Why Is This Important?
Oil is an integral part of most recipe, from salad dressings to marinades, and is particularly useful for frying, grilling or sautéing. How can you determine which oils to use in your cooking? Smoke point is one of the factors you should consider when choosing the right cooking oil.
What is a smoke point?
Smoke point refers to the temperature at which an oil starts to burn and smoke. It is a natural property of unrefined oils, reflecting an oil’s chemical composition. In general, unrefined oils are packed with fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other compounds that do not react well to heat. Hence, they tend to have lower smoke points and are best suited for dressings and cooking at low-temperatures. To produce an oil with a high smoke point, manufacturers employ the refining process of bleaching, filtering and high-temperature heating to extract and eliminate those compounds. Consequently, refined oils have a higher smoke points and are more suited to high-heat cooking, like deep-frying and grilling.
Why does smoke point matter when cooking with oil?
When you cook with oil that has been heated above its smoke point, you do more than giving your food a burnt taste. Overheated oil generates toxic fumes and free radicals which are extremely harmful to your body. When the smoke point is reached, you’ll start to see smoke from heating, a marker that the oil has started to decompose. Decomposition involves chemical changes that not only destroy the beneficial nutrients in unrefined oils, but also create free radicals or cancer-causing compounds that are detrimental when consumed or inhaled.
While unrefined oil is a great choice for health, most of them have low smoke points and should not be used if you’ll be cooking with high heat. For example, extra-virgin olive oil is a great choice for health, but it is not the best pick if you are working with high heat. The nutrients in extra-virgin olive oil start to oxidise and degrade from as low as 160°C. Opt to use extra-virgin olive oil in salad dressings, marinades or drizzled over vegetables for a smooth, decadent flavour and tons of health benefits, but not high-heat cooking.
If you are cooking beyond 160°C but still want to reap the health benefits of unrefined oils, opt for Camelina Oil or Camellia Oil with high smoke points (245°C and 252°C respectively) to avoid the risks mentioned above.