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Best Oils For Frying, Baking, and Dressings

By Vesanto Melina, RD

Oil can be heated up to a certain point with no significant change in chemical composition. The point at which it changes is called its “smoke point”, but this is different for each oil.

The smoke point is the temperature at which oil begins to break down and form a bluish smoke. Its flavor and nutrition are damaged.

The smoke contains acrolein that is irritating to the eyes and throat. The smoke point also marks significant changes in flavor and nutritional degradation.

“Cold pressed” oils contain heat-sensitive vitamins and phytochemicals. These oils are great for dressings. But the vitamins and phytochemicals they contain are vulnerable to heat damage. High temperatures turn them into contaminants.

That’s why these “cold pressed” and unrefined oils have lower smoke points than their refined counterparts. Refined oils have been stripped of these vitamins and phytochemicals.

When choosing an oil to use in cooking, stick with oils that are refined (to remove heat-sensitive vitamins and phytochemicals). Good choices are olive oil, or high oleic sunflower or safflower.

Saturated fats, such as coconut oil and ghee (for ovo-lacto vegetarians) are even better for frying because they’re less subject to oxidation.[3]

When you fry (or stir fry), overheating or over-using the oil leads to formation of rancid-tasting products of oxidation, molecular changes, and toxic compounds such as acrylamide (from starchy foods). These changes may not be visible, evident, or obvious. But the flavor might change.

Deep fat frying is a high temperature process, so it requires a fat with a high smoke point — in most cases it lies between 345–375 °F (175 and 190 °C ).[1],[2]

Which oils are best when served raw (for example in salad dressings)?

From a nutritional perspective, the best oil to use for salads dressing is flaxseed oil due to its particularly high content of Omega-3 fatty acids. Hempseed oil and walnut oil are less common, but also high in Omega-3 fatty acids. However, none of these should be used in cooking.[4],[5]

Smoke Point of Oils Chart
Oil Type Smoke Point
Butter 350°F / 177°C
Canola oil[*] Expeller Press 464°F / 240°C
Canola oil[*] Refined 470°F / 240°C
Coconut oil Unrefined 350°F / 177°C
Coconut oil[**] Refined 450°F / 232°C
Corn oil Unrefined 320°F / 160°C
Corn oil[*] Refined 450°F / 232°C
Cottonseed oil[*] 420°F / 216°C
Flax seed oil Unrefined 225°F / 107°C
Ghee (Indian Clarified Butter)[*] Clarified to “refine” 485°F / 252°C
Hempseed oil 330°F / 165°C
Olive oil Extra virgin 375°F / 191°C
Olive oil Virgin 420°F / 216°C
Palm oil 455°F / 235°C[1]
Peanut oil Unrefined 320°F / 160°C
Peanut oil[*] Refined 450°F / 232°C
Safflower oil Unrefined 225°F / 107°C
Safflower oil[*] Refined 510°F / 266°C
Sesame oil Unrefined 350°F / 177°C
Sesame oil[*] Semi-refined 450°F / 232°C
Soybean oil Unrefined 320°F / 160°C
Soybean oil[*] Refined 450°F / 232°C
Sunflower oil Unrefined 225°F / 107°C
Sunflower oil, high oleic Unrefined 320°F / 160°C
Sunflower oil[*] Refined 450°F / 232°C

*These oils have a smoke point high enough to be used for frying.

**These oils are the best for frying because they not only have a high enough smoke point; they’re also composed of saturated fatty acids, so they’re less subject to oxidation.[3]

Which oils are best for frying?

For frying, use any of the oils with asterisks in the Smoke Point table.

Which oils are best for baking / roasting?

You may use any of the oils with asterisks in the Smoke Point table. For high oven temperatures, choose an oil with an appropriately high smoke point.

Summary

You will find it helpful to keep in your home flaxseed oil (for salad dressings and as a source of essential omega-3 fatty acids) and refined coconut oil or olive oil (for stir fries and other heated menu items). You really don’t need any other oils.

However, some people like to use refined sesame oil for a slightly different flavor in stir fries. And some like the flavor of canola, safflower or sunflower oil in their baked goods and pancakes.[4]

An even cleaner choice is to eat a raw or high-raw diet and make whole foods like avocado, olives, nuts, seeds, and their butters, and coconut your primary sources of dietary fat.[5]

For the complete lesson on this topic — and 49 lessons like it — be sure to enroll in the Vegan Mastery Program or Vegetarian Mastery Program the next time enrollment is open to the public.

Rare Opportunity: Get Your Questions Answered By Vesanto on June 16

On 6/16/2015 at 8pm EDT (5pm PDT), Trevor Justice will host a Q&A call with Vesanto Melina, RD, who authored lessons like this one from our Mastery Program.

For the first hour, Vesanto will answer your nutrition questions. Then Trevor will stay on to answer your questions about our Mastery Program, since we re-open enrollment on June 18.

Go here now to submit your questions for Vesanto… http://events.instantteleseminar.com/?eventid=71031144 …and then return to that page when the Q&A call starts.

Whether or not you participate on the call, we’ll share the replay link with you and our other email subscribers afterwards.


