To the uninitiated, the prospect of choosing a cooking oil can go one of two ways. You may be deceived by what appears to be a simple task (if they're called 'cooking' oils, they must be good for all kinds of cooking, right?) or you may find yourself overwhelmed. Your choice of oil can drastically alter a dish and, in fact, even experienced foodies can find themselves stumped by a selection that continues to expand.
Plus, very rarely will supermarkets inform you that an oil with a certain smoke point can become harmful when used for high-heat frying or that another's flavours will clash horribly with your meal. Enter our guide, where we'll fill you in on the best oils for steak, fish, Asian cooking and more, as well as the best and healthiest neutral oils for everyday use. We'll help you make the right choice so you can be the culinary artist that you were destined to be!
mybest UK specialist Tara is a nutritionist and energy coach who helps clients lose weight, improve their eating habits, and get their energy back through their nutrition. Tara specialises in helping busy parents specifically improve their eating with ease and without overwhelm, and get back on track so the whole family can benefit.
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Tara is a nutritionist and energy coach who helps clients lose weight, improve their eating habits, and get their energy back through their nutrition. Tara specialises in helping busy parents specifically improve their eating with ease and without overwhelm, and get back on track so the whole family can benefit.
Generally, any cooking method that uses a heat of 190°C or over is considered to be of high heat. All these oils have a high smoke point and are worth considering if you’re going to be frying, grilling, pan roasting, or sautéing at a higher heat:
When selecting the best oil to use, the rule of thumb should always be to move towards oils that are not refined and not overly processed. You should be leaning towards avocado oil, coconut oil, and extra virgin olive oil.
Cooking methods that use a heat between 160° and 190°C are considered medium-heat, and anything below 160°, low. The following oils have a lower smoke point, but you’ll usually find them more flavourful and healthier for you. These are the ones to consider if you’re planning on baking, searing, orsautéing at a medium or low heat.
When cooking, you should always be aiming to select all-natural and not overly processed oils rather than vegetable oils. Medium heat cooking means using avocado, coconut, and extra virgin olive oil over any other option.
Coconut oil with certain dishes enhances the flavour because of the coconut aroma, such as curries and healthy stir-fries with lots of veggies.
Refined oil has been obtained using highly-intensive mechanical and chemical processes. As you’d expect, this results in less healthy oil, but what it does grant you is a neutral flavour, a longer shelf life and a higher smoke point.
Unrefined oils arrive to you unaltered by the extraction process, which usually involves some form of pressing or crushing. They’re healthier and more flavoursome than their refined counterparts, but they have a lower smoke point and a shorter shelf life – in fact, many oils are unavailable in an unrefined version for this reason.
Cold-pressed simply describes the method used to extract oil from the olives. No chemical additives have been used, the olives have simply been pressed at a cool temperature to retain aroma, colour, flavour and nutrients.
Just like with all foods that you eat, the aim should always be to strive for the least processed and least manufactured as possible. The closer you can get to eating whole foods, the better, and so oils are no different in this regard. You should always seek out unrefined oils over refined oils.
A good way of illustrating just how much the extraction process can alter the resultant oil is to compare two types of olive oil: extra virgin and light. Extra virgin olive oil is obtained from a single pressing with absolutely no refinement. It’s the highest quality oil you can buy, with a true olive taste that works as well for drizzling as it does for cooking.
It’s also incredibly healthy – it's a daily dose of this stuff that experts say can reduce risks of cardiovascular disease by 10%. This is an oil with quite a distinctive taste, meaning you’ll want to be careful what dishes you use it with. Naturally, it’s great with pasta, a whole range of Mediterranean dishes, or for sautéing veggies, fish and meat.
But with a smoke point of only 160-190°C, you won’t be using this for frying. Light olive oil, on the other hand, is a refined, lower-quality olive oil. It’ll withstand high heats and has a more neutral taste so you can use it for cooking Mediterranean or most other dishes, but you probably wouldn’t want to drizzle it over your salad.
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Olive oil certainly is an all round great selection for oils and provides a great source of healthy fats, antioxidants, and nutrients that fight inflammation. Because of this, I do certainly recommend olive oil as a source of your daily healthy fat intake. Lean towards extra virgin when possible as this is the most natural state for the olives and hasn’t been processed.
