Well Oiled: A Guide To Cooking Oils

Well Oiled: A Guide To Cooking Oils


I looked in my pantry last week and noted with amusement that I may not be well heeled, but I’m certainly well oiled!

My son is starting to show an interest in cooking, and he asked me a particularly good question, what are all these oils for? I tend to be an intuitive cook and I often go by taste or some stored piece of information that pops into my head when I’m cooking, eg. I just ‘know’ that peanut oil has a high smoke point and is great in Asian food. However, once I started reading up on the uses and benefits of various  cooking oils, I was delighted to find that there’s lots to play with.

Which oils shouldn’t be heated? Which oils are ideal for baking? Which can be used for frying foods?  Here’s a simple guide:


Coconut Oil

Extracted from mature coconuts,  coconut oil has a sweet, nutty flavour and a very distinctive ‘coconut’ scent, unless you use the odourless type.

Greatly resistant to oxidation at high heat, coconut oil is very suitable for high-heat cooking methods like frying.

Health Benefits

Pacific Islanders consider coconut oil to be the cure for all illness. The coconut palm is so highly valued by them as both a source of food and medicine that it is called "The Tree of Life”. Known for its high saturated fat content, coconut oil has been maligned as a ‘bad’ fat, however, this is now in dispute. Lauric acid is now believed to help prevent heart problems like high cholesterol and high blood pressure. The fatty acids in coconut oil metabolize differently and more easily, making it a good source of energy. It is easy to digest and may help in the healthy functioning of the thyroid and endocrine system.


All forms of cooking, especially frying eggs as it has a non-stick effect.

Add to smoothies for texture and healthy fat.

A great vegan alternative to butter.


Grapeseed Oil

Grapeseed oil is extracted from grape seeds, often as a by-product of winemaking! What’s not to love?

Fun fact: approximately 1 ton of grapes = 1 bottle of grapeseed oil.

Grapeseed oil has a high smoking point which makes it ideal for frying, sauteing and baking. Its light, neutral flavour means that it can be used as a base for infusions of garlic, rosemary and other herbs and spices.

Health Benefits

High in polyunsaturated fats such as Omega 6, grapeseed oil is also believed to help with raising healthy HDL cholesterol and lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol.

Rich in antioxidants and Vitamin E


Add to stews, curries and baked goods.

Perfect for deep frying and searing fish.

Perfect for salad dressings as it takes on the flavour of your strongest ingredient.


Hemp Seed Oil

Hemp seed oil, despite its Latin name  cannabis sativa, contains no THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. It is made by cold pressing hemp seeds and has a nutty, somewhat grassy flavour. This oil is not heat resistant or heat stable, so do not heat.

Health Benefits

Hemp seed oil is a great source of omega-3 and 6 essential fatty acids that may help reduce inflammation and helps lower blood pressure.

May be taken medicinally to boost the immune system and brain function.


Add to salads, juices, smoothies and vegetables.

Great as a salad dressing.


Olive Oil

Extracted from ripe olives that have been pressed,  olive oil has a strong flavour, sometimes buttery or peppery.  Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality olive oil produced.

There has been much debate about heat and olive oil, but it has been found to be reasonably heat resistant and stable. It is not suitable for frying (too hot) nor ‘sweet’ baking, as it does have a strong flavour.

Health Benefits

Rich in Omega 3 fatty acids which are believed to help reduce bad LDL cholesterol.

High in oleic acid which reduces inflammation.

It has also been shown to lower blood pressure, which is one of the strongest risk factors for heart disease.


Grilling, sautéing and roasting.

Virgin olive oil is a healthy alternative to butter and margarine.

A key ingredient in Mediterranean cooking.

Its complex flavours make it perfect for salad dressings, vinaigrettes, dipping sauces, spreads, and marinades.


Peanut Oil 

Derived from peanuts, peanut oil has a delicious nutty flavour, that can be mild or strong depending on the processing.

It has an extremely high smoke point which makes it a good oil for frying.

Health Benefits

High in monounsaturated fats.

Contains Vitamin E.

High in antioxidants.


Frying and sauteing, typically used in Asian cooking.

Resistant to rancidity.


Sesame Oil

Extracted from sesame seeds,  sesame oil has a distinctively nutty flavour. It has a high smoke point and is very stable, making it ideal for frying.

