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Mix It Up: Cooking oil confusion

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By Carie Birkmeier EBS STAFF

Have you ever wondered if it would be best to use olive oil, vegetable oil or coconut oil when baking, sautéing or grilling? There are so many varieties of oil on the market today that vary in color, flavor and smoke point, but not all oils can be used interchangeably. Below are some common types of oils and how and for what they should be used.

Olive oil. You’ve likely seen several varieties of olive oils, the main two being extra virgin and light. The former should not be used for high-heat cooking, as it has a much lower smoke point at approximately 320 degrees. A good rule of thumb is to use extra virgin olive oil in heatless preparations such as vinaigrettes or as a finishing oil where its strong, fruity flavor is desired. More refined olive oil has a less potent flavor, desirable texture and higher smoke point (465 degrees), making it a versatile option for sautéing and other high-heat preparations.

Grapeseed oil. Once thought of as a useless byproduct of winemaking, grapeseed oil has recently become a more common go-to oil in many kitchens. With a smoke point of 420 degrees and a very mild flavor, this oil lends itself well to a variety of applications. It is less likely to separate when emulsified, making it a great choice for making vinaigrettes and mayonnaise.

Avocado oil. With one of the highest smoke points available at over 500 degrees, this is the best option for super-high-temperature cooking. Made from the fruit of the avocado, its flavor is just that—fruity, with a velvety texture. Next time you want a perfectly fried egg with slightly crisp edges, give this oil a try. It is also a great option for grilling—no more unwanted smoke in the face!

Safflower oil. Made from pressed sunflower and safflower seeds, and with a high smoke point of 450 degrees, this oil is akin to common vegetable or canola oil. The main difference is its nutrition content—it contains more good fats than these other varieties. On the other hand, it does have a shorter shelf life than many oils, so be sure to check the expiration date and consider purchasing it in smaller quantities. Use this oil as a substitute in the same frying or baking applications that call for vegetable oil.

Coconut oil. A white solid at room temperature, coconut oil is a great substitute for butter in non-dairy applications. Try using chilled coconut oil in place of butter next time you make scones or a piecrust. Only when it reaches a temperature above 76 degrees will it become liquid, with a low smoke point of 350 degrees. It gives off a slightly tropical scent when heated, and works particularly well in sweet recipes.

There are also several varieties of oil that possess strong flavors that may be ideal for certain dishes and not for others. Sesame oil is a great example; used in moderation it can add a unique nuttiness to your favorite Asian dish, but use too much and it is likely to overpower other flavors.

Not all oils are created equal. Whether the oil is derived from nuts, seeds, flowers or fruits will affect the way it reacts in different cooking applications. Each oil has a specific use in our kitchen, and should be chosen accordingly. Before selecting an oil for cooking, consider the smoke point and flavor above all, and always consider trying a new variety.

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