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Choosing Oils

posted in Pantry by Kathy Maister

If you are just learning to cook, choosing what oils to buy can be confusing as there are so many to choose from.

The three oils you should buy as good starting points are:

  1. Extra virgin olive oil
  2. Olive oil
  3. Canola oil

Notice, in the picture above, that the bottle on the left says Extra Virgin for “Dressing and Marinating” and the bottle on the right says Olive Oil for “Sautéing and Grilling”.

The extra virgin olive oil is going to be much more expensive, a darker color and has a more intense olive flavor than the bottle that says just olive oil with no virgin on the label.

Extra virgin olive oil, which is made form the first “cold press” of ripe olives, is not used for cooking, just eating. Use it on salads, dipping onto bread and to drizzle on foods for that extra fruity olive flavor.

Olive oil that just says “olive oil” (no virgin on the label) can be used to cook foods and used in salad dressings.

Now you may be saying, I don’t like olives so I’m not buying olive oil. If that’s the case, don’t buy the Extra Virgin Olive Oil. You can use canola oil for salad dressing instead. BUT, do consider at least trying the Olive Oil (no virgin) for cooking. It does impart a lovely flavor that you may well enjoy!

Both types of olive oil should be stored in a cool dark place and should last up to 6 months. Olive oil can also be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 year. It will get cloudy and thick in the refrigerator, but once it’s brought to room temperature it will become liquid again.

Olive oil has a pretty distinct flavor, and if you are using it at a really high temperature, it can smoke and burn. Consequently, canola oil is my third choice to add to your food cupboard.

It’s pretty bland tasting. It can be used for cooking and for salad dressings, and it is one of the healthier oils you can choose from the selection of oils at the grocery store. (It has only 6 percent saturated fat, compared with peanut oil which has 18 percent saturated fat!)

Canola oil has a long shelf life and will keep for up to 18 months stored in your food cupboard.

There are of course many more wonderful oils to cook with. These three oils are just a good starting point.


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Jennifer said:

This is excellent info Kathy! You’re getting a bonus here too since sll the oil choices are healthy.

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks Jennifer! I’ve been reading about substituting applesauce for oil in baking things like carrot cake, brownies, etc. Do you have any experience/advice on applesauce as a substitution for oil?

Dave said:

OK, I’m going to fess up. I accidentally bought e.v.o.o. when I should’ve gotten the regular olive oil like I had before. I sauteed some scallops in it anyway, and y’know what, they were tasty as usual. It wasn’t “much more expensive” though. It was on sale for about the same as the regular– about $6 for a 17 oz. bottle. A good deal I realize, we have good, ultra-competitive grocery stores here in Phoenix.

Kathy Maister said:

My only concern would be that the extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoke point than olive oil (no virgin). So you would have to use a slightly lower temperature when frying. In downtown Boston, I don’t get many bargains like that, except mabe at Trader Joe’s.

mike Andrews said:

having a cholesterol level of 10.2 I soon leant that oils ARE NOT HEALTHY dont be fooled SURE they are safer than solid fats but please use sparingly, use a spray pump and lightly spray the pan or pattie I only use grape seed oil because I can taste the other oils I understand that rice oil is Quite ok but hav’nt tried it yet my cholesterol is now down to 3.5

Kathy Maister said:

Mike, you have made some really excellent points! (You may be interested in Jennifer’s site, Skinny Chef.)

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