Isn’t an oil an oil?
While cooking oils are a great multi-purpose tool for any kitchen, they’re not created equal. “It’s important to remember that each oil has a unique set of properties, from nutrient status to smoke point, that makes choosing the right one an important decision,” says Sarah Morgan, MS, a functional nutritionist based in Denver, CO. “Oils have different tolerances to light, heat, and oxygen. The most sensitive oils—unsaturated fats—need to be stored and used in a such a way as to protect the beneficial compounds while other, more stable oils—saturated fats—can withstand light, heat, and oxygen.”
Smoke point explained
Different types of oils have different smoke points—the threshold at which the oil becomes unstable. For high-heat cooking, you want a high smoke point. “It’s an oil that is stable under higher temperatures, meaning it won’t get oxidized, smoke, and become rancid and potentially harmful for consumption,” explains Morgan. You know you’ve reached an oil’s smoke point if your pan starts, well, smoking. “What’s happening is that the oil is decomposing or oxidizing and creating carcinogenic, or cancer-causing free radicals that just turned your attempt at healthy cooking into a recipe for cellular damage,” says Chanté Wiegand, ND, and the director of education of The Synergy Comany, a producer of organic supplements.