The oil you use to make salad dressing isn’t necessarily the healthiest oil for frying. We take a look at what extreme frying temperatures do to oil, and how it affects your health.
Follow the Mediterranean diet, and you’ll use olive oil for almost everything. Paleo and keto diets tend to use avocado oil and coconut oil, but your grandmother cooked with lard. It’s hard to say which oil is right for you, but we do know one thing for sure: You can’t use any old oil for deep-frying or pan-frying. The healthiest oil for frying is all about the fat’s ability to withstand high temperatures.
Consider the oil’s smoke point
In our breakdown of the different types of cooking oil, we explained something called the smoke point: The temperature at which oil starts to burn and smoke. Every type of fat—from butter to coconut oil and everything in between—has a specific target temperature. Heat the oil past this point, and it will do more than set off your smoke detector and taste rancid.
You see, when oil is heated past its smoke point, the fats start to break down. This process creates smoke, as well as an off smell and taste. What’s really happening, though, is the oil is releasing harmful compounds, including carcinogenic, cancer-causing free radicals. That means an oil’s smoke point ultimately affects how healthful the cooking oil is for your body. One thing you should never do though: reuse cooking oil.
What is the healthiest oil for deep-frying?
If you’re after deep frying, you’ll need to heat the oil to somewhere between 350 and 400° F. These temperatures are necessary to create a crust on your food as soon as it hits the fryer. This seals the outsides, preventing the insides from absorbing too much oil. Since the oil gets so hot, you’ll need something with a smoke point of at least 400° F.
Heart-healthy oils like safflower oil and rice bran oil are perfect because they can withstand frying temperatures of almost 500° F. You can also look to peanut oil and sunflower oil if you’re frying at 450° F, or canola oil and vegetable oil to keep temperatures around 400° F.
What is the healthiest oil for pan-frying?
Pan-frying won’t get your food quite as crispy as deep-frying, but it uses significantly less oil. It also requires lower temperatures, making it ideal for fats with smoke points at 350° F or lower. We generally try to reach for monounsaturated fats when pan-frying. These healthy fats are liquid at room temperature (as compared to saturated fat like lard, butter and coconut oil that are solid at the same temperatures). Our favorite healthy fats for pan-frying are avocado oil, canola oil, and olive oil. Coconut oil is another popular choice for pan-frying, but its health benefits are controversial because of the oil’s high levels of saturated fat.
Keep in mind that some olive oils are categorized as extra virgin olive oil. These oils are cold-pressed and raw to help them retain their nutrients, but that process also keeps their smoke point low. When choosing olive oil for cooking, always look for light or refined olive oils. Now, just make sure you’re not also making any of these cooking mistakes that ruin your food.