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Here’s the smoke point you want if you’re…
Frying: Opt for an oil with a neutral flavor and a high smoke point, which is typically one above 375 degrees F, because that’s the temperature you usually fry at. Oils with high smoke points include: canola oil, refined olive oil, avocado oil, vegetable oil, safflower oil, and peanut oil.
Baking: Go for a neutral-tasting oil, like canola oil or vegetable oil—something that won’t have too much of an impact on the flavors you’re working with. (On the other hand, some baking recipes are centered around highlighting the flavor of a delicious oil, like olive oil cakes. It all depends on what you’re looking for.)
Sautéing and searing: Choose a more flavorful oil with a lower smoke point. Good options include: canola oil, extra-virgin olive oil, safflower oil, peanut oil, and sesame oil.
Dressing: Here, the most flavorful stuff is always best, and the smoke point doesn’t matter—this is the time to reach for the fanciest extra-virgin olive oil you have.
With that in mind, here is a closer look at commonly used healthy cooking oils, plus suggestions for making the most out of their unique qualities.
1. Canola oil
Canola oil sometimes gets a bad rap because it is associated with fried food (deep-fried Oreos, anyone?), but that’s not exactly justified, Elizabeth Ann Shaw, M.S., RDN, CPT, adjunct professor of nutrition at Bastyr University, tells SELF. Canola oil’s high smoke point of 400 degrees Fahrenheit and neutral flavor indeed makes it an excellent vehicle for frying, but it can also be used for roasting, frying, and baking. Because it has a neutral taste that doesn’t do much for your food in the flavor department, cooks don’t usually recommend using it for sautéing.
Best for: Frying, roasting, and baking
Not recommended for: Sautéing and salad dressings
2. Extra-virgin olive oil
Lisa Sasson, M.S., R.D., clinical professor of nutrition and food studies at NYU Steinhardt, is obsessed with extra-virgin olive oil—like a lot of us. Cold-pressed and positively packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, a quality bottle can truly take you on a taste bud adventure. There’s just one catch with extra-virgin (or “first press”) olive oil versus regular olive oil: It has a relatively low smoke point (325 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit). Cooking a good EVOO at high temperatures can mess with both its flavor and nutrition, so save your fancy bottle for drizzling and finishing dishes. (Check out these tips on choosing the best olive oil.)
Best for: Sautéing and drizzling
Not recommended for: Frying or roasting above 375 degrees Fahrenheit
3. Pure olive oil
If you love frying things in olive oil (which, like, who doesn’t?) you’ll want to use the more refined stuff instead of EVOO—which is labeled pure olive oil, refined olive oil, or light olive oil. It has a smoke point of 465 degrees Fahrenheit, which stands up well to that heat. Unfortunately, some of its flavor has been filtered out, but that’s the trade-off for being able to use it for heavy-duty cooking.
Best for: Frying
Not recommended for: Salad dressings
4. Avocado oil
According to Sasson, “Avocado oil is the new kid on the block” for many home cooks in the U.S. It is packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats (almost as much as olive oil) and has a high smoke point (375 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit) and neutral flavor. It’s a bit more expensive than those more processed oils like canola and vegetable, but if you want that high smoke point and don’t mind the splurge, then this is a great alternative.