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Move Over, Canola: A Guide to Unusual Cooking Oils


You’re about to make a salad, soup or stir-fry. Which bottle of oil do you reach for? If you’re like most people, it’s probably olive oil or a vegetable oil such as canola. That’s ok – but there’s a whole world of unique oils out there, so why not expand your repertoire?

A decade ago, supermarket shelves contained mostly oils derived from corn or soybeans. But as consumers learned about how oil affects their health, they started to demand products higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, rather than saturated fats. Today even some large grocery chains are stocking high-quality olive oils and nut oils. And if you venture online or to health food or gourmet stores for your oil shopping spree, you’ll find a world of unusual and nutritious choices.

Here’s a look at several off-the-beaten oils that might just deserve a place on your pantry shelf.

Macadamia Nut Oil. Open a bottle of macadamia nut oil and take a sniff. You’ll smell an intriguing, slightly nutty aroma. While far subtler than hazelnut or walnut oil, the flavor is terrific in salad dressings or drizzled on steamed vegetables or risotto.

Macadamia nut oil has the advantage of a very high smoke point– about 400 degrees—making it ideal for high-heat cooking like roasting and stir-fries. Best of all, it doesn’t lose its flavor and healthful properties when heated, as many more unstable oils do. (When oils reach their smoking point, they not only lose their flavor, but potentially disease-causing free radicals can be unleashed.)

More good news: macadamia is one of the heart-healthiest oils out there, with even more monounsaturated fat (the “good fat”) than olive oil. It’s 80 percent monounsaturated, compared to olive oil at 74 percent and canola at 58 percent. It’s also got the highest ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids of any oil, with nearly equal amounts of each. Its higher level of Omega-3’s make it a good choice for those trying to reduce risks of heart disease.

Avocado Oil. Like macadamia nut oil, avocado oil is high in healthy monounsaturated fats. It’s made by pressing the pulp of the fruit; it can take 20 or more avocados to produce one bottle of oil! Avocado oil has an even higher smoke point than macadamia nut oil – over 500 degrees. When used to sauté tofu or vegetables it adds a buttery, fruity flavor that can take a dish from ordinary to impressive in seconds flat. If it weren’t so expensive, it would probably be great for making French fries (not that you should eat French fries, mind you!).

Of course, the logical place to consider using this oil is in dishes containing avocados – it’s especially delicious in salads with both avocados and fruit. But here’s a tip from Diane Lee, Director of Marketing for artisanal oil manufacturer La Tourangelle: add it to your guacamole to boost the avocado flavor. Talk about gilding the lily!

Squash seed oils. Pumpkin seed oil is so high in phytosterols that some people take it as a supplement to help lower cholesterol. But it shouldn’t be overlooked as a culinary secret weapon. Because of its low smoke point, pumpkin seed oil is best used cold. This oil, especially the toasted variety, adds a nutty but mysterious note to salad dressings – it’s especially nice in a vinaigrette made with a cranberry or raspberry-infused vinegar. To really wow your dinner guests, drizzle it on some vegan vanilla ice cream for dessert! It’s no wonder this oil is sometimes called “green gold.”


Another recent entry into the exotic oil world is butternut squash seed oil, produced mainly by Stony Brook WholeHearted Foods, located in New York’s Finger Lakes region. The seeds of butternut and similar winter squashes are simply roasted, lightly filtered and pressed, resulting in a pure, unrefined oil. While it has slightly more saturated fat than other seed oils, it still has only one-third the saturated fat of butter. It does have a high smoke point, so you can use it for baking, sautéing and roasting. But you’ll more likely find yourself dipping bread into it, drizzling it on soup, or even using it in mashed potatoes. For a memorable vinaigrette, blend it with an equal amount of a more neutral-flavored oil, some fresh ginger, garlic, Dijon mustard, and a dash of tamari.

Of course, these oils are just a few of the interesting choices out there. You can also experiment with tea oil, toasted hazelnut oil, hemp seed oil and of course the much-hyped coconut oil. You’ll probably still rely on extra virgin olive oil for everyday use, but an occasional oil change will do your cooking good. One word to the wise: when buying these oils, choose carefully. Unrefined, expeller-pressed oils are far superior in taste and nutrition to refined, chemically-processed oils.

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6 comments on “Move Over, Canola: A Guide to Unusual Cooking Oils”

Click to add comment
7 Years Ago

Let's face it you can't keep a lot of different cooking oils on the kitchen shelf. This article helps me decide what oils will meet my needs for what I like to cook. If you want to use a special oil it is best to buy a small bottle because it will get old.

12 Feb 2012

Dr. Erasmus does an eellcexnt job of laying out the facts concerning the important role fats play in our overall quality of life. Those of us in America have been supplied with much mis-information by those seeking monetary gain at the expense of the health of the people. We have become ‘Fat’ conscience and prey for the greedy ‘food’ manufactures who have capitalized on ignorance. Dr. Erasmus does an eellcexnt job in denouncing the myths about fats in the diet, pointing us to the well documented truth of the vital role ‘good fats’ plan in our body and the harmful effects of the highly processed fats. This book is an eellcexnt resource manual that will not collect dust in the library of those truly interested in optimal health.

chinmayie @ love food eat
7 Years Ago

Thanks for a very informative post! I use a lot of coconut oil in my cooking. Other than that i use sesame oil, olive oil and mustard oil.

JL goes Vegan
7 Years Ago

These are great tips! I just started using avocado oil (in the pressure cooker with beans and on raw salads) Delicious!

18 Jul 2011

Now I feel spuitd. That's cleared it up for me

7 Years Ago

Canola oil is completely toxic and olive oil shouldn't be used for cooking at all. Thanks for featuring some delish high heat oils perfect for cooking and one cold-pressed oil I've never tried before!


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