Choosing the right oil when you’re cooking can be a struggle, full of jargon like “smoke point” and confusing terms (what’s the difference between “virgin” and “extra virgin” anyway?). We’re here to demystify four of our favorite cooking oils.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Strengths: Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) has the most complex and interesting flavor of any cooking oil. That, coupled with its health benefits, makes it a true wonder oil that’s worth having in your pantry at all times.
Keep in mind: Many of its complex flavors and health benefits vanish when you heat it too much, which means that using EVOO as your go-to sauteéing oil can be expensive overkill. Its strong flavor also makes it ill-suited for applications where the taste might be distracting, like stir fries or certain baked goods.
When to use it: Since it has an unapologetically bold flavor, we favor EVOO for making salad dressings and drizzling on toast!
Recipe we love: Citrus and beet salad
Virgin Olive Oil
Strengths: A key consideration when picking a cooking oil is the smoke point, or how hot you can get it before it starts to smoke and taste bitter. Virgin olive oil has a higher smoke point than extra virgin oil, which makes it perfect for roasting and sauteéing veggies and proteins alike. It’s also considerably cheaper than EVOO, making it a frugal cook’s best friend.
Keep in mind: Since it doesn’t have as intense of a flavor, it can’t carry a vinaigrette or sauce the way that EVOO can.
When to use it: When applying a lot of heat or when you don’t want the intense grassy flavors of EVOO in the final dish.
Recipe we love: Sophia Roe’s celery soup
Strengths: Coconut oil is a flavorful oil that adds a lovely richness to rice dishes, curries, and soups. It’s also a go-to vegan substitute for butter or lard in baked goods.
Keep in mind: Unless it’s heavily refined, it will make what you’re cooking taste like coconuts, which can be a joy or a nuisance, depending on how you feel about this flavor. Coconut oil is quite high in saturated fat, so if you’re watching your saturated fat intake it’s worth using in moderation.
When to use it: As a base for curries and soups and in applications where you wouldn’t mind a hint of coconut flavor.
Recipe we love: No-bake almond butter energy balls
Strengths: Avocado oil has a clean, neutral flavor and an extremely high smoke point, so it’s perfect for high heat applications like roasting, sauteéing, or stir fries.
Keep in mind: It’s more expensive than some other oils, so save it for when you crank up the heat.
When to use it: When you want your cooking oil to blend in rather than stand out, and anytime you’ll be applying a lot of heat to a dish.
Recipe we love: Citrus almond upside down cake