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How to use oils: Everything from frying to finishing

There are no two ways about it: oils are an absolute kitchen necessity. They’re so packed with flavour that adding a splash of oil to your dishes can make all the difference, and on an all-important practical level they stop your food sticking and burning. Our guide will help you know what oil is best for what situation, from finishing off your salad to whipping up a stir-fry. Read on to find out.

  1. Need to know

    How to cook: Every oil has its own smoke point: the temperature at which it starts to burn and break down. At this point it will produce a bitter flavour – so when choosing a cooking oil, it’s important to consider how you’ll use it.

    Refined vs unrefined: In unrefined oils (often labelled as expeller- or cold-pressed), the oil is simply squeezed from its source, retaining more nutrients. Refined oils use chemicals to separate the oil, resulting in a longer shelf life and higher smoke point. Store all oils in a cool, dark place away from the hob.

  2. Olive oil

    The everyday hero, olive oil has a high smoke point and a mild, fruity flavour. Obtained by pressing olives and retaining the oil that is released, the majority of production occurs in Spain, Italy and Greece, with Spain producing about 50% of the world's olive oil.

    Extra-virgin olive oil has a lower smoke point and stronger flavour, making it best for drizzling or salad dressings. Check out this super watercress and charred spring onion salad recipe that has a delicious vinaigrette dressing using olive oil.

    Olive oil is great for frying as its flavour can complement your ingredients, like in this speedy garlic and lemon prawns recipe, where the mild fruitiness of the oil helps keep the garlic and lemon flavours fresh and punchy.

    If you're going down the roasting route, look no further than drizzling and tossing with some root veg, with these sticky whole-roasted carrots staying moist and tender throughout cooking – the perfect side to a great Sunday roast.

    Olive oil is even a great option for baking: if you fancy giving vegan bakes and cakes a go, give our orange, olive oil and thyme cake cake a go. The olive oil keeps the cake mixture moist, but not too dense

    Olive oil
  3. Coconut oil

    This tropical oil is made by pressing coconut flesh: refined varieties are typically made from dried coconut, called copra, while virgin coconut oil comes from fresh coconut flesh. Both are solid at room temperature, melting at 24°C, though refined versions have a high smoke point and a milder flavour. Although touted as a superfood in recent years, coconut oil is very high in saturated fat, so is best used in moderation.

    Being solid at room temperature makes coconut oil great in dairy-free baking. It has a delicate, fruity taste too, chocolate and coconut torte.

    If you fancy a creamy, savoury dish that makes use of coconut oil, this coconut chicken soup is the one for you. Enhancing this traditional Southeast-Asian broth with added coconut flavour makes this soup is an ideal winter warmer.

    Coconut oil
  4. Sunflower oil

    A neutral flavour and high smoke point makes sunflower oil a kitchen favourite for high-heat cooking.

    A great option for stir-frying, heat the oil in a wok until smoking hot and cook the ingredients until cooked through and crispy, like in this speedy broccoli and beef stir-fry that is ready in just 20 minutes. Perfecting your stir-fry comes down to which oil you use, we'd recommend an oil with a high smoke point like vegetable oil, sunflower oil or even avocado oil.

    Sunflower oil is also a great option for frying, making it easy to get crispy on the outside, but still succulent and tender results. Take a look at this beer battered fish with mushy peas for some frying inspiration.

    If you want to bake, look no further than these delicious and healthy carrot cake squares. Adding sunflower oil helps the sponge strike the perfect balance between being light, fluffy and moist. 

    Sunflower oil
  5. Avocado oil

    Although not as widely used, refined avocado oil has a higher smoke point than any other cooking oil: 45°C higher than sunflower. Unrefined versions have a deeper colour and a smoke point a little below sunflower oil. It has a mild, grassy flavour and is typically high in ‘good’ monounsaturated fats. Avocado is a great choice for stir-frying, roasting and for making tasty salad dressings.

    Try it in place of olive oil in this blueberry and feta grain salad recipe or drizzle on these tuna and sweetcorn fishcakes.

    Avocado oil
  6. Toasted sesame oil

    A staple in Asian cooking, toasted sesame oil has a unique rich, nutty flavour. As it’s already toasted, heating it too much will make it bitter, so it’s best used for its flavour rather than to cook with.

    Adding sesame oil to a variety of dishes can have a different impact on the flavour – adding to this sweet cabbage slaw as part of the dressing will add to the freshness of the raw veg, whilst the nutty taste is a perfect pairing to the slaw's crisp texture.

    Alternatively, finishing off a stir-fry with a drizzle of sesame oil helps eccentuate all of the deep, umami flavours. In this Yaki soba, the sesame oil pairs perfectly with soy sauce to give a punchy savoury seasoning to the dish.

    Toasted sesame oil
  7. Walnut oil

    Walnut oil has a buttery, softly savoury taste. Its low smoke point means it’s better suited to salads rather than cooking, and it’s best stored in the fridge.

    Great for using in salad dressings and sauces, for an extra-nutty flavour, why not try it in this basil and walnut pesto? Simply replace 2 tbsp olive oil with walnut oil to add an extra smooth, buttery flavour to this super pasta sauce.

    Walnut oil
  8. Rapeseed oil

    Also called canola, the refined version of this versatile oil can be used in a similar way to sunflower. It’s higher in 'good' monounsaturated fats than sunflower oil but has a slightly lower smoke point.

    Due to its neutral taste, rapeseed oil is useful in baking as it doesn't overpower the taste of the bake. Have a look at this garlic and rosemary focaccia-style bread – an ideal bake as the strong flavour pairing of the garlic and rosemary may be spoiled by any other fat.

    The same applies when frying food – delicate, flavourful scallops are best fried in rapeseed oil so that the flavour of the seafood isn't changed. If you want a dish with maximum flavour and texture without an over-powering oil, try out these scallops, prawns and pancetta with beurre blanc.

    Rapeseed oil