Tips and recommendations for choosing the best cooking oils.
All food sources that we think of as “fats”—we’re talking butter, shortening, oils—are made up of fatty acids. These fatty acids have specific chemical shapes that affect both how the fat performs in cooking (or baking) and how the fat affects your health. These chemical shapes generally are classified as saturated, polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. All fats contain all three types but are classified by the type of fatty acid that makes up most of the fat. For example, since butter consists mostly of “saturated” fatty acids, it’s considered a “saturated fat.”
If you have limited pantry space and a limited budget, these three oils will cover your basic cooking and baking needs.
Extra-virgin Olive Oil
In addition to being a source of monounsaturated fats, extra-virgin olive oil is also high in antioxidants called polyphenols that have been linked to heart health. (“Pure” olive oil—in other words not virgin—doesn’t contain these “bonus” antioxidants.)
Best uses: Use in dishes that will benefit from olive oil’s rich flavor—drizzle on steamed vegetables and use to make salad dressing or to sauté vegetables.
Its neutral flavor and high smoke point makes this oil an excellent choice for baking and sautéing. Most canola oil is highly refined—which means that it doesn’t have many antioxidants like olive oil does but it does have a relatively long shelf life.
Best uses: Extremely versatile, use canola oil for sautéing, roasting, baking and making salad dressings. If you want to enjoy the heart-healthy benefits of olive oil but find its flavor too strong, try using a 1:1 ratio of canola and extra-virgin olive oil when making salad dressing.
This specialty oil sports a higher price tag, but along with that comes a rich, nutty flavor and omega-3s. Walnut oil—as with all nut oils—has a short shelf life. Buy a small bottle and store it in your refrigerator for up to 3 months.