Guide to Cooking Oils: The New Fat Revolution

Learn about different types of oils and when to cook with them.

Fat isn’t just a nutrient essential to your body, it’s also a key player in healthy cooking. It carries heat and helps cook foods quickly and evenly. It also coats your taste buds, making flavor linger longer.

This buyer’s guide outlines some of the most common oils—and offers the nutritional benefits of each one. Whether you want to use avocado or extra-virgin olive oil, canola or coconut oil, you’ll find it here, along with the best uses for each, info about smoke points and tips for how to store different oils to keep them fresh.

Top Oil Picks: We like olive oil, canola oil and butter the best; take a closer look at those in detail.

—By Holley Grainger, M.S., R.D.

Watch: Is Coconut Oil or Butter Healthier?


1. Avocado Oil

1. Avocado Oil

What it is: Oil extracted from ripe avocados after the skin and seed are removed.

Nutritional Benefits:
The green hue of avocado oil comes from carotenoids (specifically eye-healthy lutein) and chlorophyll. Though chlorophyll has been touted as a blood cleanser and detoxifier, there’s no solid science backing these claims.

Uses:
With a hint of avocado flavor, this oil works well in a salad dressing and its high smoke point makes it good for stir-frying or sautéing.

Avg. Smoke Point:
482°F

Fat Breakout:
65% monounsaturated
28% polyunsaturated
7% saturated


2. Butter

2. Butter

What it is: Though butter is a dairy product, not an oil, it’s often used in many of the same applications as oil.

Nutritional Benefits:
A tablespoon of butter delivers 7% of the daily value for vitamin A—nearly what you’d get in a cup of milk. Some say ghee, or clarified butter (butter that has been heated to remove water and milk solids, leaving behind pure fat) is healthier than butter, but there isn’t any science to support that claim.

Uses:
Delicious as a spread and a favorite for baking because it provides moisture as well as fat. Use clarified butter for high-heat sautéing because it has a higher smoke point.

Avg. Smoke Point:
300°F

Fat Breakout:
21% monounsaturated
3% polyunsaturated
51% saturated


3. Canola Oil

3. Canola Oil

What it is: Oil extracted from the crushed seeds of the canola plant.

Nutritional Benefits:
Canola has the smallest amount of saturated fat and the most heart-healthy omega-3 fats of any of the common cooking oils. It’s also a good source of vitamins E & K.

Uses:
With a high smoke point, light texture and neutral flavor, it’s an excellent choice for sautéing, baking and frying. Its neutral flavor also makes canola a good choice for some dressings.

Avg. Smoke Point:
468°F

Fat Breakout:
62% monounsaturated
31% polyunsaturated
7% saturated


4. Coconut Oil

4. Coconut Oil

What it is: Oil extracted from the meat of mature coconuts. It’s solid at room temperature, but liquid above 75°F. Can be used in solid or liquid state.

Nutritional Benefits:
Although coconut oil is mostly saturated fat, it contains a type of fat that elevates "good" HDL cholesterol. More research is needed to support coconut oil’s purported therapeutic benefits—such as potential antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.

Uses:
Use it for baking and low-heat sautéing because of its smoke point. Match it with foods that go with its coconut flavor.

Avg. Smoke Point:
350°F

Fat Breakout:
6% monounsaturated
2% polyunsaturated
92% saturated


6. Grapeseed Oil

5. Grapeseed Oil

What it is: Oil pressed from the seeds of wine grapes.

Nutritional Benefits:
Rich in polyunsaturated omega-6 fats, which help lower cholesterol, grapeseed oil also delivers vitamin E.

Uses:
Grapeseed oil is light in color and flavor with a hint of nuttiness. It has a high smoke point, making it a good option for baking, sautéing and stir-frying.

Avg. Smoke Point:
420°F

Fat Breakout:
17% monounsaturated
73% polyunsaturated
10% saturated


5. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

6. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

What it is: Oil cold-pressed from ripe olives. (Regular and light olive oils are more refined.)

Nutritional Benefits:
People who regularly eat extra-virgin olive oil in place of saturated fats have a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke—and lower cholesterol.

Uses:
Has a fruitier flavor and aroma than most oil, making it great for salad dressing, drizzling and moderate-heat sautéing.

Avg. Smoke Point:
375°F

Fat Breakout:
78% monounsaturated
8% polyunsaturated
14% saturated


7. Peanut Oil

7. Peanut Oil

What it is: Oil extracted from peanuts. Available in refined, unrefined and toasted versions.

Nutritional Benefits:
Though in small amounts, it’s the only oil that contains resveratrol, a compound that may protect against certain cancers and heart disease. Also a good source of vitamin E.

Uses:
Great neutral flavor; try roasted peanut oil for a toasty flavor. Use refined peanut oil for frying, grilling, sautéing or roasting due to its higher smoke point. Unrefined has a lower smoke point and is good for medium-heat cooking or salad dressings.

Avg. Smoke Point:
450°F when refined
320°F when unrefined

Fat Breakout:
48% monounsaturated
34% polyunsaturated
18% saturated


8. Safflower Oil

8. Safflower Oil

What it is: Oil from the seeds of the safflower.

Nutritional Benefits:
In a study, adding a daily dose of safflower oil (about 1 2/3 tsp.) to their diet helped obese women with type 2 diabetes trim belly fat, improve their insulin sensitivity and "good" HDL cholesterol and lower C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation.

