Looking for the best oil for frying? Want to know your sesame from you groundnut? Read about the best oils to cook with here…
Extra-virgin olive oil is made from the first pressing of the olives, without heat to aid the extraction. Its colour and flavour depends entirely on the type of olives used, so it can range from pale yellow to deep green, and incorporate buttery, grassy and peppery flavours. Prices can go sky high with small-batch and artisan oils, and this high-end product is often compared to fine wine. Once the oil has been pressed it is assessed for flavour and acidity before being passed as extra-virgin. If it doesn’t pass it can still be labelled virgin olive oil, although this is not commonly sold commercially. Most oil that doesn’t pass the standard is refined to get rid of impurities and then blended with a little virgin olive oil and labelled ‘olive oil’ or ‘light olive oil’. Because the flavour of extra-virgin doesn’t withstand high temperatures it’s best kept for dressing and finishing dishes, where the flavour can shine through. Regular olive oil is better and a lot more economical to use in cooking.
Extracted from the seeds of the rape plant, this is often seen as a healthier option as it has the least saturated fat of any oil and contains a lot of vitamin E as well as various omega vitamins. Look for cold-pressed when buying – this means it hasn’t been heated to extract the oil, leaving more of the natural product intact. The flavour of rapeseed is quite subtle so it’s a good all-rounder in the kitchen. Refined rapeseed oil will be paler in colour and have a higher smoking point, so can be used for deep-frying.
Extracted from sesame seeds, this is usually sold as toasted sesame oil and has a deep brown colour. A little goes a long way, so use it sparingly. It’s great added at the end of a stir-fry, drizzled over green veg or in Asian salad dressings.
This is often considered a healthy choice as it is high in monounsaturated fat. It has a high smoking point so it can be used to fry without damaging the flavours but it tends to be quite expensive, so best kept for drizzling, dipping and dressings.
Coconut oil is extracted from the white flesh of the coconut. Cold-pressed extra-virgin coconut oil will retain the natural fragrance and flavour of the original coconut, and is the best choice for cooking. Because coconut oil is solid in its natural form, it’s a good swap for butter in vegan recipes. Despite its healthy reputation, coconut oil has a very high level of saturated fat, so if that’s a concern in your diet it’s probably best to avoid it.
This is a general term used to cover a blend of different seed oils, such as refined rapeseed, soya and palm oil. A highly refined oil, this is generally used for deep-frying as it has an extremely high smoke point and a neutral flavour. Check the label if you want to know the true composition, as all the oils used have to be listed.
Extracted from sunflower seeds, this is another neutral oil but it’s a reasonably healthy choice for frying as it has a high proportion of omega-6.
Groundnut oil is actually extracted from peanuts but is sold in the UK mainly under this name – it tends to be heavily refined so it retains none of the peanut flavour or smell, though it can still be a trigger for allergies, so do be aware.