Cooking Oil Comparison: The Ultimate Guide
Cooking Oil Comparison
Fats are the one of the three important essential macronutrients and are known as dietary or edible fats. These fats help our body in generating energy that is needed to maintain life-sustaining processes. Use this cooking oil comparison guide to see what fats help you or hurt your health the most.
Our body in the presence of fats utilizes some vital nutrients such as fat-soluble vitamins. Generally, dietary fats are the important component of cooking and baking. Many of them are in liquid form such as cooking oils and some are in solid form at room temperature.
Cooking oils are the liquid fats at room temperature used in cooking or baking purposes and are considered healthier than solid edible/dietary fats.
Cooking oils are commonly derived from plant sources and solid fats are derived from animal sources.
Although, most of the cooking oils found in liquid form at room temperature, however, a few of them are solid such as coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil due to the high-saturated fat contents.
There is a variety of cooking oils derived from plants as compared to other sources of edible/dietary fats and oils.
Here are some of the most commonly used cooking oils in this cooking oil comparison guide (click to jump to section):
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil (virgin and extra virgin olive oil)
- Sunflower oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Avocado oil
- Peanut oil
- Walnut oil
- Palm oil
- Hazelnut oil
- Soybean oil
What makes dietary fats good and bad?
Our body needs both saturated and unsaturated fats in adequate amounts but in their natural form only in order to maintain a good health.
These good fats can be harmful if damaged during industrial processing or because of overheating during cooking.
Natural dietary fats are healthy fats to eat, but on the other hand, all refined or processed dietary fats are considered unhealthy for human consumption.
Many healthy cooking oils, which are extracted through high processing or super heating process, lose their healthy contents during processing. Heat, light or even oxygen can damage healthy fats by converting these healthy fats into bad fats such as trans fats.
Oil extraction and refinement affect its quality and nutritional values.
Chemical solvent extraction, pressing at low temperature without heating on high temperature and decanter centrifuge are the most common types of oil extraction on the industrial scale.
Although our body needs both saturated and unsaturated fats in adequate amounts, however, some saturated and unsaturated fats when processed in an unhealthy way are harmful if used in a little amount.
Several studies and researches have shown that saturated fats raise bad cholesterol in our body, so we need to limit these fats to prevent chronic heart diseases.
In the natural and unprocessed form, both saturated and unsaturated fats are not bad for us if used in a required amount, because these fats nourish heart muscles, necessary for vitamin absorption, makeup cell wall and carry antioxidants. This means that saturated fats are not just bad for health, but there are some benefits of them also.
What we need to do is to avoid processed oils.
An Amazing Fact about cooking oils
Many oils (fats) show a strange behavior on heating at high temperature.
In fact, different oils have different levels of stability depending on the chemical structure of these oils.
When you heat an oil repeatedly or at a high temperature even for once, the chances of its rancidity (rancidity is a state of being rancid of an unpleasant scent or flavor) and oxidation increase.
In this state, several toxic substances (toxins) are formed during oxidation and make these dietary oils and fats harmful. Actually, different natural cooking oils have different resistance to go rancid and oxidize either at low or high temperature.
The degree of saturation of the fatty acids helps you in determining how an oil is resistible of oxidation and rancidification.
For example, saturated oils have less susceptibility to go rancid and oxidize as compared to unsaturated oils and fats.
Saturated oils and fats have no double bond fatty acid molecule, whereas monounsaturated oils and polyunsaturated oils have one and two double bonds in their fatty acid molecules respectively.
Being highly reactive and sensitive to heat, these double bonds present in the mono and polyunsaturated fatty acid molecules make them more prone to rancidification and oxidation that affect the quality of these oils.
Saturated and monounsaturated oils are more stable than polyunsaturated oils. The more double bonds the fatty acids have, the more it is prone to sensitive to heat.
Heating an oil repeatedly alters its physical appearance and chemical composition of fatty acids as well. The change in color, viscosity and odor are the physical change that commonly occurs due to the change in the chemical composition.
When an oil is heated repeatedly, it undergoes a series of chemical changes that changes its quality and texture. The common reactions are:
On heating polyunsaturated fats/oils, a series of chemical reactions starts and produces oxidative products such as aldehydes hydroperoxide. These toxic substances make these healthy oils harmful.
