So, what do YOU fry your porkchops in?
August 2, 2012 12:17 PM   Subscribe

What is the healthiest cooking oil ?

Ralph and I were sitting around and looking at labels...we've gone online....and we are still scratching our heads. What we want to know is what is a healthy or at least safe oil to fry with? We understand some oils are okay at lower temps but once in awhile you just gotta fry a pork chop or something at a higher level. So, what are they saying these days? Also, as an add-on...what is the deal these days with coconut fat?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies to Food & Drink (39 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Coconut fat is monounsaturated, and the verdict these days seems to be that it's one of the best kinds of fat for you. It is also safe for high-heat cooking, due to its high smoke point. (It's also totally delicious.)
posted by restless_nomad at 12:21 PM on August 2, 2012 [10 favorites]

Pork chops are best fried in pork fat.

The deal with coconut fat these days is that under the impression of low-carbing and related research, parameters are shifting (again). So, all of a sudden, sunflower seed oil (for example) isn't all that healthy as it used to be, and other oils re-enter the ring. We fry some stuff in rapeseed oil, other in coconut oil, and quite a lot in pork fat.
posted by Namlit at 12:22 PM on August 2, 2012

We use coconut oil here quite a bit. It smells pretty good but doesn't impart much of a taste to the food (as I expected it wood). We've also been known to use peanut oil for deep frying once in a while. The go-to for nearly everything else is olive oil, unless (as pointed out above), the meat has enough fat in it to render down and fry (bacon, etc).
posted by jquinby at 12:30 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a lot of different parameters here but rapeseed/canola is good for high temps; low in saturated fat; high in monounsaturated fat; high in omega 3's; and it's not particularly expensive.
posted by ftm at 12:35 PM on August 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Do you have a cite for coconut oil having high monounsaturated fat, restless_nomad? According to Wikipedia it's actually lowest among all oils for monounsaturated fat, and highest for saturated fat.

My personal favorite is canola oil because it has a high smoke point but is low in saturated fats.
posted by TungstenChef at 12:36 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here at casa 26.2 we are frying things in butter.

We fry very few foods. Because butter tastes good we use much less of it compared to frying in a less tasty fat. The studies on fats are sometimes contradictory. We opt of using less fat overall by picking one that we think imparts the greatest flavor for the smallest amount.

It's not exclusively about the fat you select. How much of it you use is a factor.
posted by 26.2 at 12:38 PM on August 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Actually I have read that frying in canola oil at high temps has been linked to , of all things, lung cancer (inhaling the smoke would be the problem.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:40 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Rice bran oil has a high smoke point, fat composition similar to peanut oil, and a neutral flavor. You can find it dirt cheap in some Chinese markets.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:41 PM on August 2, 2012

Response by poster: Also Ralph is asking me to ask you how corn oil ranks....he's worried about price as well.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:41 PM on August 2, 2012

I'm sorry, I misspoke. I was thinking of coconut oil being high in medium-chain triglycerides, which have a bunch of potential health benefits. That's what I get for posting pre-caffeine.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:47 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

So, I can't speak to the health aspect, but I can speak to what to use for pork chops. One of the things you want want to look for is the smoke point (the figures are pretty approximate, I use the chart as a more of a grouping of oils than "X will smoke at EXACTLY 350 degrees"). For pork chops, etc. I use a tiny bit of canola oil. Which is cheap, flavorless, and has a high enough smoke point (400 according to the chart), to handle that. If you're looking for ways to cook with less fat, depending on your pan (I usually use cast iron), you can get away with brushing it on the meat, rather than putting it in the pan.

One note: Canola oil's good for most pan cooking, but I wouldn't 't use it for stir-fry or high temperature sauteing, that needs to be something like peanut, or sesame oil (or I guess some of the more refined Olive oils, but for whatever reason I hardly ever use that outside of dressings) which have higher smoke points still.

Corn's smoke point is about on par with sesame or peanut, I've never used it.
posted by Gygesringtone at 12:49 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

The that being olive oil in general, not more refined olive oil.
posted by Gygesringtone at 12:58 PM on August 2, 2012

My preference is to use extra virgin olive oil for most things. It's pricy, but it combines health benefit with flavor very well. And, the general opinions about its health impact haven't dropped much since the Greeks invented Democracy.

For a more neutral oil that's also well thought-of, try flax seed oil. Outside of those, I'll occasionally use butter when I'm throwing caution to the wind.
posted by Citrus at 12:59 PM on August 2, 2012

I'm feeling very French as the first person (on preview, darn, Gygesringtone beat me!) to answer "olive oil".