Health Benefits

Rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids.

Source of vitamin E.


Perfect for stir- frys, salad dressings, sauces, and searing meat.

Refined or dark sesame oil is used mainly as flavouring, instead of as a cooking oil.

Sesame oil can be used as a daily nutritional supplement.  


Sweet Almond Oil

Extracted from almond kernels,  almond oil has a light, neutral, slightly nutty taste.

It has a high smoke point, and therefore suitable for frying, baking and cooking.

Health benefits

Rich source of vitamin E.

Contains monounsaturated and linoleic fatty acids, Omega 6 and Omega 9.


The slight nuttiness makes it perfect for baking biscuits and muffins.

Also great for end use eg. drizzle over salads, vegetables, dips, pasta etc.


Flaxseed Oil

An ideal Omega 3 supplement for those with fish allergies or who are vegan/vegetarian,  flaxseed oil is a rich source of  healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.

It has a low smoke point so should rather be used as a finishing oil or for low-heat cooking instead of for frying.

Health Benefits

One of the richest natural sources of Omega 3.

Source of lignans.


Drizzle over salads and cooked foods, or add to smoothies.

Can be taken on its own as a supplement.


Pumpkin Seed Oil

Pumpkin seed oil is cold pressed from pumpkin seeds and has a delicious nutty flavour.

It has a low smoke point so is not suitable for frying and cooking, but rather is best used as a finishing oil.

Health Benefits

A rich source of vitamins, minerals and EFAs: A, B1, B2, B6, C, D, E, and K, magnesium, iron, calcium, and Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.


Drizzle over foods and salads. Great as an oil dip for breads or drizzled over potatoes.

Try adding to ice cream for an intensely nutty flavour.


Siberian Pine Nut Oil

Siberian pine nut oil  is cold pressed from pine nuts grown in Northern forests. It has a soft nutty flavor and aroma.

Low smoke point so it is generally used for finishing rather than for cooking or frying.

Health Benefits

Good for digestive disorders, including heartburn and gastritis, IBS and indigestion.

Source of vitamins, minerals, EFAs and Omegas 3 and 6.


Contains pinoletic acid which is an appetite suppressant and lowers cholesterol. 


Use as a dressing over salads, vegetables, dips, pasta etc.


Black Cumin Oil

Black cumin oil, also variously referred to as black seed, kalongi, black caraway or black onion seed, is pressed from the seeds of the  Nigella sativa plant. It has a wealth of benefits which you can read more on  here


Add to salads, juices , smoothies, yoghurts and fresh vegetables, or drizzle over food.

Can be taken on its own as a supplement.


Sunflower Oil

Sunflower oil is perhaps the most well known cooking, baking and ‘general purpose’ oils. It has a neutral taste and smell and is rich in polyunsaturated fats. It can withstand high cooking temperatures.

Health Benefits

Source of Omega 6, vitamins and fatty acid.

High in Vitamin E/

High oleic sunflower oil is boosted in monounsaturated fats too.


Sunflower oil is suitable for all kinds of uses: frying, baking, cooking, making oil infusions, drizzles, etc.

To summarise, here is a handy chart




Jan’s Almond Potatoes

It must be the Irish lass in my genes, but I love potatoes! If you are looking for a slightly different twist on a trusty side dish, try these, you won’t be disappointed.


What you need from the pantry:

2 T  almond oil

2 fresh jalapeno chillies or 1 tsp dried  chilli flakes (optional)

1 knob of ginger finely sliced or ½ tsp  ginger powder

Handful of ground  almonds or crushed almond flakes

2 T fresh coriander or 1 tsp dried  coriander

Saltpepper to taste


1kg new potatoes or medium potatoes quartered

Juice of 1 fresh lemon


  1. Steam/boil the potatoes until     tender (about 20 minutes). Set aside. 
  1. Mix the oil, ginger, almonds, lemon juice & coriander in a large bowl.
  1. Add potatoes & toss until well coated. Season with salt & pepper.
  1. Serve straight away or brown under the grill to add depth to the flavour and colour.

*To ground your almonds, place them in a food processor & pulse until fine or simply get out your chopping board and rolling pin and take out any frustration on them! I do cover them with a tea towel to reduce the mess when I’m having a bash.


