With lots of variety to choose from, it can be hard to know which is the best oil for the job. Our handy guide looks at the healthiest, as well as the best oil for frying, deep-frying, and making salad dressings too.
Cooking oil is a liquid that is extracted from either a plant, animal, or synthetic fat and is used in a variety of cooking methods as well as recipes.
The best oil for cooking will depend on how you intend to use it. Olive oil is one of the best for dressing salads as well as being up there with the healthiest. Avocado oil is a new healthy contender that makes a great all-rounder oil, however, it is more expensive than other options.
Cold-pressed rapeseed oil is great for cooking with and Grapeseed oil is one of the best to use for deep frying on account of having a very high smoke point. Our guide looks at the following with it comes to the best oil for cooking…
Although all cooking oils are calorific as they are high in fat, they can be a healthy part of a balanced diet. Cooking oils are made of unsaturated fat and saturated fat. Many oils also contain omega-3 and vitamin E.
Our bodies are better at metabolising unsaturated fat. Whereas saturated fat is detrimental to heart health. For the healthiest option choose an oil that is low in saturated fat and high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
What is polyunsaturated fat?
Polyunsaturated fat is considered to be a good type of fat. This is because, among other health benefits, polyunsaturated fats can help to lower levels of LDL cholesterol. There are three types of polyunsaturated fats found in oil: omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9. Omega-3 and omega-6 are both essential dietary fats as they can not be created by the body. It is an anti-inflammatory. Omega-6 is also essential but should be consumed in moderation. Excess omega-6 when not balanced with omega-3 is thought to have the opposite effect.
Like polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fat is a beneficial type of fat that can reduce cholesterol. This is why oils that contain monounsaturated fat, such as olive oil and rapeseed oil are considered to be healthier options.
How to choose the right oil
When choosing oil for cooking it is also important to consider what you intend to use it for. For example, only oils with high smoke points are suitable for deep frying. If oil is overheated the good fats degrade and dangerous free radicals are created.
Oils that are high in saturated fat are considered to be less healthy. Coconut oil despite often being marketed as a health food is made up of about 90% saturated fat. Scientific studies have not been able to support claims that coconut oil is healthy. Eating excessive amounts of saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. So we suggest you choose an oil with less saturated fat where possible.
However, it’s important to remember that all fats, saturated or unsaturated, contain the same amount of calories so should be enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. All cooking oils contain a similar number of calories. 1tbsp of extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil each contain 124cal. Coconut oil is slightly more calorific at about 135cal per 15g serving.
Healthiest oils to cook with
- Extra Virgin Olive oil – high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that are beneficial to heart health. It contains antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties. Olive oil is versatile but has a flavour so best saved for dressings and for drizzling. Extra virgin olive oil not suitable for deep frying as it has a lower smoke point.
- Avocado oil – also high in monounsaturated fat and has a very high smoke point so can be used for cooking and frying without risk of burning. It is also a good source of oleic acid and vitamin E. Avocado oil a mild flavour and colour. It’s typically produced organically without the use of chemical solvents but is a little more expensive than other oils.
- Cold-pressed Rapeseed oil – is very low in saturated fat compared to other oils. Olive oil is approx 14% saturated fat, whereas rapeseed oil is just 6%. Rapeseed oil has a high smoke point so can be used for all cooking without risk of burning. Select a cold-pressed variety such as Hillfarm, as these have been less refined.
- Olive oil spray – is ideal if you are cutting calories. Fry light Olive Oil Cooking Spray contains hardly any saturated fat and 1 calorie per spray. Due to the spray mechanism, it’s easy to moderate the amount that you use.
Other healthy oils
These unrefined oils are low in saturated fat and all high in ‘good’ monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fats but have a low smoke point. Therefore they are not suitable for cooking. But ideal to use raw, such as in salad dressings. Walnut oil and flaxseed oil can also turn rancid, so store them in the fridge to avoid this.
- Walnut oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Rice bran oil
- Hemp seed oil
The benefit of cold-pressed oil
Cold pressing is a method of extracting oil. It’s healthier than using heat to extract oil as the oil it produces is less refined and therefore retains more nutrients.
For cooking select an oil with a high smoke point. Consider the cost and flavour. And for a healthier option choose an oil that’s lower in saturated fat.
Best oils to cook with
- Olive oil – high in ‘good’ monounsaturated fats, contains antioxidants, and has anti-inflammatory properties. But has a flavour so not ideal for everything. There are two types of olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is best for dressings, regular olive oil has a milder flavour and higher smoke point so is preferable for cooking. Neither are suitable for deep frying
- Avocado oil – also high in monounsaturated fat and has a very high smoke point so can be used for cooking without risk of burning. Also a good source of oleic acid and vitamin E. Had a mild flavour and colour.
- Rapeseed oil – great for frying as it has a high smoke point. It has the lowest saturated fat of all the cooking oil and contains omega-3, omega-6, and vitamin E.
- Sunflower oil – Rich in vitamin E, high in monounsaturated fat, and a high smoke point.
- Grapeseed oil is a byproduct of winemaking. It’s high in vitamin E and monounsaturated fat. It’s flavourless and good for deep-frying as it has a high smoke point.
- Corn oil – is more commonly used in the US. It has a neutral flavour and low in saturated fat this is a good all-rounder. More commonly used in the US.
