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July 26, 2021 / Amy Height

What Is Smoke Point and Why Does it Matter When Cooking with Oil?

Soba noodle stirfry with green beans and egg

Choosing the right oil for the meals you’re making is not only key to amazing flavor, but also for getting optimal nutritional value out of the healthy dishes you create.

Cooking with healthy oil alternatives produces delicious results and may help with weight management, 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 and affect flavor. For recipes that require high temperature cooking, it’s important to choose an oil with a high smoke point.

If oils start to smoke and burn, they can also pose a risk of causing a fire in your kitchen (or at the very least, setting off your smoke detector).

Since oils break down at different temperatures depending on their source, level of refinement, and how they’re used, it is helpful to understand commonly used cooking oil smoke points. From butter’s smoke point to the smoke point of coconut oil, each oil’s smoke point varies.

Read on to learn about which oils to use for your health, safety, and how to get the most flavor in your culinary creations.

What Is Smoke Point?

Smoke point is the temperature at which an oil starts to smoke and burn rather than shimmer. You may also hear the smoke point being referred to as the burning point, which can range from 325°F to over 500°F.

The smoke point is determined by the way a fat is extracted and processed. Most oils come from nuts and seeds and often go through a refinement process that leads to a higher smoke point and longer shelf life. These oils with high smoke points are also known as high heat oils, and they are well-suited for high temperature cooking.

The more processing, the lighter the oil and the more neutral the flavor. Vegetable or canola oil are good examples of neutral flavored oils. They tolerate heat better than other oils, but these wouldn’t be good choices for a salad due to their lack of flavor.

In contrast, unrefined, virgin oils tend to have a richer color and flavor but cannot withstand high heat. Extra virgin olive oil is a good example of an oil that’s ideal for raw dishes like salads, but can only tolerate low-temperature cooking. These oils also have a shorter shelf life and can actually go bad if left sitting in your cupboard too long.

Why Understanding Smoke Point Is Important

When your oil reaches its smoke point, it’s a sign that the oil is breaking down. There are a number of reasons why understanding cooking oil smoke points is important.

First, the chemical composition of cooking oils changes when heated beyond their smoke point. As a result of this change, unwanted substances and free radicals are released which cause harm to the human body. By understanding smoke point, you can avoid inadvertently consuming substances known to cause deleterious health effects.

Second, these chemicals impart an undesirable flavor when heated to their smoke points. What may have started as a rich, delicious flavor quickly turns bitter or burnt when heated beyond its ideal temperature. With knowledge about smoke point, you ensure each meal you spend time and effort preparing tastes as delicious as it’s meant to taste.

Third, by knowing smoke points you can find healthy oil alternatives that align with your cooking style and ensure you get the most nutrients from your meals. When you prepare a recipe that requires high temperature preparation, you’ll know to choose a nutritious oil with a high smoke point.

Cooking Oils and How to Use Them

There are numerous oils to choose from when preparing meals, but some do offer more health benefits than others. Using the following list of healthy oil alternatives, you can quickly and easily identify cooking oil smoke points, which oils are best for your needs, and what benefits they offer you.

1. Olive Oil

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Smoke point: Extra virgin is 325°F to 375°F, Virgin is 420°F, and Extra Light is 468°F.

Use for: Extra virgin is great for dressings and drizzling. Virgin and extra light olive oils are good for sautéing. Olive oil is an oil with a high smoke point and is excellent for high temperature cooking.

Health benefits: Contains vitamins E and K, and antioxidants.

2. Unrefined (or virgin) coconut oil

Smoke point: 350°F

Use for: Baking, frostings, and sautéing.

Health benefits: Rich in vitamins E and K, and iron.

3. Refined coconut oil

Smoke point: 400°F

Use for: Medium-heat cooking, stir-frying, baking.

Health benefits: Coconut oil is a source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are a source of energy that can be metabolized effectively by the liver.

4. Refined avocado oil

Smoke point: 520°F

Use for: Deep-frying, sautéing, medium-heat and high-heat cooking, baking, and grilling.

Health benefits: High in vitamin E, potassium, and oleic acid.

5. Clarified butter or ghee

Smoke point: 450°F

Use for: High-heat cooking and drizzling on freshly grilled meat, seafood, and vegetables.

Health benefits: This oil with a high smoke point is a good source of vitamins E and A, and antioxidants.

6. Sesame oil

Smoke point: 410°F

Use for: All-purpose, good for cooking, dressings, and sauces.

Health benefits:May help reduce inflammation and is a good source of calcium.

7. Hempseed oil

Smoke point: 330°F

Use for: Drizzling and finishing, including dressings. Do not use for cooking.

Health benefits: High in omega-3 fatty acids.

8. Peanut oil

Smoke point: 450°F

Use for: Deep-frying, pan-frying, roasting, and grilling all work for this oil with a high smoke point.

Health benefits: Good source of vitamin E and phytosterols and low in saturated fat.

9. Flaxseed oil

Smoke point: 225°F (very low)

Use for: Drizzling and finishing, including dressings. Do not use for cooking.

Health benefits: High in omega-3 fatty acids and may help relieve constipation.

10. Grapeseed oil

Smoke point: 390°F

Use for: Sautéing, frying, and salad dressings.

Health benefits: High in polyunsaturated fats and vitamin E.

Which Oils Should You Avoid and Why

While the above list offers a number of healthy oil alternatives to other cooking fats, there are additional oils suitable for cooking that you may want to consider avoiding. These include:

While many of these may be oils with high smoke points, these oils fall under the large umbrella of “vegetable oils” and typically go through a rigorous refinement process, which strips them of valuable nutrients and flavor. Interestingly, many of these same oils are not advised for use while following keto meal plans, so if you’re ketogenic, you’ll want to avoid adding them to your keto shopping list.

Additionally, “vegetable” oil is often a combination of many plant-derived oils. When possible, it’s best to use one of the healthy oil alternatives for cooking and dressing, which typically retain more vitamins and nutrients and give your food the best flavor.

Other oils should be avoided when cooking because of the high temperatures required during food preparation. These oils include:

Lastly, one other oil that many people prefer to avoid is:

If you find that keeping track of cooking oil smoke points is more than you care to do, there are plenty of oil-free cooking recipes to choose from that are still rich in flavor.

The Takeaway

Healthy oil alternatives are just one part of a well-balanced diet. If you’re working towards a healthy lifestyle, all your food choices are important. That’s where PlateJoy comes in.

Our personalized meal planning assistant gives you the freedom to pick and choose what you want, and what you don’t want in your meals. We can even tailor your menus to a vegan meal plan, gluten-free, Paleo, or any other personalized diet you desire. Sign up for your free trial and start reaping the benefits of your own personal meal plans.

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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