Nut and seed oils, like unrefined, virgin olive oil, usually carry a distinct nutty taste and will work better with dishes that accommodate this. Peanut oil, for example, is highly flavourful and while there are certain dishes that it should not go anywhere near, it’s great for making cookies or sautéing stir-fries.
On the other hand, coconut oil’s buttery taste makes it a great vegan alternative to butter when baking, and it also lends itself well to curries or other dishes in which coconut is often found. It also helps if you're looking for a creamier texture as you can find coconut oil in a lot of vegan cheeses.
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It is worth knowing that not all oils are neutral in taste. This is why it is always best to stock a few different types of high quality, non refined oils to use depending on what you are cooking.
Coconut oil, in particular, can be an amazing addition to some dishes, like curries, but then really overpower other dishes.
If you’re looking for something slightly less flavoursome but a little more versatile for everyday use, you’ll want something with a neutral taste. Canola, avocado, and safflower oils are some great options that won't affect the taste of your dish too much while cooking.
These types of oil work particularly well when working with vegetables or desserts where you want the flavours of the ingredients to come through rather than the taste of the oil. You may be surprised to learn that avocado oil has a neutral taste, but avocados can be even be used to make vegan ice cream!
One other thing you may want to consider when choosing an oil is any potential health benefits. Extra virgin olive oil is an excellent source of vitamins K and E, as well as antioxidants that promote healthy arterial function and healthy inflammatory response. It’s also full of antioxidants and polyphenols that fight cell damage – not bad for a cooking oil! Avocado oil, too, is loved by healthy eaters for its heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
It’s always important to keep things in perspective, however, and weigh the good against the bad. Coconut oil, for example, is popular with those following health-conscious or keto diets and is renowned for its antibacterial and antiviral properties, but these are somewhat negated by its high saturated fat content.
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Olive oil and avocado oil truly are the best options for oils on the market because of their added benefits. Extra virgin olive oil is filled with beneficial fatty acids, antioxidants that fight against autoimmune diseases and are packed with anti-inflammatory agents.
Avocado oil is also rich in fatty acids, while it also reduces cholesterol, improves heart health, and may even reduce symptoms of arthritis.
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Extra Virgin Avocado Oil
Smooth, Mild and Healthy, With a High Smoke Point
Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Utterly Delicious, Top-Quality Olive Oil
100% Pure Rice Bran Oil
Made From Sustainably-Grown Thai Rice
Olive Oil, Mild & Light in Colour
A Versatile Blend of Refined and Virgin Oils
Extra Virgin Macadamia Nut Oil
A Nutritious Option With a Rich, Buttery Flavour
The Groovy Food Company
Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
A Butter Alternative for Scrumptious Cakes and Keto Cooks
Extra Virgin Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil
A Healthy Alternative to Vegetable or Canola Oil
Organic Virgin Peanut Oil
The Perfect Partner for Asian Cuisine
Lee Kum Kee
Pure Sesame Oil
Fragrant Sesame Oil That Works Best in Noodle Dishes and Stir-Fries
High Oleic Sunflower Oil
A High Oleic Oil That’s Suitable for High-Heat Cooking
Where to start with this Fairtrade, organic, and extra virgin avocado oil? Like olive oil, it's 70% composed of oleic acid, which has been shown to support cardiovascular health and liver function. Unlike olive oil, however, it has a mild smell and creamy texture, meaning it can be used in a wide variety of dishes.
Add its high smoke point into the mix, and you've got an oil that's good for pretty much everything from sautéing to searing to substituting for butter in your baking. Its high quality means you can expect to pay a little bit more, but all things considered, this is the closest you'll get to a perfect cooking oil.
Extra virgin olive oil is perhaps the best known healthy cooking oil, and for good reason. It's an excellent source of vitamins K and E, as well as the antioxidants oleocanthal and oleuropein, which promote a healthy inflammatory response and arterial function. This particular offering from Filippo Berio is organic, too.
Because it's completely unrefined, it tastes great too, working great as a drip, a dressing, drizzled over pasta, or for sautéing veggies and meat. All this comes with one sacrifice – a relatively low smoke point. It won't be much good for frying or roasting at high temperatures, but when the taste is this good, you won't mind!
