Cooking with oils can be confusing and overwhelming. At the market you scan the shelf of countless types of oils with words like “raw” and “cold-pressed” and price points seemingly arbitrary. Then you hear or read that some oils are not suitable at all for cooking and that refined oils that are best for high-heat cooking, which leaves you wanting to give up altogether and default to your stick of butter.
Do not give up. Cooking with oils has too many benefits to pass up. This simple Smoking Points 101 will guide you to become a sautéing sensation.
What Is a Smoke Point and What is the Big Deal?
Also known as a flashpoint, a smoke point is the temperature at which an oil stops shining and begins to smoke and oxidize. Past a certain (heat) point, the fat starts to break down and release harmful free radicals and toxins, which can make your food taste bad, and even worse, cause a host of health issues.
Why Is it Important to Know the Difference?
Understanding the difference between oils and their smoke points is an essential part of conscious cooking. Every oil has a different smoke point and varies depending on whether the oil is refined or not and the percentage of polyunsaturated vs. monounsaturated vs. saturated fats.
Cooking oils fall into three categories of fats: monounsaturated/polyunsaturated, saturated, and hydrogenated. To be mindful of your health, the best oils are those high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats are known to be heart-healthy and lessen chronic inflammation in the body.
1. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are healthy in moderation. They are plant and nut-based and help lower bad cholesterol and the risk of heart issues.
Monounsaturated oils include canola oil, olive oil, and avocado oil.
Polyunsaturated oils include sunflower oil, safflower oil, grapeseed oil.
2. Saturated fats should be more limited in consumption. While these can lower good cholesterol, they can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Saturated fat oils include coconut; however, coconut oil’s saturated fat is mostly medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs, which are shorter fatty acid chains. When you eat MCTs, your body turns the chains into ketones and uses them for energy.
3. Hydrogenated oils should be avoided altogether because they lower good cholesterol and can increase the risk of chronic disease.
How Do I Know What Temperature to Cook Each Oil at?
How are They Best Used?
Oils without chemical solvents (left in their natural state) are labeled as “unrefined,” “cold-pressed,” “raw,” or “virgin.” These oils may have better nutrient retention and higher polyphenol contents but tend to have lower smoke points and can go bad quickly, so knowing their smoke points and how to adequately store them is critical.
An oil between the smoke point of:
275-325 is considered low heat; typically the first 3 notches on the dial
350-400 is considered moderate heat; typically the second 3 notches on the dial
400-475 is considered high heat; typically the last 3 notches on the dial