, making it multi-purpose; however, in our chip-frying test we found it has a slight smell and unpleasant taste. Carotino claims its red palm fruit oil comes entirely from environmentally sustainable plantations in Malaysia.

Peanut oil is widely used in Asian cuisine and works well for high temperature cooking, especially for frying and stir-frying. It’s predominantly monounsaturated, but in comparison to the other oils it is lower in both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and comparatively higher in saturated fat. If you’re cooking for guests, check no-one has a peanut allergy before using the oil.

Vegetable oil generally contains a combination of canola and soybean oil. It’s comparatively inexpensive, but also comparatively high in saturated fat. Vegetable oil is commonly called for in baked cake mixes, but can also be substituted for canola, sunflower or rice bran oil. Two types of vegetable oils should send alarm bells ringing: palm oil – commonly used in fast food outlets – contains 50% saturated fat; and coconut oil – a specialty oil in some sweets – contains a staggering 90% saturated fat.

Rice bran oil has the highest amount of saturated fat of all the oils on test, but is free of trans fats. It performed excellently in our chip-frying test (it didn’t develop any strong smell during cooking and had no strong aftertaste) and can be used in all cooking practices.
Cold-pressed oils No excessive heat is used to extract the oils manufactured this way. As a result, they generally have a stronger flavour and are higher in antioxidants such as vitamin E and polyphenols. They’re also more expensive.

Cholesterol-free All oils are free from cholesterol, as oils are derived from plant sources that naturally have no cholesterol.

Blended vegetable oil refers to a mixture of oils used in the manufacture depending on availability and price. Vegetable oils generally contain a mixture of soybean and canola oil.

Lite/Light/Extra light only means the oil is lighter in flavour and/or colour, not lower in kilojoules. 

Extra virgin olive oil is extracted from the first pressing of olives. It yields the best-tasting and lowest acidity oil, and therefore comes with a higher price tag. It’s best suited for cold purposes such as salad dressings, drizzling over cooked pasta or char-grilled vegetables.

Smoke point of an oil refers to the level of heat it can withstand before reaching the point where it begins to smoke. Oils with a high smoke point are ideal for frying. When oils with a low smoke point are taken to high temperatures, breakdown products can form that reverse their heart-friendly benefits and instead increase the risk of heart disease.

High-heat oils generally have a high smoke point, allowing them to reach high temperatures, and can be used for deep-frying, stir-fries and sautéing. Medium-heat oils can be used for sautéing, baking, grilling and roasting. Low-heat oils generally have a low smoke point and shouldn’t be used where heat is involved. They’re best for cold dishes such as salad dressings and dips.

Rancid oil develops a distinct smell akin to crayons, musty paint or paint thinner, whereas fresh oil should be fairly odourless. When heated, rancid oil has a strong and unpleasant smell. Older oil can also become more viscous and stick around the cap of the jar.

Smoke point defined

Smoke point refers to the temperature at which a cooking fat or oil begins to break down and give off smoke. At this point deterioration of flavor and nutritional quality begin and the oil is more prone to bursting into flame (i.e. its flash point). Not only is the smoke dangerous, but the materials that remain in the liquid, start to affect the flavor of the food being cooked. The NSW Fire Brigade says that more than half of all home fires start in the kitchen, so if the oil begins to smoke, turn the heat down immediately. Remember that while the oil you’re using may be better health wise at room temperature, it can become unhealthy when heated beyond its smoke point.

For cooking, the smoke point determines what the oil can be used for, dictating the maximum useable temperature of the oil. A high smoke point is ideal for deep-fat frying. Some manufacturers indicate on the label if the oil is ideal for high, medium or low temperature cooking, and in some instances indicate the smoke point temperature of the oil. Keep an eye out for this when buying cooking oils.

Palm Oil

Palm oil is derived from the fruit of oil palm trees – native to West Africa. Commercial palm oil plantations have ballooned in the past two decades - it's a high-yielding crop that is relatively cheap for food producers (Malaysia and Indonesia being the world's largest) to use. Environmentalists say the production and use of palm oil is driving rainforest destruction and threatening the organ-utan and Sumatran tiger species – and if pressures continue these species may become extinct within a decade. Not to mention, that the effects of clearing rainforests is a major contributor to global warming.

Palm oil contains around 50% saturated fat. Because of its high saturated fat content, it remains more stable and solid than many other oils when used in processed food, making it ideal for long-shelf life, packaged food. Palm oil is present in around half our packaged foods, however appears unannounced and often hidden as unspecified ‘vegetable oil’. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute believe there is convincing evidence that palmatic acid (found in palm oil) increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. The National Heart Foundation of Australia also urges consumers to avoid palm oil and coconut oil (contains a staggering 90% saturated fat) due to their high levels of saturated fat. However, it’s difficult to avoid it when food manufacturers aren’t required to label it.

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