- Flaxseed oil – high volume of omega-3 but can not be heated to high temperatures.
When it comes to deep-frying you must consider the smoking point of the oil. The smoke point is simply the temperature at which the oil will begin to burn and produce smoke. It’s very important not to exceed this temperature as it will have a detrimental effect on the oil. If oil is heated above its smoke point it will burn. This damages the nutrients in the oil as well as releases undesirable free radicals.
Refined oils are the best for deep frying as they have a high smoke point. Typically you deep-fry foods between 120-190C so that the oil is hot enough to crisp the outside and not sink into the foods that you are deep frying.
It’s also best to choose a flavourless oil so that it doesn’t overpower the flavour of the food you are frying in it.
The best oils for frying food in:
- Grapeseed oil has a smoke point of 230C, the highest of all cooking oils, so there is no risk of burning the oil. It’s also flavourless. However, it is usually more expensive than rapeseed oil.
- Rapeseed oil (also called canola oil) has a smoke point of 225C, which is lower than grapeseed oil but still much higher than you are likely to need. Usually, the cheap vegetable oil that you can buy at the supermarket is rapeseed oil. Have a look at the ingredients label to double cheap. It’s great for deep frying as it is flavourless and cheap. Rapeseed oil is also high in monounsaturated fats.
- Refined olive oil and groundnut oil are also good options for frying as they have a high smoke point of 210C.
When deep-frying foods we recommend that you don’t re-use the same oil more than 8-10 times. It’s important to be aware of how to dispose of used cooking oil correctly. Do not pour used oil down the sink, instead dispose of the cooled oil in a container in the rubbish bin.
When it comes to adding oil to a homemade salad dressing the key element to consider is the flavour. A good quality extra virgin olive oil is a popular choice in a vinaigrette as it adds a lovely peppery flavour. You could even use an infused oil to pep up a salad.
A chilli-infused oil would add a little heat, or a lemon-infused oil will add freshness to the dressing. For something a little different, you could experiment with other unrefined oils that you like. For example, walnut oil is a great way of adding a subtle nuttiness that compliments bitter leaves. And sesame oil is lovely with cucumber.
There are two types of olive oil: Those for cooking that are refined, which is just called olive oil; and extra virgin olive oil that is more expensive and less refined and should be reserved to be used as a finishing oil. Here are some of our favourites:
Best cooking olive oils
Filippo Berio Mild & Light Oil, 500ml
This oil has a high smoke point and a milder flavour than other olive oils making it ideal for frying, baking or roasting.
VIEW AT OCADO | £3.75
La Espanola Mild & Light Olive Oil, 750ml
Made from fresh olives grown in the Andalucia region in the south of Spain. This prolific olive-growing province produces more olives than the whole of Italy.
VIEW AT OCADO | £5.40
Bertolli Olive Oil Classico, 3L
This biggie is a great value option, perfect if olive oil is your go-to cooking oil.
VIEW AT OCADO | £18.99
Best extra virgin olive oils
Morocco Gold Single Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 500ml
This is one of the best-tasting oils we have ever tasted. A simple drizzle will elevate any dish. It’s certainly on the pricey side, but well worth the cost.
VIEW AT AMAZON | £27.95
Belazu Early Harvest Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 3L
This is our go-to olive oil and we have a big tin just like this sitting on the worktop.
VIEW AT OCADO | £39.95
Odysea Greek PDO Kalamata Extra Virgin Olive Oil Glass Bottle, 1 Litre
Another great, this oil has a sensational rouned flavour. Made from olives grown in the Kalamata region of Greece.
VIEW AT AMAZON | £9.99
Brindisa 100% Arbequina X.V, 1L
Made with Spanish olives this oil is best savoured for salad dressings or drizzles.
VIEW AT AMAZON | £14.75
Oil is a great baking ingredient. It adds a wonderfully moist texture to cakes. Unless specified choose a mildly flavoured oil that can be heated. Olive oil (not extra virgin) or sunflower oil are both good options.
Oil is commonly used in carrot cake, but here are some more bakes that contain oil…
The addition of oil makes this gluten-free carrot cake gorgeously moist. And check out those cute carrots with coriander steams making them look super realistic.
Get the recipe: Gluten-free carrot and walnut cake recipe
Olive oil sponge cake
Olive oil takes center stage in this wonderful cake. It’s really just like a simple fluffy sponge cake, where butter has been swapped for oil.
Get the recipe: Olive oil sponge cake recipe
Lemon olive oil cake
This Mediterranean-inspired bake will transport you to the South of France with every bite. Use cooking olive oil. It’s quite a moist mixture so takes a while to bake, but is extremely quick and easy to make the batter.
Get the recipe: Lemon olive oil cake recipe
Chocolate orange cake
Adding oil to this indulgent chocolate cake gives it a gorgeous moist texture that we love. The addition of oranges makes this easy jaffa cake extra special.
Get the recipe: Chocolate orange cake recipe
Vegan shortbread with olive oil
Not just loved by vegans, this simple shortbread recipe swaps butter for olive oil creating a sensations texture. Use a mild light oil such as the Filippo Berio Mild & Light Oil above to create a lovely mild flavour.
Get the recipe: Vegan shortbread with olive oil recipe