As Bubble Children, oil is our friend. Especially when butter doesn’t go down as smooth as butte– you get the point.
But what is the difference between olive oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, avocado oil, “blend” oil, corn oil, potato oil (?I hope not?)…
The first thing to know is a little thing called SMOKE POINT: Some oils have higher or lower smoke points, which is the temperature at which it starts to change molecularly, smoke, and then burn. Burning an oil (passing its smoke point) not only makes it taste like fried charcoal, but makes the oil carcinogenic (aka cancer-causing). No bueno.
To avoid making your food a potentially smoldering bit of bad health, here’s a little guide on what oils to use and when:
1. Olive oil – this one’s a common one, and probably one of the most misused. It is both flavorful and high in the “good fats” and antioxidants. Olive oil is wonderful for salads, dipping your GF bread in, and topping off dishes with. It has a very low SMOKE POINT, which means that it is not ideal for sauteing and caramelizing meats and veggies over the stovetop. When cooking with olive oil, try to keep your oven temperature at or below 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and your stovetop at medium or below. If you smell it burning, it is! Wipe out that pan and either use new olive oil at a lower heat or switch to a “high heat” oil.
2. Canola oil (high heat) – weird thing: working at a restaurant called “Risotteria” in NYC, I met many people with food allergies, as the place specialized in gluten-free Italian food and baked goods. One time, a gal came in with an allergy to canola oil. Phewf, that’s a hard one to avoid, as canola oil is a cost-efficient high heat oil and is used in pretty much all restaurants. That being said, pure canola oil has its benefits as it is soy-free, high heat, nut-free, and cost efficient. It is what I use at home for the majority of my saute-ing.
3. Grapeseed oil (high heat) – another great one for cooking over the flames (or electric burner, whatever floats your pan’s boat). High in antioxidants and perfect for caramelizing things.
4. Vegetable oil (high heat) – this poses a threat to many with sensitive stomachs, as it generally has a blend of soy and/or corn oil in it, which many have trouble digesting. Canola oil is a wonderful substitute.
5. Avocado oil and/or flax seed oil (high heat) – Oh, how I love thee. Both oils have nice, nutty flavors, high smoke points (great for sauteing), and are really healthy for you. A great substitute for those with nut allergies for peanut oil!
6. Coconut oil – even though this oil is solid at room temperature, it will not burn like olive oil when you put it under high heat. I would not use it to saute’ my chicken over anything above medium-high, but it will do the trick if you are looking for a healthy way to add some flavor and caramelization to your higher heat cooking.
7. Sunflower seed and/or safflower oil (high heat) – These two oils are so good for use over the stovetop. Both are high in healthy fats, but beware if you have seed allergies!
If this all sounds good to you, but you just really want that olive oil taste in everything you cook, simply use 1 part olive oil and 1 part high heat oil (any of the other oils) and your oil won’t burn. Sooo nice.