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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04.The good and not-so-good oils

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.

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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.
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