Last Updated: May 21, 2020
Since we’re all in the kitchen a lot more these days, we hope our Produce Explained series has helped many of you with distinguishing different pantry staples from one another. It also is a great time to educate ourselves on different produce properties so we’re in better control of the food we eat, and how we cook it.
With that said, we know that oil is one of the basic ingredients in so many dishes, mostly savoury, and at times, even sweets. But have you ever stopped to think about the types of oils out there?
We’re breaking down 11 different oils that you can find in our supermarkets, so you can show off your slick knowledge of this common ingredient the next time someone asks, “What’s the difference between vegetable oil and corn oil? Aren’t they essentially the same?”
As its name suggests, vegetable oil is a plant-based oil and is typically a blend of canola, corn, soybean, safflower, palm, and sunflower oils. It also happens to be the most commonly used cooking oil in many households.
Vegetable oils are highly refined and processed, which means they not only lack flavour, but also nutrients. But it also means that manufacturers can slip any kind of plant-based oil to create their own recipe for vegetable oil—something not everyone might be comfortable with.
Processed oils, such as vegetable oil, have been pushed past their heat tolerance and have become rancid in the processing. Also, they sometimes cause indirect harm to the environment; for example, especially palm oil is associated with more degradation of land for production.
As vegetable oil is a neutral-tasting oil, its uses are very versatile. They can be used for sautéing, deep-frying, or even making salad dressings.
Price: S$2 – S$12
Sesame oil is also a type of vegetable oil but it’s of high-quality and derived from sesame seeds. It happens to be one of the oldest oilseed crops.
The oil is obtained by pressing the roasted oilseeds and consumed as a naturally flavoured oil sans refining. Sesame oil can also be extracted without roasting, using pressing, which is then being sold as ‘virgin oil’.
Sesame oil contains both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, though it’s not especially high in other nutrients. However, it is a beneficial healthy fat to add to your diet, given its antioxidant content and anti-inflammatory properties which may benefit your heart, joints, skin, hair, and more.
Given its potent nutty flavour, a little goes a long way in a recipe. Since it has a higher smoke point, it can be used for high-heat recipes like stir-frying in a wok and grilling. Using it for vegetable dishes is especially handy, especially for Asian dishes where umami and nutty notes are prized.
Price: S$3 – S$20
Rice bran oil may not be the most commonly used or seen oil in your supermarket aisle but in fact, it’s an oil that you should consider using more often, given its health benefits and multiple uses. It’s extracted from the hard outer brown layer of rice called ‘chaff’ (rice husk).
Rice bran itself is 15% oil and starts with the removal of the husk from rice grain, which results in brown rice grain. The brown bran layer and rice germ stripped off, and oil is extracted from the bran and germ in a two-step process.
The second part occurs when the oil is refined and separated into two parts—a clear liquid, which is extra cold filtered (which means the hard fats or saturated fats have been removed) for maximum purity, and a hard fraction (i.e. rice bran). The remaining hard fraction is filtered, resulting in what we know as rice bran oil.
It’s considered a healthier oil with a balanced fatty acid composition which includes saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (one of the healthy fats, along with monounsaturated fat).
It is also trans-fat-free (trans-fat is known to raise your bad cholesterol) and is loaded with Vitamin E, which is a powerful antioxidant and has antimutagenic properties that are known to reduce the risk of cancer. In addition, it works as an immunity-boosting agent.
Due to its high smoke point of 232°C and mild flavour, it’s suitable for high-temperature cooking methods such as stir-frying and deep-frying. It can easily be a healthier alternative to vegetable oil, given its similar properties and enhanced health benefits.
Price: S$7 – S$30
Known as a type of vegetable oil, corn oil is highly-processed, making it a not-so-great choice to cook with, especially since it’s mostly made from genetically modified (GMO) corn.
However, due to its other properties like a high smoke point and its ability to be used in many industrial processes—other than cooking—it’s a relatively popular oil in the market.