There are different types; some more bitter than others, some very smooth and buttery-tasting. Extra virgin is always preferable, and it's also a good idea to know exactly where it's from. About a decade ago, there was a tizzy in France when some "bottled in France" extra virgin olive oils were discovered to be the cheap, least-desirable leftovers from factories in Spain, and some had even gone rancid. To make a long story short, it should say where it was milled, not just bottled. I'm pretty darn lucky to live in a city with ancient olive groves still being used; Nice's olive oil tastes as if the sun decided to take liquid form and cloak itself in the best buttery goodness.

From the Wikipedia article on olive oil:
As they are the least processed forms of olive oil, extra virgin or virgin olive oil have more monounsaturated fatty acids than other olive oil. These types also contain more polyphenols, which may have benefits for the heart. [...] There is a large body of clinical data to show that consumption of olive oil can provide heart health benefits such as favourable effects on cholesterol regulation and LDL cholesterol oxidation, and that it exerts antiinflamatory, antithrombotic, antihypertensive as well as vasodilatory effects both in animals and in humans. Additionally, olive oil protects against heart disease as it controls the "bad" levels of LDL cholesterol and raises levels of the "good" cholesterol, HDL.

There's a comparison chart with other oils in that article too. It has more monounsaturated fats than any except soybean and safflower, which aren't that much higher. It is, how ever, much higher than canola oil and has nearly twice as much monounsaturated fat as peanut oil. It also has the highest amount of oleic acid, which does good things.
posted by fraula at 1:01 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like olive oil and ghee (clarified butter - no milk solids) for low-medium temp pan cooking and I prefer expeller-pressed grapeseed oil for high heat cooking.

The most important thing to look for are oils are have not been extracted with the use of hexane (a very toxic solvent derived from petroleum). American companies don't have to label that they use hexane, but most all mainstream brands do. Look for labels that say that their oils are expeller-pressed. I know Spectrum does as do some other companies.

I don't like canola oil, it goes rancid/oxidated very quickly and I find that it smells and tastes "off".
posted by quince at 1:07 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

For low temp stuff, I usually use olive oil. For high temp stuff, I use ghee; delicious, nutty, buttery taste with a higher smoke point than peanut oil or lard. Decent quality olive oil is pretty cheap at Costco; ghee is a reasonable price at an Indian market, or you can make it yourself from butter fairly trivially.
posted by KathrynT at 1:08 PM on August 2, 2012

I'm nthing the coconut oil. Beyond what restless_nomad has pointed out, coconut oil is a great source of lauric acid which is antibacterial and only found elsewhere in goat's milk and human breast milk. Also coconut oil, has hardly any Omega-6s in it. Most seed oils are loaded with Omega-6 fats. Basically, in the Western diet, we suffer from an overabundance of Omega-6 and a lack of Omega-3s (found in fish, krill, algae, seaweed and flaxseed). Anything you can do to reverse that ratio, results in a happier heart, a slimmer body, and a more robust immune system. So that's where using coconut oil as your primary cooking oil in conjunction with taking fish oil supplements or eating lots of fatty fish, comes in as a healthy oil. FYI, it's solid at temps below 76 F, so you'll have to scoop it out of the jar when it's not summertime.

Also red palm oil, basically unrefined palm oil, has a large number of antioxidants including beta-carotene, lycopene, and Coq10 in it. Imparts a light red color to food and has a strong nutty taste to it. Used really often in West African and Brazilian cooking but you can make some mean scrambled eggs with it.
posted by caveatz at 1:15 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think this (unfortunately) depends entirely on the nutrition paradigm of the answerer, so you're going to have a tough time finding an oil everybody agrees is best. Pretty much everyone is going to agree on olive oil. Aside from that, you're going to get a split between low-fat and low-carb/paleo people. The low-fat people are probably going to think that you want to use canola oil if you aren't using olive oil and not use very much oil overall. The low-carb/paleo people are going to think you want to use coconut oil, butter/ghee, and lard if you aren't using olive oil and that you want to avoid seed oils like the plague, and that dietary fat is pretty great for you.

FWIW, in my house, we cook with olive oil (Costco sells a giant jug of light olive oil that is fine for my palate and has a fairly high smoke point) butter, lard and sometimes coconut oil.

I think lard is making a comeback. It is a superb cooking fat. If you live somewhere that isn't drenched in artisanal food hipsters, you might be able to get your hands on leaf lard from pastured hogs at reasonable prices. Rending leaf lard is easy. Stick tubs of it in the freezer and it lasts practically forever.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 1:55 PM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

I use coconut oil for a lot of things now, but for things I only need a little bit of oil for I have a bottle and Misto of olive at hand.

I only use butter for pretty low heats, or mounting/dressing at the end of cooking.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:04 PM on August 2, 2012

Best answer: For cooking at low to moderate temperatures, use butter or olive oil.

