Olive, sunflower, canola, avocado, walnut, sesame… the list seems endless! There are a multitude of oil options out there. Experimentation with different oils is the best way to find out what you find easiest to cook with and what flavors you like best. Here I’ve provided a list of my top five most used cooking oils.
While there is no debate that whole fat salted butter provides unrivaled flavor to any dish, sweet or savory, it is also of no debate that massive amounts of butter are not great for your heart, among other things. Switching to oil (or changing from all butter in a recipe to half butter, half oil) saves you some calories and fat. By choosing the right oils, you won’t skimp on flavor either, and you can save the splurge on butter for dishes where it really shines.
Below is my list of top five oils for cooking. Here on the Central Coast, we are blessed to have many local producers and farmers. I encourage you to explore your options and buy local whenever possible!
1. SUNFLOWER OIL
Uses: For everyday cooking. Lighter alternative to butter and more affordable than Olive oil. I use this oil often when sautéing or roasting vegetables. It’s also great to add in to salad dressings, like my Garlic Tahini Salad Dressing.
Benefits: High in Vitamin E. Sunflower oil can also be used as a topical skin and beauty treatment, providing natural moisture to skin and hair.
Where to Buy: Being the Trader Joe’s fan that I am, I prefer Trader Joe’s High Oleic Expeller Pressed Sunflower Oil. If purity is your priority, go to Target for Spectrum Organic Refined Sunflower Oil.
2. EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
Uses: My personal favorite. It may just be the Italian in me, but I am inclined to drizzle some EVOO on anything and everything. Primarily used when cooking sauces, or sautéing garlic and onions before they are added to a sauce. My go-to Oil to use in marinades and to drizzle on meats before cooking. Use in spreads like pesto and hummus.
Benefits: EVOO is a source of antioxidants and the healthy monounsaturated fats, which makes it beneficial to heart health. It’s also a part of the Mediterranean diet, often recommended by doctors to promote a healthy heart.
Where to Buy: In San Luis County, pretty much anywhere! And not just the supermarkets… as an agricultural community we have many local olive farmers producing olive oil in small batches at supreme quality. I encourage you to explore and try new local olive oils. In the grocery store, I’d recommend: California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
3. CANOLA OIL
Uses: I primarily use canola oil in the creation of baked goods, like cakes and muffins. Additionally, canola oil is the oil of choice for proper cast iron skillet maintenance. I oil my cast iron after each cleaning. It’s a pantry staple – helpful to have on hand when needed in a pinch!
Benefits: Canola oil is known for its convenience more than it’s health benefits. Though, it is the better alternative to vegetable oil, and contains more omega-3’s.
Where to Buy: Any grocery store should have canola oil. If needed in a pinch, vegetable oil is almost identical in taste and texture of your finished product. Pick up canola oil at Walmart, Smart & Final, Vons or Food 4 Less.
4. COCONUT OIL
Uses: Coconut oil is having a moment! And not unwarranted — add coconut oil to smoothies, use it as a hair mask, stir it in your coffee and stir fry your veggies in it. You name it, coconut oil can do it! I do use coconut oil in my hair (it’s awesome for hydrating unruly curls), for stir frying vegetables and for reheating meals on the stove. BONUS: Use coconut oil to make stovetop popcorn! Find recipe here.
Benefits: Coconut oil is renowned for its healthy fats that boost your brain activity and provide energy for your body, which is why it’s a desirable addition to your morning Cup O Joe. Coconut oil is a safe and clean addition to your beauty cabinet as well!
Where to Buy: When shopping for coconut oil, you will see two main types: Virgin and Refined. Virgin coconut oil contains the unadulterated aroma and flavor of coconut. This type is useful when you are cooking dishes where the coconut flavor is desired. I prefer keeping refined coconut oil on hand. It’s flavor and aroma is mellow, and once added to your food, the coconut flavor is undetectable. Pick up coconut oil at any grocery store, Costco, Ralphs, Vons, or my go-to Trader Joe’s.
5. FINISHING OIL
Uses: A finishing oil is typically a flavorful infused EVOO that is not made for cooking. The best use of a finishing oil is to drizzle on your food after it is cooked, or right at the end of the cooking process. These are not oils to drizzle in the pan before adding your mirepoix. Mix with a good quality balsamic vinegar to make the perfect bread dip.
Benefits: Since finishing oils are typically naturally flavored olive oils, they carry many of the same health benefits. In terms of culinary benefits, the possibilities are endless! Finishing oils make a sublime simple salad dressing, or can be the perfect touch to take your homemade dish over the top.
Where to Buy: Locally! In San Luis Obispo, I recommend going to We Olive. Check out local Farmers Markets for other vendors, or the San Luis Co-Op. or this list on San Luis Obispo Guide. Finishing oils are great for experimenting and trying new flavors. One of my current favorite are the Herbs de Provence infused Olive Oil pictured below. If you are outside of the area, check out assorted flavored olive oil packs on the internet. So many possibilities!
Take the opportunity to try something new! You never know what you’ll like until you give it a chance. Enjoy!