First in this cooking oil comparison is coconut oil is a saturated edible fatty oil that is commonly used in cooking and beauty products.
Coconut oil is generally extracted from mature coconut fruit. In general, coconut oil is extracted via wet process and dry process.
In the wet process, coconut oil is extracted from the fresh flush of the raw coconut where as in dry process, the oil is extracted from the dry coconut (copra).
In both these processes, the wet process is more popular than the dry process with respect to the quality of the oil.
Why it is so popular
In comparison to other cooking oils, the high content of healthy saturated fats and other vital nutrients are the factors due to which coconut oil is considered best for cooking and cosmetics.
The saturated fats found in the processed food items are not the same fats found in coconut oil and other natural sources of saturated fats like butter, whole milk, and coconut oil.
If you want to make a list of healthy saturated fatty oils that are the most stable or resistant to heat, coconut oil would be at the top of the list of natural saturated fatty oil sources.
There are hundreds of articles on the coconut oil presenting this healthy oil as a health detrimental oil.
However, it is nothing more than a misunderstanding or a misconception. Instead, coconut oil is rich in healthy saturated fats, medium-chain fatty acids, lauric acid and antioxidants.
Coconut oil contains the high amount of fatty acids that increases concentrations of ketones in your blood. These ketone bodies work as an appetite suppressor and prevent over-eating by reducing your appetite.
Being a saturated fatty oil, coconut oil is more stable than monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils and is widely used in cookeries and taste enhancer in several foods.
Unlike other cooking oils, coconut oil does not go rancid and oxidize even at high temperature that is the stability of coconut oil.
It is because coconut oil is rich with healthy saturated fats required by our body to maintain it. Yes! You got it right, healthy saturated fats which are the most important fats needed by our body for healthy cell walls.
The most remarkable benefits of coconut oil are:
- Improves immune system
- Coconut oil is vital for brain health as it improves mental alertness
- Thyroid function
- Better digestion
- A best anti- allergic, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-protozoal food
- Healthy bones and liver
- Boosted metabolism
- Moderate use of coconut oil lowers bad cholesterol (LDL) and promotes heart health by increasing good cholesterol (HDL) that works like antioxidant and protects against free radical damage (these free radicals damage our cardiovascular systems and lead to cancer and heart diseases)
- And many more benefits/uses such as uses in beauty products and medicines
Virgin (cold pressed) coconut oil is the most stable oil that has no missing pair of hydrogen atoms in its medium carbon chain that’s why coconut oil does not become rancid either in storing for a long time or cooking in high temperature.
If your food is all natural and healthy, then its misuse, overuse or your inability to tolerate this food can make your food detrimental.
The use of coconut oil more than a safe amount can be harmful especial for pregnant and breast feeding women. It is also considered that coconut oil may raise total cholesterol and bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) as well.
Olive oil is one of the oldest oils used by man and has recorded use in the Bible. Olive oil is a high monounsaturated oil that contains long chain fatty acids commonly used in dressing and toppings on different foods all over the world.
The most naturally extracted or less processed olive oil that is also known as extra virgin olive oil has a peppery taste and is rich in oleic acid, Vitamin E, and oleocanthal (antioxidants). The usual smoke point of olive oil is 190 °C.
It is generally extracted through the cold pressed process that’s why olive oil have maximum benefits if used as a salad oil or table oil, where no heat is required to make these foods.
Extra Olive oil is loaded with antioxidants (like Vitamin E) and health friendly fatty acids and that’s why it is the most popular and widely used oil among health conscious people. Being lack of only one pair of hydrogen atoms, olive oil is less prone to oxidation.
Chemically, every oil/fat is the combination of glycerol and fatty acids.
Fatty acids are the components of oils/fats that make this oil saturated (mono saturated and polyunsaturated) or unsaturated, where glycerol molecules remain the same in every fat/oil. In olive oil, saturated and monounsaturated fats make about 87% of olive oil (this percentage can vary in extra virgin olive oil).
This means that olive oil can be used in cooking like other cooking oils, but it would be better to cook with high saturated fat like coconut oil or the combination of different oils.