Uses:
Safflower oil (sometimes labeled "high heat" or "high oleic") has a high smoke point and very light flavor, making it good for stir-frying, sautéing and baking.

Avg. Smoke Point:
510°F

Fat Breakout:
75% monounsaturated
13% polyunsaturated
8% saturated


9. Soybean Oil

9. Soybean Oil

What it is: Oil extracted from soybeans.

Nutritional Benefits:
Soybean oil is one of the few cooking oils to deliver heart-healthy omega-3 fats. It is also rich in omega-6 fats and because soybean oil is the primary oil in many processed foods (salad dressings, baked goods, frozen food, mayonnaise), it’s a major source of omega-6s in our diets.

Uses:
Its neutral flavor and high smoke point make soybean oil appropriate for most any cooking method.

Avg. Smoke Point:
465°F

Fat Breakout:
23% monounsaturated
58% polyunsaturated
16% saturated


10. Walnut Oil

10. Walnut Oil

What it is: Oil cold-pressed from the meat of dried walnuts.

Nutritional Benefits:
Just like its whole-nut counterpart, walnut oil has been shown to promote heart health. There’s also research to suggest walnut oil improves your body’s response to stress: in one study, when adults added walnuts and walnut oil to their daily diet, they lowered their blood pressure response to stress (as well as their resting blood pressure).

Uses:
Its rich, nutty flavor makes it ideal for salad dressings or finishing a dish. Don’t heat it—it can become bitter.

Avg. Smoke Point:
320°F

Fat Breakout:
23% monounsaturated
63% polyunsaturated
9% saturated


11. Rice Bran Oil

11. Rice Bran Oil

What it is: Oil extracted from the germ and inner husk of rice.

Nutritional Benefits:
A good source of vitamin E and antioxidants. Consuming a combination of rice bran oil and sesame oil helped participants in a recent study significantly lower their blood pressure and improve their cholesterol levels. The oil blend, however, was uniquely made for the study, so you might not be able to repeat the results at home.

Uses:
Rice bran oil has a high smoke point, making it ideal for high-heat sautéing, but because of its mild, light flavor, it can also be used for baking or in a salad dressing. The consistency of rice bran oil is thinner than most other cooking oils so you’ll need less of it when cooking.

Avg. Smoke Point:
490°F

Fat Breakout:
39% monounsaturated
35% polyunsaturated
20% saturated


12. Sunflower Oil

12. Sunflower Oil

What it is: Oil extracted from sunflower seeds.

Nutritional Benefits:
Sunflower oil has one of the highest concentrations of vitamin E of all oils. Like soybean oil, sunflower oil is rich in omega-6 fats and because it’s commonly used in processed foods it contributes to the overabundance of omega-6s in our diets.

Uses:
Avg. Smoke Point:
478°F

Fat Breakout:
45% monounsaturated
40% polyunsaturated
10% saturated

Fat Breakout: (High-oleic)
84% monounsaturated
4% polyunsaturated
10% saturated


13. Vegetable Oil

13. Vegetable Oil

What it is: A general term that can include a combination of soybean and other oils such as corn, canola or sunflower.

Nutritional Benefits:
Despite previous thinking, new studies have found that the omega-6 fat, linoleic acid, in vegetable oil does not promote inflammation and can be part of a heart-healthy diet.

Uses:
Flavor is generally neutral, but varies based on the blend. Best used in baking, sautéing and frying.

Avg. Smoke Point:
Varies based on blend, but generally good for high-heat cooking.

Fat Breakout: Varies based on blend


14. Red Palm Fruit Oil

14. Red Palm Fruit Oil

What it is: Oil extracted from the palm fruit. Like coconut oil, it can be used in either a solid or liquid form.

Nutritional Benefits:
Often regarded as unhealthy because it is confused with palm kernel oil (which contains trans fat and 89% saturated fat), red palm fruit oil has much less saturated fat (43%). It’s also rich in beta-carotene (hence the red-orange color) and vitamin E, making it a heart-healthy oil.

Uses:
Because of its lower smoke point, it’s best for low-heat sautéing. Red palm fruit oil has a carrot-like taste; however, some brands use a cold-filtering process to remove the flavor while still maintaining the nutritional properties.

Avg. Smoke Point:
302°F

Fat Breakout:
43% monounsaturated
11% polyunsaturated
43% saturated


15. Corn Oil

15. Corn Oil

What it is: Oil extracted from the germ of corn.

Nutritional Benefits:
Recent research found corn oil superior to extra-virgin olive oil in lowering total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Corn oil has a unique combination of plant sterols and healthy fatty acids that may contribute to these heart-healthy benefits.

Uses:
Its mild flavor and high smoke point make corn oil very versatile: use it for baking, sautéing, grilling and stir-frying.

Avg. Smoke Point:
450°F

Fat Breakout:
28% monounsaturated
55% polyunsaturated
13% saturated


Beware the Smoke Point

Beware the Smoke Point!

The oils listed here have different smoke points—the point at which an oil literally begins to smoke.

Oils begin to break down at their smoke point or when they are reheated repeatedly. When that happens, beneficial compounds start to degrade and potentially health-harming compounds form.

Get your oil hot enough for cooking by just heating it until it shimmers.


Storing Your Oil

How to Store Cooking Oils

Heat and light can damage oil and may alter its taste, so store oil in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

Be sure to read labels carefully, though, because some oils have specific storage requirements. Grapeseed oil, for example, should be refrigerated.