Right oil for the job: Which oils are best for frying, baking, and dressings?

Jul 09, 2023
If you want a great all-rounder, I recommend safflower oil. With that high smoke point and neutral flavour, it’s one of the most versatile options out there. Source: Pexels

Love cooking? Here’s the good oil on the best oils for frying, baking and dressing. Oil is such an important part of a healthy diet, particularly as we age. It can help reduce cholesterol and keep our hearts in good health. Plus, it’s such a versatile ingredient that can be used in so many cooking styles.

Whether you’re a baker, love a barbecue, a salad devotee or a stir-fry fan, you don’t have to go any further than your local supermarket to find the right oil for the job.

What should I be looking for while shopping?

As a starting point, you want to be looking for liquid oils. The liquid oils you find on the supermarket shelf are generally going to be good, although they do vary slightly in their unsaturated fat type. For the biggest health boost, you want an oil with a high unsaturated fat content. They’re your oils made from fruits, nuts and seeds such as olive, peanut, canola, sunflower, sesame and a relative newcomer, high-oleic safflower. Of those, super high oleic safflower has the highest unsaturated fat content of all oils – 92 per cent monounsaturated fat.

We want to avoid those “solid” oils – staying away from the lard, the coconut oil and the butter –  because they are high in saturated fats and increase your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or ‘bad cholesterol’ level, which can cause fatty deposits in blood vessels. On the other hand, good oils high in unsaturated fats help increase your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) ‘good cholesterol’, which helps eliminate a build-up of plaque in the arteries.

And when we talk about heart health, we’re also talking about type 2 diabetes. According to the Heart Foundation, people with diabetes have a heightened risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Compared with those without diabetes, individuals with the condition face up to four times higher chances of experiencing a heart attack or stroke.

What’s the right oil for frying, baking or dressing?

You need to consider what you want the oil to do. Are you frying or baking? Making a dressing? Or maybe barbecuing? Do you want the flavour of the oil to feature? Or is it all about the flavour of the food? 

If you’re going to be using very high temperatures – like stir-frying, particularly over a gas flame, or barbecuing over a really hot plate – you need to choose an oil that has what is known as a high smoke point. High oleic safflower oil has the highest smoke point (266°C) of all oils on supermarket shelves today. Other high smoke-point oils include rice bran oil, avocado and sunflower oil.

Fancy a salad? I like to make up some dressings in advance and keep them in squeezy bottles in the fridge as they do in restaurants. Oils that don’t solidify in the fridge are ideal, such as high-oleic safflower, grapeseed, macadamia or canola.  That way, you’ve always got a tasty option on hand with none of the additives in commercially available dressings. And you can use these to dress cooked vegetables as well. Delicious dressings will help you eat more vegetables because you’ll enjoy them more.

I like an Asian-style slaw – with nuts, cabbage, carrot and spring onions and those Asian flavours of soy and a dash of sesame oil – with a healthy, neutral oil as the base. A neutral oil is just that – one with no taste that simply cooks or adds to the other ingredients. Try sunflower, vegetable, canola or high-oleic safflower oil. For a tossed green salad, a simple vinaigrette is perfect, made with oil and vinegar or citrus juice. Get creative and vary the flavours with a little Dijon mustard, garlic, herbs or spices.

If you prefer a salad with those bolder Mediterranean flavours, extra-virgin olive oil is the way to go. 

If you want a great all-rounder, I recommend safflower oil. With that high smoke point and neutral flavour, it’s one of the most versatile options out there. Plus, it was the first oil on the market to have a 4.5 health star rating. So it ticks that box in terms of incorporating healthy oils into our diets.

The final word on the good oil

In years gone by, oils have had a bad rap. Often associated with deep-fried food, we are encouraged to eliminate oil from our diets. But not only are the unsaturated fats found in many oils an important part of your diet, but they can also have a really positive effect on your health, and they help food taste great. Just make sure you’re picking the right oil for the job. And your body will thank you for it.

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