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June 22, 2016 / Amy Height

Cooking with Healthy Oils: Know Your Smoke Points

Soba noodle stirfry with green beans and egg

Finding the right oil for whatever dish you’re making is not only key to making it taste amazing, it’s also key to keeping it healthy and safe.

Cooking with healthy oils can not only produce delicious results, but also help with weight maintenance, hormone regulation and improved neurological, digestive and skin health. However, oils cooked to the point of overheating can start to decompose and become unstable, generating fumes and compounds that can be harmful to the body.

Plus, when these start to smoke (and burn), they can come in contact with gas burners or stovetop elements, which poses a risk of spreading flames throughout your kitchen (or at the very least, setting off your smoke detector).

Because oils break down at different temperatures depending on their source, their level of refinement and how they’re used, know when to use your favorites. Here’s the low-down on when to use which oil, for your health, safety and the deliciousness of your culinary creations.

By cooking method

If your dish calls for sauteing , your best bets include the refined versions of coconut, dark sesame, grapeseed, avocado and refined olive oils (rather than extra virgin). Refined oils have had impurities filtered and processed out, making them more stable to heat (and less likely to burn) and a great fit for the stovetop.

When baking , experiment with high-heat tolerant fats like butter and vegetable oils like sunflower, safflower and canola. These not only stand up well to the intensity of the oven, they also impart a more neutral flavor to your dishes.

Extreme heat preparations like deep-frying require very stable oils. For this, peanut oil, light sesame oil, safflower, corn oil and even avocado oil are great choices: while they each have a different flavor profile (corn and safflower being most neutral), they help mitigate some of the risk associated with high-heat frying. You’ll still want to be vigilant while cooking - using a lid or splatter screen as needed - to prevent flying grease from hitting the stovetop elements.

Of course, you can also use oil in many no-cook recipes , including salad dressings and to finish already cooked dishes.Unrefined or virgin oils—although delicious and nutrient-dense—are the least stable, so they work best at low temperatures or when left unheated. Look for oils that don’t love the heat (but taste amazing raw), like hempseed, flaxseed and extra virgin olive oil. Coconut oil can pull double-duty here, too, like in no-cook frostings.

By smoke point

Trying to decide what oil to pair with your favorite dish? Here’s a quick breakdown of when to use each:

Flaxseed oil
Smoke point: 225°F
Use for drizzling and finishing, including dressings. Do not cook.

Olive oils
Smoke point: Smoke points vary by type/ amount of refining. Unrefined olive oil is 320°F, Extra virgin is 406°F, Virgin is 420°F and Extra Light is 468°F.
Use for: Extra virgin’s rich, unrefined flavor makes it great for dressings and drizzling. Refined olive oil is good for sautéing.

Hempseed oil
Smoke point: 330°F
Use for drizzling and finishing, including dressings. It is best not to cook with it.

Butter
Smoke point: 350°F
Use for: Baking (cookies, pastry, cake, fish), searing, finishing dishes, sauces

Coconut oil (unrefined)
Smoke point: 350°F
Use for: Baking, frostings, sautéing

Grapeseed oil
Smoke point: 392°F
Use for: Sautéing, frying and salad dressings

Coconut oil (refined)
Smoke point: 399°F
Use for: Medium-heat cooking, stir-frying, baking

Canola oil
Smoke point: 400°F
Use for: All-purpose, good for cooking and dressings

Sesame oil
Smoke point: 410°F
Use for: Light sesame for deep-frying, dark sesame for stir-frying and dipping sauces.

Peanut oil
Smoke point: 450°F
Use for: Deep-frying, pan-frying, roasting and grilling

Safflower oil  
Smoke point: 450°F
Use for: Deep-frying, searing, stir-frying, margarine, mayonnaise

Sunflower oil
Smoke point: 450°F
Use for: Frying, salad dressings, baking

Avocado oil (refined)
Smoke point: 520°F
Use for: Deep-frying, sauteeing, medium-heat and high-heat cooking, baking, grilling

Amy Height
Holistic Nutritionist @ From the Ground Up Wellness

Amy Height is the founder of From the Ground Up Wellness, a holistic nutrition practice where she specializes in plant-based nutrition and helping her clients combat food addiction. She completed her training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where she received her certification in the Health Coach Training Program. She is a triathlete and CrossFitter with a passion for all things outdoors. By night, Amy stage manages Broadway musicals and she frequently travels North America seeking out the best vegan restaurants and the best run courses. Follow her on Instagram or check out her blog for recipe and wellness ideas.

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