Corn oil is one of the few cooking oils that also serve multiple uses in the manufacturing industry. It is used as an industrial cleaner and lubricant, as well as to make fuel for gasoline- and diesel-powered engines. Plus, it’s included in many cosmetic products, liquid soaps, and shampoos.
Health-wise, it contains linoleic acid, an Omega-6 fat that is known to be harmful if consumed in excess.
Due to its high smoke point, it’s versatile and ideal for deep-frying, sautéing, making salad dressings, marinades, and baking.
Price: From S$8.90 onwards
Just like sesame oil, peanut oil is flavourful and a type of vegetable oil. Derived from peanuts, there are actually several types in the market—refined peanut oil, virgin or cold-pressed peanut oil, roasted peanut oil, and peanut oil blends.
Do note that although peanut oil, in general, is safe for those with peanut allergies, unrefined peanut oil or roasted peanut oil may still pose an allergenic danger.
Only those labelled as ‘refined’, which includes the varieties most often used in food service operations, have had all of their allergenic compounds removed. However, if you’re still wary of triggering an allergic reaction, it’s best to stay away altogether.
Roasted peanut oil has its own distinct flavour and can be easily used to add flavour to a dish. It’s also exceptional in that it does not absorb flavours from the food it’s fried with, meaning that multiple food types can be fried in the same batch of oil without cross-contamination of flavours. For this reason, peanut oil has become a top choice in large-scale food operations where multiple food types are often cooked in a fryer before the oil is replaced.
With its high smoking point of about 223°C, it’s popular for deep-frying. It can also be used for sautéing, or simply for adding flavour to stir-fry dishes.
Price: From S$10 onwards
Often claimed as a “healthy oil”, there are, in fact, four types of sunflower oil. These include high linoleic (68% linoleic acid), mid-oleic (65% oleic acid), high oleic (82% oleic acid), and high stearic/high oleic (72% oleic acid, 18% stearic acid).
What this means is that whether or not sunflower oil is really “healthier” really depends on how it reacts to heat, as different types react differently.
Most reported health benefits of sunflower oil are related to the high oleic variety. As such, some studies have suggested that consuming high oleic sunflower oil may help reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and raising HDL (good) cholesterol.
High stearic/high oleic sunflower oil contains stearic acid, a saturated fatty acid that’s solid at room temperature and has different culinary applications. This type of sunflower oil is not meant for home cooking and is instead used in packaged foods, in cosmetic formulations, ice creams, chocolate, and industrial frying.
However, you may still use sunflower oil at home for frying vegetables, as well as shallow-frying steaks and fish. It can also be used as a substitute for butter when baking cakes and muffins.
Price: S$4 – S$20
Contrary to what some may believe, different labels of olive oil aren’t based on the type of olive oil, but by the process that the oil is extracted from olives (as well as by the additives, and the oil’s level of free oleic acid).
As for extra virgin olive oil, it is an unrefined oil and the highest quality olive oil you can buy. There are very specific standards olive oil has to meet to receive the label ‘extra virgin’.
Extra virgin olive oil contains no more than 1% oleic acid and typically has a golden-green colour, with a distinct fruity flavour and a pungent peppery finish. However, if a recipe calls for extra virgin olive oil or regular olive oil, chances are you can use them interchangeably with little to no real difference in taste—except for cooking, as extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoking point and can burn easily.
Made from pure, cold-pressed olives, this high-grade oil is one of the most prized oils you can keep in your kitchen. Its main purpose isn’t necessarily for cooking with but as a mild flavouring to dishes. Because it’s ‘extra virgin’, it’s also healthier than regular olive oil in terms of fewer chemicals and free radicals, as well as higher in antioxidants.
Since extra virgin oil has a low smoking point, it’s best to use it for dipping, drizzling on salads and bread, baking and low heat cooking.
Price: S$8 – S$80
Coconut oil is made by pressing the fat from its white flesh. About 84% of its calories come from saturated fat (for comparison, 14% of olive oil’s calories are from saturated fat).
Just like butter and lard, coconut oil is solid at room temperature, with a long shelf life and the ability to withstand high cooking temperatures. In recent years, it’s also been touted as a “healthy fat”, with claims that it’s better for your heart and helps with weight loss, among many other benefits.