Coconut & Carrot Soup

The perfect dinner party impresser! Serve with a carrot twist or toasted coconut flakes for an extra bit of wow factor.


What you need from the pantry:

2-3 T  coconut oil

1 tsp  garlic powder or 2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tsp  ginger powder or a knob of finely grated ginger

1 tin  coconut milk

Chilli flakes and/or coconut flakes for serving

Saltpepper to taste



1 kg carrots, peeled & chopped

1 apple, peeled and chopped

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 medium leeks, thinly sliced

4 cups vegetable stock


  1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy     base pot over medium-high heat.    
  2. Add carrots, apple, onion, leeks, garlic, and ginger & stir to coat in oil.
  3. Season with salt and pepper and keep stirring until the vegetables soften.    
  4. Add stock, coconut milk, and 1 cup of water.    
  5. Bring to a boil, then simmer for approximately 30 minutes. (Veggies need to be tender.)
  6. Blitz batches of the soup in a blender until you have a smooth, creamy texture.

Garnish with carrot curls or toasted coconut flakes.


Baby Marrow Pasta With Basil Pesto


What you need from the pantry:

3 T  grapeseed oil to stir fry marrows

1/2 cup  grapeseed oil for pesto

1 T dried  basil or 2 cups fresh basil leaves

2 T pine nuts or  sunflower seeds

1 tsp  garlic powder or 2 garlic cloves, chopped

Saltpepper to taste


Grated hard cheese to serve (optional)


3 large baby marrows (zucchini)

2 T sliced kalamata olives

1 cup Mozzarella or vegan cheese, grated (optional)

1/8 cup walnuts or  almonds


  1. Slice the marrows length wise into long ribbons with a vegetable peeler and set aside.
  2. Mix all the other ingredients in a blender till thickened.    
  3. Lightly toast the pine nuts or sunflower seeds.

In a large frying pan or wok, lightly fry the marrow ribbons in the grapeseed oil

until just tender.

To serve, drizzle the pesto over the ribbons and sprinkle mozzarella liberally. Garnish with olives and pine nuts /seeds.


Hemp Oil And Garlic Vinaigrette


What you need from the pantry:

1/4 cup  hemp seed oil

1/4 cup  white balsamic vinegar

1 T Dijon mustard

1 tsp  garlic powder or 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Saltpepper to taste



1 lemon squeezed


  1. Whisk all ingredients together.
  2. Set aside for an hour before serving to allow the flavours to infuse.
  3. Shake well before use and drizzle over green salad.


Med-on-a Plate Pasta

The name says it all. You can add any ‘Mediterranean vegetable’ you wish and play with the garlic and herbs to taste.


What you need from the pantry:

1 pkt spaghetti or linguine

1/2 cup extra virgin  olive oil

1/4 cup pitted olives, halved

1 tsp  garlic powder or 3 garlic cloves, crushed

Saltpepper to taste

I tsp  dried basil

Sprinkle of  chilli flakes (optional)


1 cup chopped fresh basil

1 punnet rosa tomatoes, halved

1 pkt spring onions chopped

1 jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained

1/4 cup crumbled feta or vegan cheese

Handful fresh basil leaves

Zest of 1 lemon


  1. Follow package instructions to cook the pasta to al dente with a pinch of salt & a glug of oil.        
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy base frying pan over medium heat and add garlic and salt.
  3. Stir in the dried basil, tomatoes, and spring onions. Sauté over low heat until starting to soften.
  4. Pour the warmed olive oil sauce into the drained pasta and toss to coat thoroughly.    
  5. Add the remaining ingredients, toss and season to taste.    

Serve immediately and top with fresh basil leaves and cheese.


Bok Choi Stir Fry

A tasty, healthy side!


3 T  sesame seed oil

Splash of soy sauce

1 tsp  ginger powder or a knob of finely grated ginger

2-3 bunches Bok Choi

3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and smashed

1 red pepper roughly cut


  1. Cut off the ends of the bok choy then pull leaves apart.
  2. Peel & smash the garlic.
  3. Heat the oil at medium high heat in a large frying pan or wok.    
  4. Add garlic, bok choy, peppers and soy sauce to the wok.    
  5. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

Serve when the white stems are tender.