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Cooking Oils: The Bare Essentials

For most of us, choosing cooking oils is beyond daunting with so many types, buzzwords and brands on the market. We’ve tackled the research and created a ‘bare essentials’ need-to-know post on the best 2-3 types you’ll need to cover the bases, shelf life, how to store oils, buying tips and a few good brands. The focus is primarily on olive oils which are, hands down, the best bet for most types of cooking.

Cooking Oils: The Bare Essentials

Quick Facts

  • Almost everyone (including the FDA) agrees that olive oils are the healthiest oils to use for cooking and, in fact, healthy for you.
  • All olive oils, however, are not created equal. Apparently over 70% of olive oils sold in US markets are fake i.e. they have been cut/mixed with other oils so we are often paying higher prices for lower quality oils.
  • Some oils like coconut oil have been over-hyped for health benefits. There is little evidence to support the health claims of coconut oil.
  • Oils do not last indefinitely and they do not improve with age. If you have some in the back of your cupboard for several years, toss them.
  • It matters how you store oils and what you store them in. Clear glass for olive oil? No good.
  • “Light” olive oil does not mean lower calories.
  • To cover all the bases with just 3 oils, choose a high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil, a decent moderately priced Olive Oil and Canola Oil. 


Best Cooking Oils to Keep on Hand

Choosing cooking oils largely comes down to personal preference and the type of cooking you do.  If you want to cover the bases, here are a few essentials ones to keep on hand.

For all-purpose cooking

(except for deep frying or super high heat cooking)

  • Best option is a decent quality and priced OLIVE OIL, sometimes called Classic Olive Oil or Pure Olive Oil. This is the default oil used in restaurants.
    • Olive Oil is a blend of extra virgin (unrefined) olive oil and refined olive oil so it’s still 100% olive oil
    • has the same health benefits as Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), but a more neutral taste (needed for some recipes) and costs much less.
    • has a higher smoke point than EVOO, ranging from 390F-470F which means you can saute, grill and fry at moderately high temperatures.

For direct eating and flavor enhancement

  • Best option is a high quality EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL (EVOO)
    • good for dipping bread, drizzling on pastas and other dishes and salad dressings.
    • unrefined, free of chemicals
    • heart and brain healthy; rich in antioxidants which reduce inflammation
    • has a stronger olive fruity flavour
    • expensive
  • Specialty oils like sesame oil and walnut oil are good when specific flavours are desired.

For high heat cooking or deep frying

  • Best affordable options are CANOLA OIL (also considered quite healthy), Peanut oil or another seed/vegetable oil. They are typically much cheaper than olive oils. If you can splurge, unrefined Avocado oil or Grapeseed Oil are also good choices for frying, have a high smoke point, not much flavour and healthier.
    • vegetable oils like canola, sunflower, safflower, corn oil are highly processed, but for this purpose, refined oils are best as they have a much higher smoke point.
    • Health experts say Canola is the healthiest of the vegetable oils.

For baking

  • Best option is Canola Oil most of the time as it has very little taste, it’s high in good mono saturated fats and is affordable.  Other vegetable oils or olive oils with a neutral taste would work well too.


How Long Do Cooking Oils Last

The rule of thumb is that unopened oils will last about 2 years.  There seems to be no full agreement on how long they last when opened. Refined oils typically last a year or more. Olive oils, especially high quality EVOO will last up to 15-24 months if stored properly.


How to Store Cooking Oils

Best stored in fridge: Avocado oil, corn oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, truffle oil. These will last 6 months when opened except avocado oil which will last 9-12 months. They turn cloudy in the fridge, but once brought to room temperature on the counter, they will return to clear.

Best stored at room temperature: Vegetable oils, olive oils, ghee, peanut oil.

Storing Olive Oil: Store in a cool, dark place. Buy in or transfer to a dark glass or tin container (not copper or tin). Olive oils don’t keep well in light or warmth so keep them away from the stove and sunlight. Keep the cap on tight.


Buying Tips for Olive Oil and good Brands

  • Your best bet for pureness , health and quality is “extra virgin”, but for all-purpose cooking and more neutral flavours, see above. Unfortunately, many EVOO’s on the market are not actually EVOO and it’s difficult to ensure you are buying the real thing.
  • Don’t be fooled by buzzwords like “filtered”, “unfiltered”, “pure”, “light”, “first cold press”. None of these guarantee quality.
  • “Light” or “extra light” means light in flavour, not in calories. Light olive oil has the same amount of calories as any other olive oil.
  • Try to look for a harvest date on the container of less than 18 months.
  • Buy olive oil in an opaque bottle, dark glass or metal container.
  • Good EVOO Brands:
    • This is highly personal.
    • There are many lists out there on ‘best olive oils’. A few good [real] EVOO’s that seem to make several of these lists, that are not included on the ‘don’t buy’ lists and that are supported by Cooks Illustrated taste tests are:
      • Lucini Everyday EVOO, Lucini Premium Selected EVOO, California Olive Ranch, Kirkland Signature EVOO (at Costco), Kirkland Signature EVOO Toscano (high end at Costco). We have no association with any brand. 
    • Needless to say, there are many excellent quality olive oils on the market. If you can’t find an olive oil you like locally, check on Amazon.
    • Happy testing…



livestrong.com, livescience.com, healthlink.com, eatingwell.com, bonappetit guide for beginners, thrillist.com

Other Bare Essentials articles you might like: 

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Onions: The Bare Essentials

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Herbs: The Bare Essentials

herbs: the bare essentials


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