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The best cooking oil - is it canola, olive, peanut, corn, soybean, safflower, other vegetable or nut /seed oil, even lard or butter?

Considerations might be

taste
smoke point temperature
saturated fat content
other health benefits
price & availability in bulk

Since we use it so frequently, it would be good to be informed. I am curious how canola compares to safflower, corn oil to regular "vegetable oil". Palm to coconut. Any thoughts?

Should butter (or ghee) remain a special treat, or can we use it frequently whenever we can? Other animal fats?

What do restaurants use?
What is your everyday oil?

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  1. There's no one answer to your question -- people (and restaurants) use different fats for different purposes.

    I like to use "traditional" fats -- those that have been used for centuries. Which means animal fats and oils like olive oil. I personally think Canola oil is an invention of the devil -- artificially created and icky tasting -- but that's a rather idiosyncratic position on my part.

    The health benefits of various fats are widely debated. Personally, I don't think it makes much difference in the amount most people consume from their home cooking.

    When I want a neutral oil with a high smoke point I use grapeseed oil. It can be purchased fairly cheaply in large quantities from middle eastern groceries (or in half-liter bottles for $2.49 at Trader Joe's).

    19 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Isn't canola oil another name for grapeseed oil?

      1. re: nosh

        No, it's RAPEseed, not GRAPEseed. As you can imagine, the producers decided that "rape" was not a word they wanted associated with their product, so the coined the term "canola" (from Canadian oil, since that's where it was being cultivated).

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          Yes, rape is a mustard family plant that has brilliant yellow flowers in May in northern climes. When you see spring fields of yellow in Britain or Canada in films, it's often rape in bloom.

        2. re: nosh

          No, it is canola seed oil, a specially bred (from Rape seed), seed for the oil.

          1. re: Quine

            There is no such thing as canola seed. The name comes from CANadian Oil Low Acid, a low-erucic acid (a suspected carcinogen) oil extracted from genetically modified rapeseed.

            1. re: cheryl_h

              Oh dear, you better tell these people then: The Canola Council of Canada. They clearly state it is from the canola seed. Read for yourself:
              http://www.canola-council.org/cooking...

              1. re: Quine

                Propaganda from a marketing board isn't always very reliable information.

                1. re: Quine

                  The Canola Council has a vested interest in the commercial branding of a botanical herb, as it were. But "canola" is purely a commercial term. Rape is the ordinary agricultural name.

                  1. re: Karl S

                    ruth and karl here are correct. canola is BS.

                    1. re: laliz

                      What "board" are you referring to? Looks like the Canola Council of Canada has changed their website address to www.canolacouncil.org

                2. re: Quine

                  Quine, from http://www.annieappleseedproject.org/...
                  Canola is a name that recently appeared in the marketplace and is apparently derived from Canadian-oil. Canola oil is actually produced from the rape seed plant. Rape (Brassica napus), a member of the mustard family, is listed in the Encyclopedia Britannica as a poisonous plant with toxic effects which include ìpulmonary emphysema, respiratory distress, anemia, constipation, irritability and blindness in cattle.

                  1. re: Kelli2006

                    Yeah, that's why they had to do a lot of manipulation of the plant to get it to product something fit for human consumption.

                    I guess the issues is, at what point does something become a new species of plant? The plant they're calling "canola" is not the same at the rape plant they started from, but is it different enough to warrant being called a completely different plant?

                      1. re: Quine

                        While some of the knocks against canola have been addressed, there remain some open issues.

                        1. re: Karl S

                          Some background info from the folks who helped modify the canola seed:

                          http://www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/aboutUs/nrc...

                          Explains a bit about what was wrong with it, and what has been done.

                          1. re: mrbunsrocks

                            Apparently, because it is so low in saturated fat, that makes it more vulnerable to smelling and tasty fishy at high temperatures.

                        2. re: Quine

                          You have to be careful with snopes, while they are good on a lot of things they do have a personal preference for anything that the government, big pharma and the FDA says regardless of how dangerous it turns out to be.

                          Canola is not going to kill you but as with anything that is genetically modified into a synthetic form and called food...you would do better not to consume much of it. Period

                          1. re: idiosyabounds

                            Canola was genetically modified in the same sense that most agricultural crops were modified, by traditional methods of cross-breeding and selection. There is absolutely nothing "synthetic" about canola oil. The "manipulations" done to the ancestral rapeseed to reduce the amount of undesirable erucic acid are no different that the "manipulations" done to turn an ancestral cabbage plant (another member of the fearful mustard genus) into broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy and dozens of other cultivars.

