Smoking points and healthy vs. unhealthy oils

Every oil will eventually be damaged if heated above a certain temperature. Each oil has its own smoke point, the temperature at which the oil begins to be damaged by heat. The word smoke point is a bit deceiving, as you may not see a billow of smoke appear when an oil hits exceeds its smoke point temperature, but the oil will be damaged and begin to form harmful compounds, such as trans fats and other harmful compounds. If you keep heating it, eventually you will see smoke, but by then it was way too late.

I recommend that you have on hand 1-2 oils that you can use for higher heat cooking, such as avocado oil, pecan oil, or ghee. These fats tolerate medium high to high heat cooking. You should also have at least a couple oils that you can use for low heat cooking and for salad dressings, such as extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, and a nut oil of your choice.

The charts below spell out cooking heats and appropriate oils, as well as smoke points and maximum cooking temperatures. The bottom line: Use the right oil, but use it at the right temperature! That’s just plain smart cooking!

Refined cooking oils do tolerate higher heat cooking, yet they have often been harshly treated with heat and chemicals, and they lack the healthy nutrients of unprocessed oils. So, although they are listed in the tables below, I do not recommend that you use these damaged oils. You should always choose unprocessed, unrefined oils instead.

Cooking Heats                                 (°F)                 Appropriate Cooking Oils           

High Heat                                        450-550°            Avocado, Grapeseed, Pecan, Ghee (clarified butter), Extra-light olive

Medium-High Heat                        375-449°             Virgin olive oil, Almond, Hazelnut, Macadamia nut

Medium Heat                                 324-374°             Extra virgin olive oil, Lard, Butter, Coconut

Medium Low Heat                         250-324°             Unrefined sesame seed oil, Unrefined walnut oil

Low Heat                                         225-249°             Pistachio oil

Oils                             Smoke Points (F)      Maximum Cooking Temp

Almond oil                            430°                     Medium-high

Avocado oil                           520°                     High

Avocado oil, (virgin)              400°                     Medium

Butter                                    350°                     Medium

Butter, (clarified)                   485°                     High

Coconut oil, (refined)*          400°                     Medium

Coconut oil, (unrefined)       350°                     Medium-low

Grapeseed oil                       485°                     High

Hazelnut oil                           430°                    Medium-high

Lard                                        380°                    Medium

Macadamia nut oil                400°                    Medium

Olive oil, Virgin                     420°                     Medium-high

Olive oil, Extra Virgin           400°                     Medium

Olive oil, Extra light*           470°                     High

Pecan oil                             470°                      High

Pistachio oil                        250°                      Low

Sesame oil, (unrefined)     350°                     Medium-low

Walnut oil, (refined)*         400°                     Medium

Walnut oil, (unrefined)      320°                     Medium-low

*Avoid refined, processed oils

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