Now more than ever, grocery aisles are brimming with choices of seemingly endless types of oil. And while it’s sometimes easy to know which options aren’t for daily use — toasted walnut oil, for instance — there are still a lot of basics to sort through. So which oils should hold a place in your pantry? This guide will help you decide which types you need.
This classic Mediterranean staple has gained popularity all around the globe over the past couple of decades thanks to its nutritional values and beautifully rich flavour. Because it’s high in ever-so-healthy monounsaturated fats, it’s praised as one of the most beneficial oils to incorporate into your diet. Unfortunately, olive oil won’t do the trick for all of your cooking needs. Whether you’re choosing virgin or extra-virgin as your household staple, all olive oil will deteriorate and have an off-putting taste if cooked at a high temperature, leaving it best to use for light sautéing, poaching at a low heat or simply in salad dressings or emulsions.
Although you can purchase nutty cold-pressed sunflower oil that can be used in place of olive oil, the most common type of sunflower oil available is a light and refined variety that’s neutral in flavour and can take on high heat. The downside is that this refining process removes some of its healthy nutrients. If you’re looking for an all-purpose oil to get any job done, sunflower oil will always do the trick. Not only is this oil perfect for frying, roasting or searing, it can also be used as a neutral fat in baked goods or aioli.
High in saturated fat, coconut oil was once thought as being extremely unhealthy to consume, however it’s had a new wave of popularity thanks to its versatility (especially in vegan cooking) and being claimed as a new superfood. Firm at room temperature and liquid when melted, coconut oil can be used as you would butter. However, unlike butter, it can also tolerate a higher heat, making it a great choice to cook with. Choose virgin coconut oil as it has a subtle and nutty coconut flavour, and the best nutritional properties compared to refined varieties.
Butter arguably has the most appealing taste that keeps you coming back for more. Because of its milk fats, it tends to burn easily and should never be used for cooking over a high heat (those fats, however, brown beautifully in a slow and controlled burn when making brown butter). Butter is best used when you’re looking to give a boost of flavour, whether it’s for a pasta sauce, glazing vegetables or a final baste on a steak or roast chicken. Thanks to its creamy texture at room temperature, it’s the ultimate fat to use for cakes, cookies and frosting.
While lard lost some of its popularity after vegetable shortening came to the market, it made a huge comeback among chefs and bakers of all generations for its full, rich flavour and ability to make the flakiest pie crusts. Lard is always rendered from pork fat, not making it suitable for everyone to use, but if you’re not looking for a health conscious choice, this all-purpose fat is great for high-heat cooking such as stir-frying and deep-frying as well as most baking.
Peanut oil has a neutral flavour and has a very high smoke point, which makes it the go-to choice for stir frying or deep frying. Because this oil is commonly refined, most of the peanut allergens are removed during the process leaving it safe for a large majority of people who have peanut allergies. You’ll see it as the common choice at chip trucks, so give it a try next time you’re craving some fries or a battered piece of fish.
Learn how to make your own salad dressings with our 40 homemade recipes.