Cooking with oil doesn't have to be unhealthy! In fact, oils are a great source of unsaturated fat that helps protect your immune system and lower cholesterol.
There are many different kinds of oils out there, from corn oil to argan oil (used a lot in Moroccan food), but just two that you're likely to use about every week: olive oil and vegetable oil.
But really, what is the difference between olive oil and vegetable oil? Well, enough of one that it really does matter when cooking.
Referring to a type of oil as "vegetable oil" is kind of strange because almost every oil, even olive oil, is made from a vegetable. The vegetable oil you find in stores is usually a mix of different vegetables oils from canola to soybeans. It has a very high smoke point which makes it ideal for frying or cooking at high temperatures. Overall it's not as healthy or flavorful as olive oils but it's low price and high smoke point make it an ideal part of any modern kitchen.
Olive oil is the healthiest and most flavor kind of oil you can regularly buy and cook with. There are several varieties you'll see in the store. Extra Virgin is the most flavorful and created from cold pressing pure olives. 'Regular' olive oil is generally a blend of lower quality oil that has been heated and lost much of the fresh olive taste.
In almost all cases, you should use good quality extra virgin olive oil WITHOUT cooking it. The more you cook this oil the less taste it retains. It also has a very low 'smoke point' which means that it can start to burn without too much heat. Don't use extra virgin olive oil for frying, put it in your salads or on top of your pasta at the last minute instead. Regular olive oil has a higher smoke point but we'd still recommend using vegetable oil to fry foods as it's normally much less expensive.
BONUS: Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is the new kid on the block. A decade ago you could only find this in speciality stores but now most major retailers (including Peapod!) carry it. While coconut oil is great for paleo and gluten-free diets it does have a higher level of saturated fat than the other two oils. However, it does offer a really unique taste (try cooking popcorn in it... you'll never go back) that is refreshing when making certain types of foods, especially South Asian cuisine like Thai that already incorporates coconut flavors into dishes.
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