What Is Smoke Point and Why Is It Important?
No matter its type, every kind of cooking oil — nut oils, vegetable oils, refined oils, virgin oils, organic oils and processed oils — has a smoke point. Representing an oil’s resistance to heat, a specific oil’s smoke point is the temperature at which it will stop glistening and start to burn and smoke instead, imparting an acrid, burnt flavor to the foods you are using it to cook. This happens when the compounds in the oil break down as a result of heat exposure.
It is essential to know and pay attention to an oil’s smoke point because using burned oil to cook does more than give your food an unpleasant flavor. When oil hits its smoke point and begins burning, it also destroys phytochemicals and beneficial nutrients in both the oil and the food, creates highly flammable conditions and releases free radicals that can be harmful to your health if consumed.
Different conditions contribute to the smoke point and properties of particular oils. Oils are typically extracted from seeds, nuts and certain vegetables through processes including roasting, crushing and pressing. Depending on whether they are refined or not after being pressed and extracted, oils contain varying amounts of minerals and nutrients.
Organic, unrefined oils that go straight from the press to the bottle tend to be packed with enzymes, minerals, compounds and the full-bodied, aromatic flavors of whatever source they come from. While these all-natural oils are intensely flavorful and heart-healthy, their higher nutrient content makes them more susceptible to fast rancidity and easy burning because they have lower smoke points. Because of their high compound content, unrefined oils are better for cooking at low temperatures.
Refined oils, however, have a higher smoke point because they undergo physical processes to remove the color, flavor, smell and remnants of the nut. Refinement techniques like high-temperature heating, filtering, bleaching and deodorizing work to extract all the compounds — full of minerals and flavors — that do not interact well with heat and eliminate them to produce industrial-level, neutral-flavored cooking oils with higher smoke points.
Considerations for Cooking
To avoid burned flavors and free radicals in your foods and to optimize the conditions for your cooking style, it is essential to understand what oils work best for which type of cooking. Try to consider different smoke points when you use cooking oil in your next meal.
In general — as we mentioned above — an oil’s smoke point has a lot to do with whether it has been refined. Because they have been stripped of all nut remnants, refined oils have a higher smoke point and are more suited to high-heat cooking, like deep-frying and searing. The lighter a refined oil appears, the higher its smoke point is bound to be and the safer you are to cook that oil at extremely high temperatures.
An oil’s smoke point also depends on its source. Typically, vegetable oils like avocado oil, soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil and grapeseed oil tend to stand up to the highest heats and serve best for stir-frying and deep-frying. Nutrient-rich, organic oils like nut, seed and olive oils have lower smoke points and are better for finishing or low-heat purposes — although there are some exceptions.
Keep in mind that whenever you cook in oil, bits of batter, fat and whatever you are cooking will likely break off and blend with the oil, lowering the smoke point by accelerating the oil’s process of breaking down. Also, every time an oil reaches its smoke point, the smoke point decreases. If you plan on reusing your cooking oil, it will have a lower heat tolerance each time you cook with it.
Overview of Common Smoke Points
The smoke point of oils will always vary based on their manufacturing, makeup and natural or refined quality. Because La Tourangelle’s all-natural oils are made from a blend of refined and unrefined oil for a higher quality, the smoke points of our oils may be slightly different than these common smoke points. However, this is a good guide to the general smoke point of specific oils:
- Coconut Oil: 350°F, ideal for sauteeing and baking
- Olive Oil: 325 to 375°, good for sauteeing, drizzling over finished dishes and making salad dressings
- Corn Oil: 400 to 450°, ideal for high-heat frying
- Canola Oil: 375 to 450°, good for high-heat purposes like deep-frying
- Grapeseed Oil: About 420°, good for sauteeing and stir-frying
- Soybean Oil: 450 to 475°, ideal for high-heat stir-frying
- Sunflower Oil: 450°, good for deep-frying, stir-frying, grilling and other high-heat purposes
- Safflower Oil: 475 to 500°, ideal for all high-heat frying and cooking
- Flax Oil: About 225°, best for drizzling, salad dressings and blending in smoothies
- Almond Oil: About 430°, ideal for grilling and roasting
- Avocado Oil: 520°, great for searing, stir-frying, grilling, roasting and almost any kind of cooking
- Peanut Oil: 450°, good for deep-frying, sauteeing and stir-frying
- Walnut Oil: 320°, best for salad dressings and drizzles
- Sesame Oil: 410 to 450°, good for moderate-heat cooking like sauteeing
With so many different types of oils to choose from, how do you pick the right one? Keeping several oils on hand means you have more options to make the right pick.
How to Choose the Right Cooking Oil
Knowing how to choose the right cooking oil can be difficult. Keep this quick guide to cooking oils close at hand, so you always know which oil is best for your next meal.
Here are a few considerations to keep in mind next time you’re staring at the cooking oils in your cupboard.
- Flavor Profiles: Some oils have more pronounced flavors, while others are more neutral. If you’re cooking a dish with very specific flavors, even the subtle flavors of certain cooking oils can affect the taste of the entire dish. If you only want the flavors of the ingredients of the dish itself to come through, use a neutral oil like canola oil, safflower oil, peanut oil or corn oil. You can also experiment with oils that provide more flavor, like sesame oil, walnut oil and coconut oil.
- Refined or Unrefined Processing: Unrefined oils, like extra virgin olive oil, do not go through additional processing like refined oils, such as canola oil, and are often more nutritious. Refined oils are filtered, heated at high temperatures and bleached to remove impurities to extract the maximum amount of oil possible. Refined oils typically have a much longer shelf life and higher smoke point — the extra compounds found in unrefined oils break down at higher heats and can impact flavor.
- Health Considerations: Different oils have different nutrients as part of their makeups. When you’re making various dishes, being aware of the nutritional values of each oil helps you understand its impact on your health. Oils do contain fats, but mainly those fats that are considered healthy, like unsaturated fats and omegas, which promote heart health and are generally considered a healthier pick than butter and lard.
When you’re looking for the perfect cooking oil, whether you’re cooking for your career, for your family or just yourself, considering these and factors can make a big difference in your dishes.
From the ability to cook meats, vegetables and other foods at the right temperature to affecting the flavor profile, your cooking oil plays a big part in the process. When you begin using new cooking oils, you’ll see how big a role it plays!
Adding new oils to your cooking repertoire is a great way to experiment with flavor profiles, and using a different type of oil in a dish may make it even better. If you tried to cook a new dish that didn’t come out right, cooking it with a different oil may make all the difference.
Choose La Tourangelle’s Artisan Oils for Your Next Dish
Whether you’re a professional chef or enjoy cooking for fun, understanding the smoke point of different types of oil helps you add amazing flavor and cook every ingredient properly.
Now that you know your smoke points and the ins and outs of oils, it is time to start cooking. Choose La Tourangelle’s all-natural artisan oils for the best flavors and finishes for all your dishes.