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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]

For a list of popular oils and the temperature to which it can be safely heated, see the Smoke Point table.

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.

 


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.

10 Comment(s)

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

    Dell | May 23, 2012 | Reply

  2. What about grapeseed oil?

    Geraldine | May 24, 2012 | Reply

  3. Very Informative ! I appreciate this , thanks !

    Patti | Jan 16, 2013 | Reply

  4. 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 | Jan 17, 2013 | Reply

  5. 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 | Jan 18, 2013 | Reply

  6. Where can I find the smoke point list?

    Joanna | Apr 25, 2013 | Reply

  7. 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 | Jun 18, 2013 | Reply

  8. 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 | Jun 18, 2013 | Reply

  9. 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 | Jun 21, 2013 | Reply

  10. I agree with the comments regarding Canola and Soy oil in that they 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 | Jul 4, 2013 | Reply

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