The Commonsense Guide to Cooking Oils

May 31, 2023 at 10:34 AM

Within the last 20 years there has been an explosion in the choice of cooking oils - no doubt for the betterment of both our health and our palette - but it does lead to some confusion about which oil to use. Here’s what you need to know about the edible oils we sell and how to work out which one to use.

Extraction and refining

The first thing we consider at Commonsense is how the oil was extracted.  Most mass market oils are extracted using a chemical solvent – usually hexane.  At Commonsense we avoid chemicals and instead opt for mechanical extraction which is called expeller extraction.  When the mechanical extraction controls the heat caused by friction it is called cold-pressed expeller.  Cold pressed extraction retains the maximum amount of nutrients and is always the preferred option in our stores.

The second process cooking oils go through is refining.  This process increases the shelf life of the oil and with some oils eg coconut oil, it increases the smoke point of the oil, meaning it can be used to cook food at higher temperatures.  Most of the oils we sell are not refined, one exception being our deodorised coconut oil.

When we first introduced cold-pressed unrefined oils customers would bring back a cooking oil they had bought from us, complaining that it smelled and was a stronger colour than the cooking oil they usually bought.  We had to explain that mass market cooking oils are deodorized so the smell is removed.  It’s natural for unrefined oils to take up the flavour and colour of the plant they come from.

Heating Oil

So how do you know which oil to choose?  First you need to be clear what you’re using it for.  Some oils perform well with a high heat, others should never be heated. 

The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil starts smoking in the pan.  Not only do you risk setting off the smoke alarm and having a burnt pan to clean - it’s also bad for your health as the fat starts breaking down releasing free radicals. Most unrefined oils have a lower smoke point than their refined equivalents, so we’ve developed a chart showing you the smoke point of the oils we sell as well as the type of oil.

The chart only shows the smoke point but you can use some oils eg olive oil for cooking and for salad oil. 

From a culinary perspective saturated oils (butter, ghee, coconut oil) perform better at high temperatures, but they can raise cholesterol levels, so this should also be taken into consideration when choosing your cooking oil.  Unsaturated oils are generally considered to be healthier than saturated oils, particularly for heart health.

The way you store your cooking oil is also important.  There’s not much point in having a heart-healthy option that is rancid! Oil needs to be stored in a cool, dark area – so move those oils that sit next to your stove!  Flaxseed oil should be kept in the fridge.

So the message is – the lower the heat, the greater the options you have for cooking oils and the more likely they are to be unsaturated fats.  And just to add to the advantages  - you’ll also retain more nutrients with slow heat.  Enjoy your cooking!