While I’m sure we’re all on a first-name basis with Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, what about all the other types of cooking oils out there?  Here’s a (very) short and sweet explanation of some of the differences in oils and what to use them for:

Fats are called ‘lipids’ and are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen like other organic molecules, and their shape makes them insoluble in water.  The molecular chains of unsaturated fats are straight, while mono- and polyunsaturated fat chains are branched.  Our bodies need all three kinds, but in different amounts.  For example, lipids are a component of our cell membranes, but too much of the saturated kind (because of its straight shape) can make them less flexible and therefore not function correctly.  Here’s one way to remember the difference between them: Saturated fats are solids at room temperature, like butter; Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature but solidify when cold; and Polyunsaturated fats (found mostly from grains and seeds) remain liquid even in cold temperatures.


-Olive Oil: This ‘go-to’ oil for most of us is made up of 73% monounsaturated fatty acids and lends a fantastic flavor for both cooking and finishing.  Use less expensive brands for cooking and save small-batch, fruitier flavors for drizzling on salads.  Fat profile: 14% sat, 73% mono, 11% poly

-Canola Oil: This oil has perhaps the lowest saturated fat content (only 7%), a high smoke point and a neutral flavor which make it a great multi-tasker.  Fat profile: 7% sat, 64% mono, 28% poly

-Peanut Oil: This high-heat cooking oil is excellent for frying , has a neutral flavor and contains reservatrol, which is a heart-healthy anti-oxidant found in red wine.  Fat profile: 17% sat, 46% mono, 32% poly

-Walnut Oil: Use as a finishing oil, as it’s flavor and Omega-3 count (found in the polyunsaturated fatty acids) won’t hold up to heat.  Fat profile: 9% sat, 23%mono, 63% poly

-Toasted Sesame Oil: Use sesame oil for it’s intense flavor in stir-fries or dressings, but don’t cook with it!  Use a high-heat oil (like peanut or canola) for sauteeing, then drizzle with sesame oil.  Fat profile: 14% sat, 40% mono, 42% poly

-Pistachio Oil: This expensive oil is lauded for its Vitamin E content and can even be found in cosmetics. It has a distinct flavor and should be used as a finishing oil or in dressings.  Fat profile: 14% sat, 49% mono, 33% poly

-Coconut Oil: Unlike the other oils, this fat is solid at room temperature, which makes it an excellent butter substitute in vegan baking.  It’s found in many Asian cuisines and imparts a subtle coconut flavor. It can also be warmed until liquid and used as a skin-softening treatment.  Fat profile: 86% sat, 6% mono, 2% poly

Recipe: Olive Oil Cake

(I’ve been eye-ing this recipe in my favorite cookbook–Good to the Grain–for awhile now, so I guess I should make it soon since I’m recommending it to you!  It isn’t often that oils get to play star roles in recipes, so this is worth a try.  It does call for spelt flour, which is surprisingly easy to come by these days.  Look for it in the ‘natural foods’ section at the grocery store if you can’t find it in the baking aisle.)

3/4 C spelt flour

1 1/2 C all-purpose flour

3/4 C sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp salt

3 eggs

1 C olive oil

3/4 C whole milk

1 1/2 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped

5 ounces bittersweet (70% cacao) chocolate, roughly chopped

1.  Preheat oven to 350 and coat a 9-inch cake pan with olive oil.

2.  Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, tossing any of the caught grains and salt back in.

3.  In another bowl, whisk the eggs and add the olive oil, milk and rosemary.  Fold into the dry mix until just combined.  Gently stir in chocolate pieces.  Pour into prepared pan.

4.  Bake for about 3-40 minutes until top is domed and golden brown.  A toothpick inserted into the middle should come out clean.


Holly R. Layer received a B. A. in Journalism from Penn State and served four years in the U. S. Air Force before deciding to go back to school to become a Registered Dietician.  She loves running, reading, fine stationery, colorful kitchen gadgets and ALL things food-related.  An avid cook and baker, you can find her in the kitchen most days whipping up something yummy.  Too bad her husband, Andrew (an East Aurora native) is the pickiest man alive!  You can find her at www.thefrozenpineapple.com.