A healthy option for those looking to do some high-heat cooking, rice bran is a great source of vitamin E and, research suggests, may promote heart health and have antioxidant effects. All of this comes as highly surprising for oil with such a high smoke point, so you can use it for stir-fries, steaks, and baking alike.
Rice bran oil's only real downside is that, while mild, it does possess an earthy flavour that some may not find to their liking. It's by no means unpleasant, however, and if you don't mind the taste, rice bran oil is a fantastic option for high-heat cooking. Alfa One's oil is made in Thailand from sustainably-grown Thai rice, so you can rest assured that you're getting a great product.
Light olive oil may be slightly less healthy and less flavoursome than its unrefined brother, but the trade-off is a higher smoke point that makes this oil perfect for a wide variety of dishes.
The best thing about this light olive oil from Filippo Berio is that it combines refined and virgin olive oils. This means you get an oil that bears a smoke point high enough for high-heat cooking without completely sacrificing its taste and health benefits – the perfect happy medium from a high-quality brand.
Macadamia nut oil is one of the most nutritious cooking oils out there, and health gurus everywhere are proudly proclaiming its benefits: it's loaded with antioxidants, is good for your heart, and may even aid weight loss. Many people even use it in their hair!
The delicious, buttery, rich flavour of this oil complements a wide variety of dishes – it's a tasty addition to homemade mayo and it's great for baking. Though extra virgin and high quality, the only downside of this oil – and macadamia nut oil in general – is its hefty price tag.
Found on the shelves of health food stores across the country, coconut oil has, in recent times, become somewhat controversial. While it contains an abundance of lauric acid, which research suggests has antibacterial and antiviral properties, it also contains very high amounts of saturated fat.
Coconut oil works well for making smoothies or even spreading on toast, but it's perhaps best used for baking, where its creamy consistency makes it a tasty vegan alternative to butter. This oil is organic and extra virgin, meaning it goes from the coconut to your kitchen without any chemical processing.
This is what you get if you take everything bad about vegetable oil and tweak it to create a healthier alternative. Hillfarm's rapeseed oil is cold-pressed in Suffolk, so you'll get none of the nastiness that comes with the chemical processes used to make vegetable oil, as well as a significantly lower saturated fat content.
Because it maintains a high smoke point, this oil is the answer to the prayers of those looking for a healthier alternative to vegetable oil. As well as baking, roasting and frying, this slightly nutty oil is also great for dressings.
Its unique flavour means it lacks the versatility of some other oils, but when paired with the right dish, this peanut oil's rich, nutty aroma can really invigorate your cooking. Use it to bring your stir-fries to life, or make a batch of peanut butter cookies that will leave everyone wondering what your secret is.
Bioplanete's peanut oil is cold-pressed, so you'll get a deliciously nutty taste that is completely unprocessed. You'll probably want to use it sparingly – it's both pricey and high in saturated fats – but try it once, and you'll always want a bottle of this in your cupboard.
It may be a staple of Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, but sesame oil's intense flavour means it should be paired only with certain dishes. Its nutty aromas work particularly well with stir-fries and noodles, or in a dressing for an Asian-inspired salad.
Sesame oil's fairly low smoke point and unique taste mean it's not very versatile as a general cooking oil. Paired with the right dish, however, sesame oil can offer a real taste sensation. However, this oil from Lee Kum Kee is the oil of choice for Michelin-starred Chinese restaurants and chefs, so you know you're getting an excellent quality product.
High-heat cooking methods, such as frying, are generally less healthy than those that use lower heats, but this doesn't mean that some high smoke point oils aren't better for you than others. In fact, sunflower oil's 20% saturated fat content makes it one of the healthier choices for high-heat cooking.
Plus, because Flavoil's offering is a 'high oleic' sunflower oil, it's been modified to boost its levels of healthy monounsaturated fats. You won't find any profound health benefits here, but this is an affordable alternative to vegetable oil for high-heat cooking, especially when bought in bulk.
Written and researched by Ben Willimett
No. 1: Olivado｜Extra Virgin Avocado Oil
No. 2: Filippo Berio｜Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
No. 3: Alfa One｜100% Pure Rice Bran Oil
No. 4: Filippo Berio｜Olive Oil, Mild & Light in Colour
No. 5: Olivado｜Extra Virgin Macadamia Nut Oil
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