The Lowdown on Oils

Which oils to use

There are plenty of oils out there, from avocado to coconut, grapeseed to groundnut. olive's food director explains which to use and when

Looking for the best oil for frying? Want to know your sesame from you groundnut? Read about the best oils to cook with here…

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Olive oil

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.

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Use it in our rosemary and olive oil focaccia

Focaccia Bread Recipe With Rosemary and Olive Oil

Rapeseed oil

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.

Use it in our garlic and rosemary roasties

Garlic and rosemary roasties

Sesame oil

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.

Use it in our sesame-crusted salmon

Sesame Salmon Recipe with Sriracha Sauce

Avocado oil

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.

Use it in our schnitzel eggs and asparagus

Schnitzel, eggs and asparagus

Coconut oil

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.

Use it in our coconut cake

Best Coconut Recipes For Coconut Cake and Bakes

Vegetable oil

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.

The Lowdown on Oils

Sunflower oil

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.

Use it in Padella’s pici cacio e pepe

Padella Pasta Pici Cacio e Pepe Recipe

Walnut oil/Hazelnut oil

These are two commonly available nut oils and are made by cold-pressing the nuts. These oils retain a lot of the original nut flavour so are best used as a drizzle, marinade or in salad dressings.

Use it in our supercharged egg mayo sandwich

Egg Mayo Sandwich Recipe

Grapeseed oil

Extracted from the pips of grapes which are usually a by-product of wine-making, this is a neutral oil with a high smoking.

Use it to make kombu oil for this skate wing recipe

Roasted Skate Wing Recipe with Leeks and Samphire

Groundnut oil

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.

Use it to make our herb oil

Herb Oil Recipe

Plus check out how to make your own homemade chilli oil here…

Infused oils are best made in small amounts as they go off quicker. Keep this simple homemade version in a cool, dark place and use within a month or so.

Chilli-Infused Olive Oil Recipe