For high heat cooking i.e. frying or searing steaks and burgers, use coconut oil. Or, hell, go crazy and use lard. It's good for you (I'm being serious).

Vegetable oils -- in particular canola oil (canola is a type of rapeseed btw) and peanut oil -- are frequently used for high heat cooking but they are loaded with omega-6 fatty acids that are inflammatory to you and contribute to heart disease and cancer. Avoid these.
posted by imagineerit at 2:40 PM on August 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: ALL HAIL KING LARD.

In the morning, everything is cooked in bacon grease, which is basically bacon-flavored lard. Eggs, pancakes, crepes, waffles, scrambles, etc. It's magical. For really anything else (except salad), lard works as well or better than anything else. Alas, my wife has a mental block about eating anything made with lard, and I have difficulty lying to her, so I don't get to use it very much at home.

I do use a lot of coconut oil. It's essentially vegan lard. The subtle coconut flavor doesn't always work, but sometimes it's just the thing.

Grapeseed (different from rapeseed) oil is my go-to for salads and for any sautéing/frying where coconut flavor would be unwelcome. It's wonderfully neutral, and has a pretty high smoke point.

Ghee is something I've been meaning to experiment with.

When we have it, olive oil is used for salads and for drizzling on top of certain items. I find that it goes rancid rather quickly, though. You people really cook with it all the time?

Another special treat: frying with tallow. This is how french fries were meant to taste. Pan frying steaks or burgers in beef fat is heavenly.
posted by sportbucket at 3:06 PM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

My preferences: organic butter, organic ghee, coconut oil.
Acceptable second stringers: sunflower oil, palm oil, and olive oil.

Corn oil is high in linoleic acid, which is readily combined by the body into arachidonic acid. In other words, it is moderately pro-inflammatory. I am a big fan of corn but I try to avoid corn oil. It isn't a showstopper like some other oils, but, for me, it is kind of in the dog house because my medical condition is an inflammatory condition.
posted by Michele in California at 3:21 PM on August 2, 2012

You cannot use olive oil or butter for higher temps, they have a low smoke point and will just make things taste gross and soggy if you want them actually fried. Roast potatoes, for eg, do not work with olive oil. I would be ok with using olive oil for pork chops, though, if I was just brushing the chops then frying them, rather than putting the oil in the pan then putting the chops then. For regular, everyday, crispy pan frying - canola, peanut or corn oil is your best bet.
posted by goo at 3:39 PM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

*putting the chops IN, not then. Bah
posted by goo at 3:40 PM on August 2, 2012

And if I was to cook pork chops, specifically? I would brush them with olive oil then put them in an unoiled cast iron frypan.
posted by goo at 3:42 PM on August 2, 2012

For things like deep-frying etc where I don't want a flavour, I personally use canola for its high smoke point and omega 3 content. In general, most Western diets have far too much omega 6 content (olive oil, any animal fats), and far too little omega 3 content (fish, linseed/flax, canola). The health benefits of a higher omega 3 content are multitude and have been established for years. I am unsure how much the small use of canola would help in this respect.
posted by smoke at 4:04 PM on August 2, 2012

I'm a big fan of grapeseed oil--high smoke point, flavorless, and high in poly unsaturated fat.
posted by donovan at 4:23 PM on August 2, 2012

I am unsure how much the small use of canola would help in this respect.

You know, I've been thinking about this, and honestly, the amount of (added) fat that you're going to get from searing pork chops is minimal compared to the amount that might be in the side dishes. Especially if it's brushed on. If you're pan frying them and have the oil hot enough, it shouldn't really add that much fat either. the little bubbles you see coming off the food actually push the grease away so none gets in. If you don't have it hot enough, then the bubbles (water from the outer layer of the chop and the breading) don't form quickly enough to push all the grease out.

I just realized that I assumed St. Alia meant seared, and she could have meant pan fried. To be clear: canola's also good for pan frying, although many people prefer peanut oil for both that and deep frying.

If you're interested in lower fat cooking, I absolutely LOVE "A New Way to Cook" by Sally Schneider. It's got lots of ways to cut fat in recipes, but the book is about how to cook REALLY GOOD food, healthier, not how to cook healthier food (if that makes sense). It's absolutely packed full of cool techniques and ideas on how to use them. I've had it for years and am still finding cool new things to try.
posted by Gygesringtone at 4:46 PM on August 2, 2012

Take note - those who say olive oil are wrong! Olive oil is tasty, but it is well known that the ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fats is important for general health. The American diet has way too much Omega 6 as is, and olive oil is full of it. Most polyunsaturated oils are far too high in Omega 6. It is difficult to maintain a nearly 50/50 Omega 3-Omega 6 ratio if you're using many standard cooking oils.