Extra virgin olive oil should not be used in cooking as this oil is not a good resistant to high heat because, it contains a very low amount of saturated fats and on heating, olive oil being high in monounsaturated fat undergoes a series of harmful chemical reactions, which produce toxic substances.
Sunflower oil is extracted or compressed from sunflower seeds through RBD (refined bleached, deodorized) processes.
In the refinement, chemical solvents like hexane are used to extract sunflower oil that strip out a few its nutrients. However, refinement makes it more stable than unrefined sunflower oil and it still contains an appreciable amount of nutrients like Vitamin E, squalene, aliphatic hydrocarbons and sterols.
Unrefined sunflower oil is suitable for salad dressing, foods cooked at low temperature and raw foods.
It has a variable smoke point depending on processing (refined sunflower oil has 232 degree Celsius and unrefined oil has 107 degree Celsius smoke point). The expressed sunflower oil has a light amber color with pleasant flavor whereas refinement can affect it color (pale yellow) and taste.
It contains about 89% of polyunsaturated fats and is generally used in frying purposes and in medicines for constipation and for lowering LDL (bad cholesterol). In skin injuries or skin problems such as poorly healing wounds, psoriasis and in inflammation of joints (arthritis), sunflower oil is directly applied to the skin.
In its carbon chain, 2 to 3 pairs of hydrogen atoms are missing that make sunflower oil more vulnerable to oxidation and rancidification. Cooking at high temperature with sunflower cooking oil can increase its rancidity and make it more susceptible to oxidation.
Flaxseed or linseed oil is a polyunsaturated oil particularly extracted through cold pressing of flaxseeds.
Flaxseed oil has a very low smoke point (225 °F) that makes it instable to heat or high temperature.
Being a polyunsaturated fatty oil, flaxseed oil contains omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid that is converted by our body into omega-3 fatty acid) and omega-6 fatty acids.
Flaxseed oil is a popular vegan source of powerful anti-inflammatory component omega-3 fatty acids that promotes heart and brain health. Flax oil is the best source of omega-3 supplementation.
It has poor stability against high heat and has a very short shelf life that is not more than a couple of weeks that’s why flaxseed oil or linseed oil is not suitable for foods cooked at a high temperature it is used in salad dressing, dips, and smoothies, instead.
Avocado oil is a monounsaturated fatty oil obtained from the avocado fruit of a plant with an unusually high smoke point (unrefined and refined).
Due to the high smoke point, avocado oil is used in cookeries and other dishes.
The smoke point of unrefined avocado oil is 249 °C and the smoke point of refined avocado oil is 271 °C.
Being a fruit oil, avocado oil has many benefits such as it improves the absorption of fat-soluble antioxidants and other nutrients found in different foods, and improves eye health and heart health as well.
Due to its very high skin penetration and absorption, avocado oil is also used in cosmetics to improve skin health. It is loaded with heart-healthy buttery monounsaturated fat and lutein (an antioxidant).
Avocado has no side effects if used in an adequate amount.
However, on the other hand excessive use can cause different health issues, as it is high in calories. Going beyond the food amount can make any food hazardous.
Some people with latex intolerance can have some allergic reactions to avocado.
Peanut oil obtained from nuts/seeds of peanut plant have high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Being low in saturated fat and affordable, peanut oil is very popular in the U.S. it is obtained through both, cold press and high refinement processes.
The smoke points of refined and unrefined peanut oils are 450 °F and 320 °F respectively.
Highly refined peanut oils have all the allergens eliminated with slightly nutty taste and is not dangerous for the people intolerant with peanut.
Refined peanut oil is suitable for cooking on high heat, stir-frying and for deep-frying.
The people who have peanut intolerance or allergy with Fabaceae plant family cannot tolerate cold-pressed peanut oil.
Cold pressed peanut oil should not be used in cooking or deep-frying as it is not a good heat resistant.
As mentioned earlier that method of extraction or processing is the key factor that spoils the quality and nutritional value of these oils. Chemically extracted or obtained oils can be harmful for certain uses.
Walnut oil obtained from nuts of the walnut tree of the genus Juglans and is rich in omega-3 fatty acid is high in polyunsaturated fats.
Being high in omega-3 fatty acids, walnut oil reduces bad cholesterol level and thus it promotes heart health.
