7 Essential Cooking Oils

EVOO, avocado, canola, grapeseed, sesame and chili oil

Cooking oil is important for many recipes whether you’re enjoying a plant-based diet or not, but it is especially useful to make those vegetarian dishes POP. But which oil can be used for what purpose?

1. Extra virgin olive oil. Dip your bread in it or use it as a base for a marinade, or sauté veggies in it to bring out fuller flavors – EVOO is fantastically versatile. It can even sub for butter in bread recipes. Also, used in moderation, it’s healthy for you as it’s chock full of the anti-inflammatory (and possibly anti-carcinogenic) oleic acid. It’s got only two draw-backs that I can think of. First, it’s not ideal for cooking at high heats, and second, it doesn’t crisp well. Since it turns out that sometimes imported EVOO contains other ingredients besides olive oil, I use California Ranch for everyday cooking.

2. Grapeseed oil. If you want to sear your black bean burgers or crisp your fried breaded anything, give grapeseed oil a try – it is fantastic for high-heat cooking, locking in natural juices, and my mouth is watering now.

3. Canola oil. Canola is great for any recipe that calls for vegetable oil since it’s low on saturated fats and very high on omega-3s. This makes it not as bad for the heart and better for the brain than most other oils. It is the work horse of cooking oils.

4. Sesame oil. This is one of my favorite seasonings for noodles in most Chinese or Japanese recipes, or for adding flavor to a stir-fry. I use it sparingly, no more than half a teaspoon in most cases.

5. Hot chili oil. Like sesame, this is for flavoring, not cooking. Plus, it’s pretty. I bought it for a recipe about a year ago and now use it when I want heat. Hot sauce can accomplish this, too, but hot sauce also has salt and vinegar, which isn’t a match for all spicy recipes.

6. Avocado oil. This oil can be used in place of EVOO if you want a lighter flavor or even just a different flavor. I mostly use it in salad dressings, but it can be used to roast, grill or fry veggies.

7. Pam Cooking Spray. This is for greasing pans or making steel cut oats in an Instant Pot or to cut calories when, say, frying an egg. It has next to no calories, and no real taste that I can detect. Still, it’s good to have around.

Special mention: coconut oil. When coconut oil became the rage I went wayyyyy way overboard. I used it in every recipe I could think of because it tastes amazing, kind of like coconut-flavored Crisco. I especially loved cooking veggies in it for curry and melting it on popcorn. I only read the positive reviews, the ones that touted its health benefits and poo-pooed reports of its high saturated fat content and connection to raised cholesterol. Now, I don’t use it very often, only in special recipes. But if I were younger and thinner, I’d probably take the risk.

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