It started with a simple question which I thought a quick google search would resolve but Miso falling down a rabbit hole here. The simple question was:
“If I don’t want to use coconut oil what else is good for frying with?”
Basically, I’ve been using Extra Virgin Coconut Oil for frying as I’d heard vegetable oils are now considered unhealthy and olive oil is not good over certain temperatures but not really considered why. Coconut oil is great but sometimes you don’t want a coconut taste in the background. My quick google search quickly descended into an oblivion of technical terms and conflicting “expert” opinions depending on when the article was dated and who was sponsoring the so-called research.
I’m as yet to reach a conclusion so perhaps this will need to be amended but there do seem to be a few basic things to consider that are kind of a trade off when choosing the right oil:
- Saturated Fats – Saturated fats were once blamed for clogging up arteries and causing heart disease which led to the popularity of vegetable oils such as sunflower oil to be regarded as better for frying due to the high percentage of polyunsaturated fats. More recent research has argued that polyunsaturated fats and to a lesser extent monounsaturated fats are less stable at higher temperatures and release toxic compounds known as aldehydes when heated .
- Omega Ratio – Omega-3 is good and Omega 6-is not so good. Omega-6 fatty acids present in vegetable oils are pushing out the important Omega-3 fatty acids that keep the brain healthy, according to Professor John Stein, emeritus professor of neuroscience at Oxford University.
- Smoke point – Toxic compounds are released in higher quantities when an oil reaches or goes over it’s “smokepoint”. Interestingly, vegetable oils do seem to have a relatively high smoke point which at first glance would make them suitable for frying but the presence of polyunsaturated fats and bad omega ratios far diminish this benefit. Also, from this chart we see the much lauded coconut oil does not have such a high smoke point (177 degrees C) to argue its the best oil to be frying with .
Taking all the above factors into account this article  by Jon Barron seemed to summarise best how to choose a good oil. For high temperature cooking, select cooking oils with a high smoke point. For low temperature cooking, or adding to dishes and salad dressings, chose oils with a higher Omega-3 fatty acids since they promote healthy cells and decrease stroke and heart attack risk. In conclusion:
- Low Temperatures – Use organic, unrefined, cold-processed vegetable oils. Use extra virgin olive oil in salads or to add to cooked foods. Unrefined walnut oil is also good.
- Mid Temperatures – Use virgin coconut oil (high in beneficial saturated fats and medium chain triglycerides) for most mid-temperature cooking. However, coconut oil has a smoke point of 177 degrees C, which means it is not suitable for high temperature cooking. Other choices include virgin olive oil and even butter in small amounts.
- High Temperatures – Use avocado oil for high temperature cooking. Avocado oil has a very high smoke point by comparison to other cooking oils. It will not burn or smoke until it reaches 271 degrees C, which is ideal for searing meats and frying in a Wok. Another good cooking oil is rice bran oil 257 degrees C.
1. Cooking with vegetable oils releases toxic cancer causing chemicals say experts Telegraph. Retrieved 7th November 2015.
2. Which oils are best to cook with? BBC. Retrieved 28th July 2015.
3. Vegetable oils contain ‘toxic’ chemical linked to cancer and brain degeneration, say scientists Independent. Retrieved 8th November 2015.
4. Cooking for Engineers – Smoke Points of Various Fats http://www.cookingforengineers.com/article/50/Smoke-Points-of-Various-Fats.
5. Wikipedia – Smoke point https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoke_point
6. Jon Barron – Healthiest Cooking Oil Comparison Chart with Smoke Points and Omega 3 Fatty Acid Ratios https://jonbarron.org/diet-and-nutrition/healthiest-cooking-oil-chart-smoke-points. Retrieved 17th April 2012.