Recent studies have shown that walnut oil reduces body’s biological response to stress. Walnut oil enhances the taste and nutritional value of salads and cold prep dishes.
Both very low amount of saturated fat (9%) and low smoke point (160-200 °F) make walnut oil vulnerable to rancidity when exposed to high heat that’s why walnut oil is not recommended for cooking.
Butter is an animal source of essential saturated fats. It contains 66-68% saturated fats, 28-30% monounsaturated fats and 4% polyunsaturated fats along with 302 °F smoke point.
Due to its high saturated fat content, butter was considered unhealthy and was criticized in the past.
The processed margarine (a substitute for butter) is unhealthy for our health, not the butter. In fact, the real butter contains Vitamins A, E, K2, butyrate and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid).
According to recent medical research, butter reduces blood fat more than other healthy oils like canola oil. CLA found in butter lowers body fat percentage in humans and butyrate prevents inflammation and improves gut health.
Regular butter is not considered good food high heat cooking like frying because it contains milk sediments like sugar and proteins that make butter unsuitable for cooking. Clarified butter or ghee is best for cooking and is the best way to remove these sediments of milk solids.
According to a study conducted by New York’s school of medicine, butter can considerably increase serum cholesterol level and blood pressure in the people with hypercholesterolemia or with existing elevated blood cholesterol.
An edible vegetable oil naturally reddish in color obtained from the fruit of oil palm tree is high in saturated fats and is known for its long shelf life. Its red color is due to the high content of beta-carotene.
However, raw palm kernel oil (extracted from palm seeds) is not of red color due to the less content of carotenoids and high content of saturated fats.
Being high in saturated fats, palm kernel oil has longer shelf life and is used for cooking purposes. Red palm oil (cold-pressed) contains less saturated fats than kernel palm oil that’s why it is blended into mayonnaise and used for dressing different salads.
Being a processed and high in saturated fats, palm oil has reported linking to higher risks of cardiac diseases. According to the majority of nutrition experts, it is high in calories that can cause rapid weight gain in the people who constantly use palm oil.
Nuts and beans are generally considered health promoting foods that contain a variety of vital nutrients. Hazelnut is one of these nutritious foods and is used to extract oil.
In general, hazelnut oil is extracted or pressed from roasted nuts and is strongly buttery flavored. Its color is golden slightly darker than vegetable oils.
Being high in healthy fats (monounsaturated fatty acids), hazelnut oil is drizzled over butternut squash and salads and is considered the best replacement of vegetable oil.
Hazelnut oil is rich with omega-3 and monounsaturated fatty acids and thus, it promotes good cholesterol and reduces bad cholesterol.
The flavor of hazelnut oil is changed in six to seven months (due to the short shelf life).
It contains less saturated fats and is suggested to use in salad and other dishes like roasted or steamed vegetables, pasta, cooked rice and oatmeal instead of cooking (deep-frying).
Being a nut oil, it is not good for the people who are allergic to nuts and beans.
Soybean oil is obtained from soybeans and is an excellent source of healthy omega-3 and polyunsaturated fat.
Although these kinds of fats can have numerous health benefits, soybean oil contains even more pure fat.
So this means that consuming too much of it can be damaging for your overall health.
When consumed moderately and in place of unhealthy body fats, like lard, soybean oil is usually a good addition to your diet.
Soybean oil is primarily full of polyunsaturated fat. Polyunsaturated fats also have omega-3 fatty acids that reduce inflammation and lower your risk of arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and improve brain health.
Soybean oil is harmless for pregnant and breast-feeding women when used together with a healthy diet plan. However, in high quanities the safety of soybean oil during pregnancy and breast-feeding is unknown.
Especially when it is a higher amount that you can not find naturally in foods.
Individuals who are allergic to peanuts, soybeans and other plants members of the “Fabaceae” family can also be allergic to soybean oil.
From this cooking oil comparison guide, it is clear that oils containing polyunsaturated fats are not suitable for cooking purposes, especially for deep frying purposes. These polyunsaturated fats should be used in toping or dressing of salads where these fats are not heated at all.
Due to the susceptibility of these oils and fats to go oxidize and rancid you should avoid these oils in cooking at or low high temperature. For cooking purposes monounsaturated and saturated oils should be used.