For cooking, I use any form of high oleic sunflower oil. It's the best you can do for fat ratios, and it has a nice mild flavor. For frying things, sharp olive-y flavor doesn't matter as much as when you're making salad or dipping bread. Using a high oleic oil, which is high in monounsaturated fat instead of polyunsaturated fat, can help keep your Omega 3 and Omega 6 in a favorable ratio.

Here is a page about it. Here it is for sale online.
posted by kellybird at 6:11 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh I forgot to mention, high oleic oil can withstand high heat.
posted by kellybird at 6:13 PM on August 2, 2012

There's a ton of conflicting information out there about everything. Very little is conclusive. In my personal opinion, very little is worth worrying about,oif you're cooking for yourself and eating mainly whole foods.

Anyways, St. Alia, since you asked about corn, I remembered that America's Test Kitchen had a segment on neutral oils. I believe they paywall the specific results - as far as brands - but the corn vs. canola vs. etc observations are wide open :) These refer to taste, not health, but you might be interested nonetheless.
(Spoiler: strangely, they found canola to be more neutral unheated and corn to be too strong tasting, but at temperature, corn became more neutral.)
posted by ftm at 7:00 PM on August 2, 2012

I use peanut oil for frying/fryingish, though I've heard coconut is good, too.

It seems refined peanut oil has a higher smoke point than coconut, though. That's good, I guess?

I have not noticed any "peanutty" taste to the food as a result. I will say that I'm not much of a taster, but I do love peanuts, so I think I would taste it if it were there.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 8:27 PM on August 2, 2012

When you say fry do you mean deep fry? Because otherwise I season my pork chops and then drop them into a skillet with no additional oil. (Unless I deglaze the pan in which case I, ahem, drop some butter and beer in there.)
posted by NailsTheCat at 8:38 PM on August 2, 2012

I dislike canola for high temps. To me, it gets a distinctive fishy taste/flavor. Corn oil seems to do OK. For generic cooking, grapeseed is the one I'm using most these days, followed by sunflower. And of course, butter or lard simply cannot be substituted in some dishes.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:26 PM on August 2, 2012

Response by poster: A lot of wonderful answers here-a lot to think about.

I did mark two best answers, but one of them mainly because, well, bacon.

If anyone else wants to weigh in here, I will certainly continue to monitor this thread. I am certainly concerned about the Omega 3/ Omega 6 ratio along with other health issues-but taste matters as well.

(oh and being my age it is rather amusing to see coconut fat, butter and lard make a complete cycle. I long ago quit buying margarine and think we are the better for it.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:48 AM on August 3, 2012

I asked a question very recently, and one comment linked to a summary of nutritional information. The problem is this is food: talking about "adding a little bit of butter" sounds so tasty that you forget you're asking a health question. Coconut milk is also natural, so it must be healthy, right?

According to the summary both coconut milk/oil and butter are definitely bad (saturated fat). The recommendation was to use olive oil instead.
posted by devnull at 6:31 AM on August 3, 2012

I don't think the science is necessarily done on this but this popular, confident declaration that lard and other saturated fats are good for you and that popular vegetable-based replacements are actually bad for you is not an uncontroversial and is far from generally accepted. I've said this many times and in many ways but for all it's Yay Science cheerleading Metafilter has a wierd love for alternative dietary wisdom. We love the narrative that all that stuff we thought about food before was wrong. Like most simplistic narratives it is probably a lot more complicated.

Most dietary science still thinks that a lot of saturated fat is bad for you. Omega-6 is an essential fatty acid that we absolutely require in our diet and its health risks are disputed. Is lard a health food? Maybe not.

In my book the best way to get excess fats of all sorts out of your diet is to displace more processed food. A very little of this will easily forgive whatever you may choose to fry your porkchops in.
posted by nanojath at 8:27 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I limit processed food at home but haven't eliminated it fwiw. Not. Saying a ton of fats is good but as far as I am concerned margarine is frankenfood. I love olive oil but it won't work for my (Rare) country fried pork chop.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:53 AM on August 3, 2012

I'll be honest, I completely ignored the health part of this question, so I guess I didn't really address what you asked for.

My reading of the science (I was a classics/art major, so take this with an "unhealthy" amount of salt) is that we really don't know very much about the links between dietary fat and heart disease (or obesity, for that matter). Gary Taubes raises some interesting questions, but Michael Pollan's take seems much more sensible: eat food. Fat is food. Crisco and margarine aren't food. Beyond that, go with what tastes the best.
posted by sportbucket at 10:59 AM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

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