Jenna Smith: Sorting out the differences in kitchen oils

2012-10-03T13:00:00Z Jenna Smith: Sorting out the differences in kitchen oilsBy Jenna Smith | U of I Extension, McLean County

Skimming through a cookbook recipe you see that it calls for oil. Do you ever think to yourself, “what type of oil?” Are we talking olive oil, canola oil, sesame oil, or some other type? With various types of oils crowding the shelves these days, it’s no wonder so many people are asking about the difference in oils.

First, let’s look at olive oil. Terms such as “virgin,” “extra virgin,” “pure,” and “light” are sometimes used to describe the oil. Extra virgin olive oil has less acid and more of a fruity or peppery flavor than a “pure” or “virgin” olive oil. Since it has more aroma and flavor, you can use less. It’s generally best in uncooked or lightly heated dishes because it has a low to moderate smoke point, which is the temperature at which the oil breaks down and begins to smoke and develop off-flavors.

“Pure” or “virgin” olive oil is more refined, which means it’s stripped of some healthy antioxidants, but it’s suitable for sautéing and pan-frying because it has a higher smoke point. Its flavor is mild, which also makes it suitable for baking. “Light” olive oil has nothing to do with fat or calorie content. It simply refers to the color and fragrance of the oil. All in all, no matter what type of olive oil you choose, each is high in monounsaturated fats, the good type of fat, and is a healthy choice.

Canola oil has a neutral flavor and a relatively high smoke point. This makes it very versatile in everything from sautés, stir-fries, grilled foods and baked goods. Like olive oil, canola oil also is high in monounsaturated fats.

There are two types of sesame oil: toasted and light. Toasted sesame oil has a dark color and strong nutty flavor, making it perfect for Asian cuisine. It doesn’t stand up well to heat, so it’s best to add at the end of cooking or in uncooked dishes. You won’t need much of it since the flavor is so robust. Light sesame oil is lighter in color, but not in calories. It is primarily used for seasoning but not cooking. Sesame oil is high in polyunsaturated fats and is also protective of health.

No matter which oil you choose, all have roughly the same 120 calories and 14 grams of fat per tablespoon. However, each has its own health effects and uses in the kitchen.

Smith is nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306.


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(2) Comments

  1. VN Dalmia
    Report Abuse
    VN Dalmia - October 21, 2012 2:37 am
    The generally accepted smoke point of virgin olive oils is 180ºC and of olive oil 220ºC. Virgin olive oil is not refined at all, it simply has a higher acidic content than extra virgin. PURE Olive Oil is completely refined. Apart from these errors, its a decent article explaining the basic facts in a simple way.

    VN DALMIA, President, Indian Olive Association
  2. Medren
    Report Abuse
    Medren - October 04, 2012 10:11 am
    I wonder where the writer got the information that extra-virgin olive oil has a low smoke point. It simply isn't true. The smoke point of extra virgin is 210ºC. (400º++F.) which is far higher, I think, than anyone would want to reach in cooking. Joy of Cooking, e.g., recommends 360ºF. for deep-fat frying. This is a widespread myth about extra-virgin, but myth it is, for sure!
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