Stocking Your Kitchen: A Guide to Oils for Cooking

If you're ever in the grocery store and daunted by the options for different cooking oils, then you're not alone. What should you use when cooking? What should you finish a salad with? What goes best drizzled on top of pasta?  Much of this is a matter of taste, but here are my suggestions for a few cooking oils and how best to use them.

Vegetable Oil or Canola Oil: Though not made from the same ingredients, both of these oils are great for general cooking use because of their high smoke points. Mild in flavor and able to withstand high temperatures, choose either oil to have on hand in your kitchen.

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: Food Scientist Harold McGee cautions against using olive oil when cooking, because it can affect the flavor. Instead, reserve a high-quality extra-virgin olive oil for finishing dishes or making salad dressing. The flavors in olive oil can vary depending on where they were grown, how they were processed, and the maturity of the olive before pressed. Keep a couple on hand if you cook a lot and taste-test to find your favorite.

Seed and Nut Oils: The variety of seed and nut oils available is impressive, but where should a novice start? Walnut oil is a fantastic complement to hearty salads, try mixing it in place of olive oil in your basic vinaigrette. Pumpkinseed oil, popular in Austria, is a delicious finishing oil for soups and salads. Try drizzling a teaspoon or two on top of your favorite soup for an elegant garnish.

What are your favorite oils for cooking?

Photo: cottonseedoil on flickr