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Michelle Warner

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The Right Oil for the Job

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Monday Morsel

sometimes random.
sometimes deep.
just a little something
to begin your week.

This weekend while Jared was browning the organic meat for our taco salad in my new stainless steel skillet, he asked me for some olive oil. I love that he knows me so well that he knew I wouldn’t want the food to stick to my new pans! When I realized I was out of olive oil, I opened my new sunflower oil made for high-temperature cooking. I bought this oil at Whole Foods recently after reading about oils and cooking but I wasn’t sure if this was exactly the right oil for the job.

After we finished eating our yummy salads, Jared watched basketball while I sat next to him researching oils. (I know, it sounds like he got the much better end of that deal but I really did enjoy learning!) I feel much more knowledgeable about which oil to use for which cooking job and I thought I’d share my findings with you.

Upon researching, I realized that this topic isn’t as simple as I thought. (What topic is?) The whole topic of which oil to use when cooking centers on the issue of the oil’s smoke point. The smoke point is the temperature that the oil begins to smoke and break down changing its molecular structure. The reason this is such an important issue is because when the oil reaches its smoke point, it releases carcinogens into the air and free radicals into the oil. These toxins then enter our body, and after going through the effort of eating vegetables, why would we want to cook them in carcinogen-laden oil? After all of my research of eliminating free radicals from my body, I realized how important it is to use the appropriate oil when cooking.

Before explaining the oils’ smoke points, I thought I would define a few words that seem quite important in the oil discussion (and ones I needed help understanding)…

Refined: According to, “Refined oils are made in large quantities and typically consist of a combination of various different seeds. They are created by a chemical and mechanical process which inexpensively removes any natural nutrients from the oil.” I read that it is best to look for expeller-pressed oil because this means the oil was extracted mechanically rather than using heat. Also, “If the label does not boast that the oil is “unrefined,” you can assume that it has been through some kind of chemical process that makes it worse for your health,” says Ask Dr. Sears.

Hydrogenated Oil (including partially hydrogenated oil): Oil where the essential fatty acids are changed chemically into trans fatty acids. Consuming this oil has been linked to higher cholesterol and other health problems, and can be found in margarine, Crisco, peanut butter, cool whip, and many other foods. (Another reason to check the labels!)

High oleic: is a naturally-occurring monounsaturated fatty acid and is good for your health.

Below is a list of many oils and the temperatures that they are able to withstand before reaching their smoke point. One disclaimer: I noticed while reading that some of these smoke point temperatures are listed as higher or lower on other sites. I took this in consideration and tried to give a range as to what I found.

Oil That Should Be Used in Cold Dishes or in Low Heat (0º to 325º F)

  • Flaxseed Oil: (smoke point: 225ºF) Should not be used for cooking over heat but great for salads dressings. (For more information on the health benefits of flaxseed, see this past Monday Morsel.)
  • Olive Oil: (smoke point ranges from 200º-325ºF) Can be used for light sautéing, and in sauces and dressings. After reading many articles, I think it is best to keep Extra Virgin Olive Oil (especially organic) under 250ºF. Virgin olive oil has a slightly higher smoke point. I found conflicting information about the smoke points of olive oil. *A word of caution: “Pure” and “Light” Olive Oil are much more processed than Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
  • Walnut Oil: (smoke point ranges from 400ºF). Can be used for baking and light sautéing or in sauces.
  • Coconut Oil: Highest in saturated fats, a heart-unhealthy oil. Make sure you read the labels because coconut oil is found in packaged foods such as cereal and cookies.

Oil That Should Be Used in Medium Heat (325º to 350º F)

  • Peanut Oil: (Smoke point: 350ºF) Can be used for light sautéing, sauces and salad dressings.

Oil That Should Be Used in Medium-High Heat (350º to 400º F)

  • Canola Oil: (Smoke Point: 350º-400ºF) Can be used in baking, sautéing, stir-fry, and in dressings, and is one of the lowest oils in saturated fats. A word of Caution: Try to buy organic canola oil because the rapeseeds are often sprayed with pesticides and may be genetically modified.
    *Spectrum Naturals Super Canola Oil was recommended to me by a cancer specialist as a good choice when using oils at high heat.
  • Grapeseed Oil: (Smoke Point: 420ºF) Can be used in sautéing and frying.
  • Almond Oil: (Smoke point: 425ºF) It can be used for sautéing, frying, or baking.
  • Safflower Oil: (Smoke Point: 350º-450ºF) Can be used for sautéing and frying.
  • Sunflower Oil: (Smoke Point: 460ºF) Can be used for sautéing and frying.

*A word of Caution: Both Sunflower and Safflower Oils are high in Omega 6 and contain no Omega 3’s so they are not as nutritious as canola oil. They can also tend to be refined.

  • Avocado Oil: (Smoke Point: 510ºF) Can be used for sautéing and frying.

Not recommended:

  • Soybean Oil: It is often highly refined and hydrogenated.
  • Corn Oil: High in saturated fats, usually hydrogenated, and highly refined.
  • Palm Oil: High in saturated fats.

For more information:

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