However, before you start consuming spoonfuls of it, be reminded that coconut oil is high in calories. Best to stick to no more than 13g a day, according to the American Heart Association, which is about a tablespoon’s worth of coconut oil.
It has many applications that aren’t food-related. It has been used in hair grooming products, cosmetics, lotions, and even soaps.
In the F&B industry, you may find it in baked goods, pastries, and sautés, especially with its prized nut-like quality and subtle sweetness.
Price: S$9 – S$40
Did you know that almond oil is also commonly known as sweet almond oil? The oil is extracted by pressing the fruit or drupe of the deciduous almond tree—not from an almond (seed), if that’s what you originally thought.
There are three types of fat in almond oil: saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fat. High consumption of saturated fat is commonly linked to heart disease, so be mindful of how much almond oil you ingest. For your quick reference, almond oil provides about one gram of saturated fat per tablespoon.
Polyunsaturated fat has a positive effect on the cardiovascular system, so they are considered to be healthy fats, while monounsaturated fat is believed to increase your HDL cholesterol or “good” cholesterol. But as with all food, moderation is key.
Almond oil has a medicinal history of usage in ancient Chinese, Ayurvedic and Greco-Persian communities to treat dry skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. It is also recommended for reducing scarring post-surgery and for luscious locks by smoothing out frizziness.
In the kitchen, almond oil can be used to heat foods, although it might not be the best oil to use for high-temperature cooking. It has uses in salad dressings, marinades, and sauces, and can be an ideal substitute for olive oil.
Price: S$20 – S$35
Pressed from avocado pulp, avocado oil has up to 25% fat and the highest smoke point of all plant-based cooking oils (about 270°C). It consists of more than 50% monounsaturated fat, which means it’s less prone to oxidation.
The unrefined version is typically green in colour with a rich, fatty odour, while the refined version has a yellowish colour and smells mild.
Besides avocado itself being proclaimed as one of the healthiest fruits around, its oil is also ranked as one of the healthier oils. Studies have found avocado oil benefits to include preventing the development of diabetes, high cholesterol, high triglyceride levels, and obesity.
It even has achieved prescription status in France for its ability to reverse the effects of arthritis and ease its symptoms!
Avocado oil’s high smoke point makes it a top choice as a cooking oil that can help you to avoid the free radical release, but be sure to purchase avocado oil that’s pure and of high quality. You can use it in dressings, sauces, or in a sautéed dish.
It can also be applied topically to combat psoriasis.
Price: S$18 – S$30
Grapeseed oil may not be the most common oil around, but it’s gradually gaining popularity given its health benefits like high amounts of polyunsaturated fat and Vitamin E. The oil is processed from the seeds of grapes, which happen to be a byproduct of winemaking.
In the past, wine manufacturers have been left with tons of this useless byproduct, but now, with technological advances, manufacturers can extract the oil from the seeds and make a profit.
This oil is very high in polyunsaturated fats, mainly Omega-6, along with an impressive amount of Vitamin E (an antioxidant that helps prevent cell damage in your body and strengthens your immune system). In fact, grapeseed oil contains about twice as much Vitamin E as olive oil.
Being an oil that’s non-comedogenic, grapeseed oil has many applications for our skin. It can help moisturise, give you that glow you’ve always wanted and even lighten age spots. As 73% of it contains linoleic acid, it has been said to be beneficial in the treatment of acne, allergic reactions and dry and itchy skin.
In the applications of cooking, it has a moderately high smoke point, making it ideal for shallow-frying and sautéing. Grapeseed oil has a mild nutty taste, so it can prove to be a great ingredient to use for salad dressings and dips.
Price: S$8 – S$25
After this (non-exhaustive) list of cooking oils, we hope you make smarter choices about the type of oil you and your family choose, especially since we’re all cooking for ourselves so much during the ‘Circuit Breaker’ period.
Check this handy list, and don’t let your next choice of oil lead you to make poor health choices for your loved ones.