References:

[1] Choe E, Min DB. Chemistry of deep-fat frying oils. J Food Sci. 2007 Jun;72(5):R77-86.

[2] Paul S, Mittal GS. Regulating the use of degraded oil/fat in deep-fat/oil food frying. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1997 Nov;37(7):635-62.

[3] Fats and Oils, Udo Erasmus. 1986.

[4][+] Melina V, Davis B. The New Becoming Vegetarian” by, The Book Publishing Company, 2003. Pages 155-176.

[5][+] Davis B, Melina V. Becoming Raw. The Book Publishing Company, 2010. Pages 70-71.

31 Comment(s)

  1. The chart is very Informative! I appreciate this, thanks!

    Patti | Reply

  2. This is a good article and I agree with everything Melina says.  One thing – she doesn't mention quality of refined oils to be used in high heat cooking.  I would never use Mazola oil, but I would use Spectrum high oleic safflower. 

    Wyandotte | Reply

  3. Wyandotte,

    I’m curious to know more about mazola oil versus safflower oil. I personally just stick to using coconut oil for cooking and cold-pressed (refrigerated!) flax oil, hemp oil and chia oil for salads and raw recipes.

    Raederle Phoenix | Reply

  4. What about grapeseed oil?

    Geraldine | Reply

  5. Geraldine,

    Grapeseed oil’s smoke point is 390°F/195°C.

    Raederle Phoenix | Reply

  6. It's my understanding that Flaxseed goes rancid almost immediately which is why it makes sense to grind it freshly, but not so much to have as an oil since the moment the bottle is opened it loses it's healthful qualities. Personally, after years of trying I just cannot abide the flavor.
    Rancidity is one of the worst things to make our bodies deal with.
    I think we are better off making salad dressings with whole soaked walnuts, or even just a good cold-pressed, unrefined, unfiltered olive oil.
    Okay, but also personally, I like unrefined cold-pressed sesame to add to salads, or other foods after cooking. The flavor is great but it too goes rancid quickly so plan the meals and buy tiny bottles.
    Oh, and the balance of 3 to 6 is important too so using Sunflower and Safflower is not really a good idea either. That's where added fats really become an issue. But we need some for processing through fat soluble vitamins such as A and E, but also to push/pull out fat soluble toxins.

    Syd | Reply

  7. Syd,

    Those are many great points. You’re spot-on.

    Raederle Phoenix | Reply

  8. Canola oil and soy oil are both GMO for the most part.  Canola oil is a trans fat because of the processing and it is extremely toxic and hard on liver health.  Best to avoid both these even if organic.

    Helen | Reply

  9. Canola and soy oil are, for the most part, both GMO. Canola oil is extremely toxic and stresses the liver being a trans fat. Best to avoid both these even if organic.
    Perhaps your comments about using canola or sunflower oil should be revised.
    In my opinion Coconut Oil and Olive Oil are both beneficial to your health depending of course on how they are used.
    Another good article on oils is at: http://www.healingwithintent.info/2012/08/choosing-best-cooking-oils-for-your.html
    Thanks for your article.

    Mike | Reply

  10. Just a quick comment. You should revise your statements on using canola or sunflower oil. These oils should never be used at all unless they are organic oils as rapeseed (canola) and sunflower seeds are the two most genetically modified organism (GMO) crops grown today.

    Neal singleton | Reply

  11. Neal,

    That’s right. Canola oil is one of the main GMO crops. Always buy organic.

    Personally, I don’t feel that canola oil is appropriate for cooking because of how high it is in polyunsaturated fats.

    Raederle Phoenix | Reply

  12. You failed to mention the structure of the oils. Polyunsaturated oils which include all vegetable and seed oils (canola, soy, safflower, etc.) are extremely fragile and should never be heated. They are already damaged through extraction methods (high heat, pressure and chemical). They are high in omega 6 and cause inflammation and oxidation in the body. Always use saturated fats which are healthier and structurally more stable. Preferred would be lard or tallow (from pastured animals) but coconut, red palm and ghee are also quite safe.

    Paul | Reply

  13. Paul,

    In the Mastery Program from The Vegetarian Health Institute (which this chart comes from), all of those details about polyunsaturated fats, omega-6s, etc, are covered.

    You’re very right that polyunsaturated fats are inappropriate for cooking. I use refrigerated cold-pressed oils for salad, and only coconut oil for cooking.

    Raederle Phoenix | Reply

  14. What about macadamia oil? It has a higher smoke point than all other oils and a good balance of essential fats.

    Dell | Reply

  15. Dell,

    Macadamia nut oil has a smoke point of 413 degrees F (210 C).

    Raederle Phoenix | Reply

  16. How about Avocado oil for frying? What’s the smoke point?

    Maria Zacarias | Reply

  17. Hi Maria — Avocado oil has a very high smoke point by comparison to other cooking oils. It will not burn or smoke until it reaches 520 F (271 C) which is ideal for frying in a Wok.

