5 standout cooking oils

by Lydia Cox

This article was originally published in May 2011

While olive, canola, safflower and even sesame oils are standard in most kitchens, we offer a host of specialty oils that add nutrition as well as nuance or depth of flavor to a dish. You’ll find an assortment of options at PCC, including oils that are best used raw, some that bake well, and others that are great for high-heat cooking. For even more information about selection and storage, visit our Cooking oils guide.

With a pure, clean flavor, almond oil is extremely versatile in the kitchen. It’s great for high-heat cooking, as it has a smoke point of 495° F. It’s also loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. On our shelves: refined almond oil from Spectrum.

The rich nutritional content of avocados, including vitamin K, fiber and potassium, makes avocado oil a wonderful, healthy alternative. It’s fantastic used raw in dressings, dips and marinades, but with a smoke point of 450° F, it also is well-suited for high-heat cooking, whether you’re searing meat or stir-frying veggies. On our shelves: handcrafted, unrefined avocado oil from Bella Vado and refined avocado oil from Spectrum.

Coconut oil is high in beneficial lauric acid, which supports a healthy metabolism and has health-protecting properties. It also may help stabilize blood sugar and may lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Unrefined coconut oil can be used for sautéing over medium-high heat; its smoke point is 280° F to 350° F. It also is superb for baking. The oil can have a bit of a coconut flavor, so it’s best used in dishes where a slight taste of the tropics will marry well with the other ingredients. On our shelves: coconut oil from Nutiva, Omega Nutrition and Spectrum; virgin coconut oil from Omega Nutrition; and coconut spray oil from Spectrum.

A fantastic, everyday cooking oil, grapeseed oil has a light, neutral taste that helps bring out the flavor of food. It also works really well for high-heat cooking thanks to its smoke point of 485° F. It’s a good option for low-fat cooking too, as it has the lowest levels of saturated fat of any oil. On our shelves: grapeseed oil from Napa Valley Naturals and Spectrum, and grapeseed spray oil from Spectrum.

Walnut oil adds great character to salads, marinades and sautés. Try drizzling it over tender spring greens, blue cheese and toasted nuts. With a smoke point of 400° F, it also can be used over high heat. Plus it’s a great source of omega-3s. On our shelves: refined walnut oil from Spectrum.

All of the oils on our shelves are mechanically pressed (known as “expeller pressed”) from the seed without using chemicals. In contrast, mass-market oils generally are extracted with toxic solvents such as hexane. More chemicals, very high heat and straining are used to deodorize and bleach the oils, rendering them inferior in taste, fragrance, appearance and nutritional quality.

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