Cooking Oils

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Cooking oil is purified plants or animal fat. It is used for preparing food. It usually consists of edible vegetable oils derived from olives, peanuts, and safflowers, to name just a few of the many plants that are used. Milk and animal fat also form the raw material of some cooing oils. Cooking oils are sometimes added during the preparation of processed foods. They are also used to fry foods and to make salad dressing.

Man started utilizing plant and animal products to obtain oils for a variety of cooking purposes thousands of years ago. They used the sun, the fire, or an oven to heat oily plant products until the plants exuded oil that could then be collected. The Chinese and Japanese produced soy oil as early as 2000 B.C.


Why should I be aware of this?

We consume cooking oil everyday. Cooking oils have good fat and bad fat and other beneficial and harmful properties. We need to know what kind of fat we are consuming, what properties does our cooking oil have and what does our body need depending on our medical history. While trans fat and saturated fats are bad fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are good fats.

All about cooking oils

Cooking oil is used in all households across the world in some form or the other. Vegetable oil is the most commonly used of all oils. It can either be the oil of a single vegetable or a blend of several plant based oils.

Healthy cooking oils

  • Canola oil -- This is said to be one of the healthiest cooking oil. It is low in saturated fat content and high mono unsaturated fat. It is commonly used in frying.
  • Corn oil -- Corn oil is relatively low in both saturated and mono unsaturated fats. It is popular in margarine and used in both frying and baking.
  • Sunflower Oil -- Sunflower oil is low in saturated fat and high in Vitamin E. It can be used for frying, cooking, and for use in salad dressings.
  • Olive Oil --Olive Oil is high in mono unsaturated fat which is known to reduce the risk of heart disease. Apart from being a popular cooking medium, olive oil is frequently used in salad dressing.
  • Peanut Oil - Peanut oil is a great oil to use when frying in high temperatures. It is a commonly used oil during the Thanksgiving holiday.
  • Soyabean oil -- Soyabean oil contains PUFA, particularly linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in the right balance, which are essential for human health. Soyabean oil is suitable for all types of cooking methods except frying; PUFA gets oxidised at frying temperatures to form toxic compounds.
  • Mustard oil -- Mustard Oil is generally available as filtered oil; refined mustard oils are sold as vegetable oil. It has a higher proportion of MUFA and is also a rich source of the PUFA. However, it also contains erucic acid, a fatty acid that has undesirable effects on health when consumed in large amounts. Mustard oil is suitable for all types of cooking including frying, but should be used along with other cooking oils to reduce the erucic acid content.
  • Ricebran oil -- It is a extracted from ricebran and is gaining popularity in Asian countries like Japan, Korea, China and India. It is not very expensive. Ricebran oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and has cholesterol-lowering properties due to the presence of a minor component called oryzanol. It contains natural vitamin E, which is an antioxidant. It also contains squalene, which is good for the skin. It is the ideal cooking oil since has good stability (this mean that, like other MUFA oils, it does not decompose at high temperatures to form toxic compounds) and is suitable for deep-frying.
  • Sunflower oil -- Sunflower oil is rich in PUFA, particularly linoleic acid that lowers the levels of both good and bad cholesterol. Hence, this oil cannot be used as the only cooking oil; it could also be used along with other cooking oils such as red palm oil or palmolein oil that is low in linoleic acid.
  • Safflower/ kardi oil - Safflower oil contains PUFA in the form of linoleic acid. Like sunflower oil, this oil too should be used in combination with red palm oil or palmolein oil.
  • Palmolein oil --It contains MUFA and is low in linoleic acid, hence it is healthy to use in combination with other oils.
  • Coconut oil-- Coconut oil contains saturated fats that are different from those present in animal fats. Like other vegetable oils, coconut oil also does not contain cholesterol and hence can be safely consumed as part of a balanced diet, in combination with other cooking oils, particularly sunflower or safflower oils.

Unhealthy cooking oils

  • Butter -- Butter is made from milk fat and contains a high proportion of saturated fats and cholesterol, both of which when consumed in excess are risk factors for developing heart disease. Hence, it is wise to consume less amounts of butter.
  • Clarified butter or ghee - Also prepared from milk fat, ghee or clarified butter is an essential item in India cuisine. According to Indian medical systems, ghee contains several medicinal properties. Nutritionally, like butter, it also contains saturated fats and cholesterol which, when consumed in excess, leads to heart disease. Using small amounts of ghee to season foods is not harmful. Just avoid sweets and other dishes prepared with large quantities of ghee.
  • Vanaspati--It is a mixture of vegetable oils that have been converted to solid form by the addition of hydrogen. Hydrogenated fat is used as a ghee substitute in cooking as well in the production of bakery products, sweets and snack items. When vanaspati is made, trans fatty acids are also produced; these increase the risk of heart disease when consumed in excess and are best avoided.

Storing Oil

All oils remain liquid when kept at room temperature so it is best to store oil in a dark, dry place, such as your pantry. Oils that are high in monounsaturated fat will keep up to a year, while refined olive oil, having the highest of monounsaturated fat, can last a few years. Extra virgin and virgin olive oils will keep about a year after opened. The shelf life of most other oils after opened is usually six-eight months.

Another important fact to note is how to properly discard used cooking oil. It should never be poured down your kitchen sink. Oil can congeal and block pipes. The best way to discard of it is to pour it into a leak-proof container and discard it with the rest of your garbage.

What can I do?

  • In order to derive maximum benefits from oil, it is beneficial to consume a mix of oils in order to maintain a balance between the three fatty acids. As using a combination of two oils may not be a practical thing to do, today a number of blended oils are available in the market.
  • You could also have two or more different kinds of oils in your kitchen that you could use for different purposes. For example, you could use olive oil for salads, groundnut oil for frying and soyabean oil for other cooking purposes. This will let you take advantage of the health benefits offered by each oil.


  • Palm oil and coconut oil are high in saturated fat too.
  • Safflower and sunflower oil are good sources of polyunsaturates. Avocado, canola, macadamia nut, and olive oils are good sources of monounsaturates.
  • Omega-6 fatty acids are found in the oils of seeds and grains, like sunflower and corn oil. Canola and fish oils are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.


Dark color of oil is usually associated with the presence of impurities. It is thought that these "impurities" prevent the oil from being light colored, odorless and bland in taste. Howeevr the so claled "impurities" that impart color, odor and flavor are nutrients. It is both tragic and ironic that the removal of nutrients should be equated with "purity". Tragic because if those nutrients were present they would contribute to the health of the consumer. Ironic because establishing the desired "purity" really results in producing poor quality food.

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Additional information


  • Cooking Oils
  • Types of Cooking Fats and Oils - Descriptions and Uses - Smoking Points
  • Is your cooking oil healthy?
  • Fat facts
  • The History of Vegetable oil
  • Coking oil