    Trevor Justice | Reply

  18. Nicely said Mike,

    The only place I differ is, olive oil despite any smoke point goes rancid quickly. I cook with coconut oil and only use Organic Olive Oil after cooking. This upsets a lot of people who have been cooking with olive oil for years but there is sufficient information available now if you look for it.

    Larry | Reply

  19. Still no information on grape seed oil.! Is there anyone who knows if it’s good to cook/w or use on salads? I use it for massage, I was told at Canyon Ranch it was good for the body on the skin but no other info was available at the time.

    P-daddy Worrall | Reply

  20. Hi P-daddy – grapeseed oil has a high smoke point and is tasteless when extracted with heat (or with chemicals like hexane). When cold-pressed it has a strong horrible taste, so no good for salads! It’s exceptionally high in Omega-6, more so than the other seed oils. It’s not a good choice because it unbalances your Omega3:6 ratio. You want to stick with coconut oil which is mostly saturated fat.

    Most of the nutrients and antioxidants (including the proanthocyanidins) from grape seeds are not present in the oil. Except for fat-soluble vitamin E, it’s high in that. But it’s far healthier to get your vitamin E from fresh seeds and nuts.

    Trevor Justice | Reply

  21. For the oils that come both refined and unrefined, how can you tell the difference. I have LouAna coconut oil but have no clue if it is refined or unrefined.

    Diane Hollister | Reply

  22. Hi Diane — a good coconut oil container will tell how it is processed. You want raw, cold-pressed, virgin oil — unbleached, unrefined, and non-deodorized.

    LouAna says it is 100% pure but it’s reportedly made from hardened coconut by-products called Copra after all the “premium” coconut content has been removed for other uses (like shredded flakes). It is heated up, bleached, refined, deordorized and then processed with lye. Hence “pure” does not mean it’s good for you! That being said, it’s still a healthier choice than canola or corn oil.

    Trevor Justice | Reply

  23. Why is Omega 3 oil from Krill touted as being better than flax seed oil?

    Carol Ann | Reply

  24. Hi Carol — krill oil has DHA/EPA, whereas with flax oil, your body has to convert its ALA into DHA. It’s also lower on the food chain so is less contaminated with the mercury and PCB’s that are in fish oil.

    However, trawling methods haul the krill up on deck and empty it into holding tanks before processing. This is unsustainable because (1) krill are high in digestive enzymes and basically self-destruct before they can be processed, and (2) the trawling drags in unwanted “by-catch” (fish, seals, etc.) that destroys fragile marine eco-systems in the Antarctic.

    The healthiest way to get your DHA/EPA is to take vegan micro-algae DHA/EPA capsules. The algae are sustainably grown and harvested in tanks.

    Trevor Justice | Reply

  25. Does using ground flax seed in baked goods that are baked at a temp of 325F or less oxidize (make rancid) the fat in the ground flax seed?

    marlene | Reply

  26. If using chia seeds in baked goods, does the baking at 325F or less destroy the benefits of the chia fat? Would baking at 300F make a difference?

    marlene | Reply

  27. Hi Marlene – both chia and flax (and hemp) are polyunsaturated and should never be heated. Poly’s oxidize the quickest. Baking at *any* temperature will destroy their healthy Omega-3 fats. Some people use ground flax as an egg substitute, in which case they’re not eating it for the Omega-3′s. But apple sauce is a much better substitute, 1/3 cup applesauce = 1 egg.

    Trevor Justice | Reply

  28. I would like to know about rice bran oil please

    Sue J | Reply

  29. Hi Sue — rice bran oil is extracted from the hard outer bran or husk of rice. It has a high smoke point of 232°C (450°F). It’s higher in mono-unsaturated fats than the other oils like sunflower or canola, so will not interfere so much in your Omega 6:3 ratio. It’s also higher in saturated fat. It’s roughly 39% Omega-9 in form of oleic acid, 35% Omega-6, 23% saturated fat, and 3% Omega-3. It has a mild nutty flavor. It’s popular in restaurants because it has no trans fats. The American Heart Association and The World Health Organization (WHO) recommend rice bran oil as the best choice for improving serum cholesterol levels. It has high levels of vitamin E & other antioxidants that both make it an anti-inflammatory, and keep it from going rancid (longer shelf life). It has fewer polymers than other oils so it’s easier for clean-up (isn’t as sticky). Of course, look for GMO-free oil.

    valarcher | Reply

  30. Larry, smoke point and rancidity are separate issues. For rancidity purposes, olive oil should be bought in small enough amounts that it will be used quickly, and kept in a dark jar in a cool, dark place. Regarding cooking with olive oil, there is also a big difference between low-temperature and high-temperature cooking. While the latter should not be done with olive oil, the online community has many different opinions with low-temperature cooking, though I don’t believe I’ve found any scientific data that low-temp cooking harms olive oil.

    Lauryn | Reply

  31. Thank you so much for clarifying this and for the applesauce tip. Some breads have whole flax seed on the outside of their crust. Would eating baked whole flax seed like this and/or baked ground flax seed actually be harmful or would I just be forfeiting the Omega3s benefit? Thank you again for helping me understand this.

    marlene | Reply

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