Guide to 5 common cooking oils

What do you reach for when sautéing, frying or dressing your meals? Here’s the low-down on five often-used kitchen oils, and how to use them.

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Bottle of olive oil with olives
(Photo by Masterfile)

Like any ingredient, oils have different flavour profiles, culinary uses and smoke points* — all of which can impact a recipe. Some oils are meant for cooking, while others are meant for finishing a dish and giving it that little something extra. Here’s a quick guide to five common cooking oils.

Canola oil
Canola oil is a budget-friendly, neutral oil with a medium-high smoke point. It is a type of vegetable oil made from the seeds of a canola plant and is typically used for frying and sautéing — especially in dishes with a bold taste, which would clash with more flavourful oils (like in our soba noodles with spicy pork). Because of their similar properties, canola oil and vegetable oil can be used interchangeably in recipes. With its neutral qualities, canola oil is also a great option for baked goods such as muffins and quick breads.

Shelf life: When stored at room temperature, canola oil’s shelf life is about one year.

Try it in:
Lacey Latkes with smoked trout
Applesauce cake

 

Olive oil
Olive oil has fruity, earthy notes and is often used in Mediterranean cuisine. It comes in many varieties, from the lighter-coloured and less flavourful virgin to the louder, and darker-coloured extra-virgin. Lighter, virgin olive oil has a medium smoke point, which is great for baking, roasting and sautéing over low heat. Save the darker, more flavourful extra-virgin olive oil for finishing dishes where you really want the flavour to sing, like in a salad or bruschetta.

Shelf life: Olive oil flavour is best up to three months after it has been opened. However, if stored in a cool, dark place, it can last up to two years.

Try it in:
Chocolate olive oil cake
Mediterranean zucchini

 

Coconut oil
Coconut oil comes in two varieties, refined and unrefined. Unrefined has a distinct, sweet flavour with notes of coconut and vanilla while refined coconut oil has been bleached and deodorized, removing much, if not all of the flavour. This oil will be solid (similar to shortening), if it is kept at a temperature below 76F. Coconut oil has a high smoke point, which is why it’s a popular cooking oil and is often used for popping popcorn.

Shelf life: Coconut oil has a long shelf life of three to five years, and it can be stored either in the pantry or in the fridge. In the Chatelaine Kitchen, we store ours in the pantry.

Try it in:
Chewy chocolate-coconut bars
Apple and blueberry superfood crumble

 

Safflower oil
Safflower oil is another type of neutral oil that is often used for deep-frying or sautéing due to its high smoke-point. This oil is slightly more expensive than canola and is a great oil for stir-frying in a wok.

Shelf life: Stored in a cool, dark place opened safflower oil will keep for up to a year.

Try it in:
Black-bean burger
Ricotta-oat-bran pancakes with maple-raspberry sauce

 

Sesame oil
Sesame oil is pressed from sesame seeds and has an aromatic, rich and nutty flavour. It comes in two varieties; regular and toasted. Toasted sesame oil has a richer flavour, which is best for drizzling on at the end to finish a dish. Sesame oil is popular in a variety of Asian cuisines.

Shelf life: Stored at room temperature in a cool, dark place, sesame oil will keep for several months.

Try it in:
Chinese chicken salad dressing
Spring chicken and pea sprout ramen

*Smoke point refers to the temperature at which an oil begins to break down and burn (often releasing a bluish smoke) – this can impact both flavour (giving it a bitter taste) and nutritional value of a dish and dictates which oils are used for different cooking methods.

Related:
How to cook and bake with coconut oil
5 health benefits of olive oil and olives
The best oils for cooking, and four things you should know