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11 May, 2017

Resolving The Cooking Oil Dilemma (Which oils should I use?)

Comments : 12 Posted in : Hot Topics on Health, Tips to make daily food healthy, Uncategorized on by : apsara Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I have had the cooking oil dilemma for a long time; this is not the first time I have been writing about it.

I thought I had found an answer 3 years ago, but since then I have been learning a lot more about this issue:  what is the best oil to use for various cooking purposes?

Let us get into some detail here. Pardon me if I get too technical! I will try to keep it short and easy to read. 

Categories of Fat

Oils contain fat, which is either saturated or unsaturated.

Saturated fats are abundant in ghee and oils that tend to solidify at room temperature like coconut oil. This means that their carbon-hydrogen backbone cannot take any more hydrogen atoms. Hence, they are stable at high temperatures. However,  they raise cholesterol levels in the body and pose a risk for heart attack, stroke etc.

Oils from seeds like olive, canola contain unsaturated fats. Their carbon atoms have a potential to get “saturated” or bond more hydrogens. They are more unstable when heated and can form free radicals. Free radicals, we know are not good for the body, they are associated with cancers and other chronic diseases. Even a high amount of processing can lead to oxidation of these oils and thus produce free radicals.

Olive oils have monounsaturated fats, which have a lesser tendency to form free radicals. Avocado oil has 70% monounsaturated fat as well.

Sunflower and safflower oils have many unsaturated bonds, called polyunsaturated fatty acids which have a higher tendency to form free radicals when heated.

Smoke Point

Another important factor is smoke point, the temperature at which the oil starts smoking or degrading. Higher smoke points are better for tempering and sauteing. From the following table canola and safflower oils seem to be ranking high in smoke points but then we know that safflower oil may form more free radicals due to the presence of many unsaturated bonds.



MCT: medium chain trigycerides

Inferences from the table

  • Higher the smoke point, those oils are stable to medium-high heat.
  • Poly-unsaturated fats such as safflower oil although has high smoke point, is not stable for high heat.
  • Although vegetable oil, corn and soy oils have a high smoke point, they are mostly genetically modified, so it is best to avoid them. (see Note 1)
  • All of canola oil has been genetically modified (from rapeseed), even if it says organic. Read about the history of this CON-ola oil here.
  • Although peanut oil has a high smoke point, I recommend avoiding it. The use of peanut oil is controversial because peanut contains a toxin called “afla-toxin” which is potentially cancer-causing.
  • Grape seed oil is ideal for medium heat. However, the source is important. Most grape seed oil in the market is made cheaply by solvent extraction methods which is not ideal. (See Note 2) If expeller pressed or cold-pressed oil is available, it is a good choice.
  • Coconut oil is ideal for medium heat and saute purposes, but I do not recommend it for high heat frying. It adds a lovely flavor to dishes, and is not neutral in taste.
  • I have not touched upon mustard oil which is used in some parts of India. I did not find smoke point data. I do think in small amounts, it adds good flavor.

Although I have not mentioned it in the table, an important factor is the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats in an oil. In general, higher the ratio, better it is for the body. Omega-3 fats are recommended for heart health, but in moderation.

It is best to keep the ratio (omega-6/omega-3)  <= 1. See Dr. Weil’s article here.

My Recommendations:

High heat:

  • My choice for frying is avocado oil and ghee.
  • I never do any deep-frying. Even for shallow frying, I use high heat oils. This includes tempering or “tadka”.
  • Since ghee has only saturated fat, I tend to use it minimally.


Medium heat:

  • Unrefined coconut oil if I want a coconut flavor in that dish.
  • Refined coconut oil for neutral flavor.
  • Sesame oil for south -Indian and Asian dishes which are good with sesame flavor. Toasted sesame oil is especially great for Asian noodles.
  • For neutral flavor, I like avocado or grape seed oil.


No heat:

  • I like extra virgin olive oil for drizzling on salads, pasta
  • Hemp oil for salad dressing


What about baking?

For the same reasons stated above, I think the best choices are coconut oil and avocado oil. There are many brands of coconut oil available that have negligible smell. I feel this makes it easy to use everyday.


  • Oils that are stable to medium and high heat can be stored at room temperature.
  • Butter is best stored in the fridge or freezer (long-term)
  • Flax seed oil and hemp oil need to be stored in the fridge.


1. Experts in the field would tell you to stay away from genetically modified foods, as they are in the long term known to cause harm to the body. Most of corn, canola as well as vegetable oil (which is mostly soybean oil) in the U.S is genetically modified, unless labeled “non-GM”. The simplest reason to understand why GMO is not good is that those seeds are modified to be resistant to weed killers like Round Up, which is now classified by WHO as a probable carcinogen, meaning cancer-causing. That means they would have a higher concentration of those cancer causing chemicals. We want to stay away from those.

2. Grape seed oil is produced as byproduct in the wine-making industry. If it is refined by extraction with solvents like hexane and other chemicals, it is likely to have been heated and is not healthy. (Cold-pressed) grape seed oil is high in omega-6 fats as compared to other oils, so consuming in moderation may be beneficial. See this article from Dr. Axe for more information.

I have learned a lot while researching this topic. Hope you find it useful!

I would love feedback from you about which oils you like to use in your kitchen and why!

Sharing this at the Vegan Party Link Up #131 at Urban Naturale. Also sharing at Fiesta Friday #171 over at Angie’s blog. I thank them for the opportunity to link up!


12 thoughts on : Resolving The Cooking Oil Dilemma (Which oils should I use?)

  • Devunair
    May 11, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    How about Rice bran oil,?? Currently I am using it for deep frying.. Not a popular oil but I have heard some doctors talking about it’s healthy aspects..

  • apsara
    May 11, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    Yes, rice bran oil has a very high smoke point and is supposed to be very healthy. Thanks for bringing it up. Since it is not popular and I have not tried it, I did not touch upon rice bran oil

  • Rupa
    May 11, 2017 at 11:28 pm

    How about a cotton seed oil? All fried snacks in shops are prepared from it in Gujarat

    • apsara
      May 12, 2017 at 6:29 am

      Cotton seed oil is most likely genetically modified and is called bt-cotton, even in India. It is best to avoid it.

  • May 12, 2017 at 5:25 am

    Great informative article. I use olive oil, coconut oil, ghee and peanut oil for deep frying…

    • apsara
      May 12, 2017 at 6:31 am

      Thank you for the comment! Yes, I think those are great choices too. Isn’t it good to use a variety?

  • Tripura
    May 12, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    Do you have any suggestions for deep frying? Like papads, puri etc

  • Vidya Subramanian
    May 14, 2017 at 9:53 pm

    Great article, Apsara! Can you clarify whether it may be harmful to use extra virgin olive oil for deep frying, say making puris? I use coconut oil, ghee, sesame oil and extra virgin oil for cooking, depending on the dish…your inputs will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • apsara
      May 14, 2017 at 10:00 pm

      Thanks, Vidya. Extra virgin olive oil degrades easily, and may produce free radicals upon heating and should never be heated. I use it only at room temperature. Can be smeared on roti after it is cooked for example. Do you get rice bran oil in India? That may be one of the best choices for deep frying where avocado oil is not available. Refined coconut oil can be used too. Safflower oil to some extent is also stable to heat.

  • Liz
    May 16, 2017 at 8:10 pm

    Thanks for this very informative post.

  • September 11, 2018 at 8:32 am

    Thanks for the post! What about pumpkin seed oil?

    • apsara
      September 19, 2018 at 9:29 am

      thank you for your comment! I’m not aware of the properties of pumpkin seed oil, but I have heard it has great benefits

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