                            Yes, there are some modern GMO varieties of canola, e.g. roundup ready, but they have nothing to do with what makes the plant produce low levels of erucic acid.

                3. Grapeseed and safflower are my reliables for neutral, high-heat oils. I avoid canola because there are unresolved questions about how it behaves at very high heat (the marketing campaign for canola is impressive, though). For bulk use (like deep frying), I use soybean oil. I find peanut oil has a distinct flavor rather than being neutral(but many people do not) so I prefer soybean oil to it for that purpose.

                  I rely on olive oil and butter and ghee for flavored fats. Good butter is pretty hard to beat: it has water (which creates flakiness in baked goods) and sugars and proteins (which add flavor) and has 80% of the calories of oil on a per unit volume basis. It's indispensible. I have low-normal cholesterol, so I am not terribly concerned about that issue; the joy of genetics.

                  Walnut and hazelnut oils are wonderful drizzled over roasted vegetables. Roasted pumpkin seed oil makes a beautiful effect and a lovely flavor; roasted sesame oil is essential in Chinese cooking -- use both sparingly.

                  Goose fat is the premium animal body fat; it's worth buying a goose (often availabe in September and December) just to render a quart of that fat. It's great for all sorts of cooking, especially potatoes. Duck fat is also great for this. Lard and tallow I use less, but I don't make pie crusts else I might use lard more. Bacon fat from good bacon used to be the main cooking fat in the US, and is worth having for flavoring certain vegetables in a braise.

                  Palm and coconut oils are useful substitutes for hydrogenated vegetable shortening, as they are solid at room temperature due to their saturated fat content.

                  In the end, you need to match the fat to the method and need; each type of fat excels at different things.

                  1. when I can get it I actually like to use Camellia oil (oil from the seeds of the tea plant) Currenly the only company I know that sells it is the Republic Of Tea but other doublessly exist it is the listest cleanest tasting oil I have ever had and its smoke point is prectically infinity. I was once told that certaing group of Buddist monks (who supposedly first found out about the oil) believed that the airiness and lightness of dishes cooked in this oil also was beived to bring one closer to Nirvana :-)

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: jumpingmonk

                      Rice bran oil is also very neutral with a high smoke point.

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        rice bran oil is used in every restaurant ive worked at. high smoke point so they love it in the deep fat fryers (fryolater fans holler!!!). at home tho, i use solely extra virgin raw, unprocessed coconut oil for all my sauteing since it does NOT get all messed up when heated. i love olive oil for all salad dressings but i try to avoid heating it since ive read that once heated, olive oil is not so good for you anymore:)

                        1. re: ben61820

                          To the camellia oil poster - how do you find it inexpensively to cook with?! It's interesting to me that camellia, rice bran and olive oils all have applications in skin care and are highly regarded.

                          My favorite oils for cooking depend on what's being cooked... virgin coconut oil (that actually has some coconut scent/taste going on) yields a gorgeous hint of flavor and texture somehow. Love it for cookies etc. Peanut oil (again, some organic kind where you actually get a whiff of peanuts) goes nicely in some recipes where the idea of peanuts wouldn't be offputting.

                          1. re: Cinnamon

                            Yes, and peanut oil is not used in our household because of a strong aversion to peanuts.

                            1. re: Cinnamon

                              I'm not sure about inexpenively but I usually just use the kind Republic of Tea sells. Proably the easiest way is to simply order it from them though I have bumped into it being sold at some Chef Cental and Whole foods stores. (though not the latter recently). While I won't claim its inexpensive its seems no more to me than many kinds of olive oil.

                        2. re: jumpingmonk

                          Asian markets often sell it too. It can handle heat somewhat well, but does go rancid. Look for 茶油. There are both more lightly flavored versions and stronger flavored ones. Fuchsia Dunlop wrote an interesting piece about production of it -- I would bet that a lot of stuff on the market may not be that trustworthy.

                        3. I use peanut oil for high-heat cooking, lard which I render myself for most other frying, olive oil and butter for flavor.

                          1. It might be easier to list the fats and oils I don't purchase and avoid consuming:

                            Canola (see above)
                            Soybean
                            Cotton seed
                            Artificially hydrogenated fats (aka transfats)

                            There are probably others, but those are the ones that are likely to be seen on ingredient labels. Otherwise, I think most fats and oils have their place.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              Thanks, Ruth. Might as well, since we have so many other great alternatives.

                              For what it's worth (I'm not afraid), canola is genetically modified in the U.S. and so are soybeans, corn, and yes, cotton.

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                Agree with this list. Generic "vegetable oil" is out in my household too.

                                That being said I *love* to cook in butter!