As anyone who follows food news knows, butter is back (and it's not, thankfully, due to Paula Deen's reemergence on the culinary scene). Americans are eating more butter now than they have in the past 40 years. Margarine is out and butter is in. But that's not the whole story. What's really in is cooking oil.
In 2010, while Americans consumed 4.9 pounds of butter a year per capita, they consumed 53.6 pounds of cooking oil.
From commonly used oils like canola and olive to others like avocado and hempseed oil, there are a ton of oils out there to use for culinary purposes. With so many kinds of oils, choosing the right one for cooking can be daunting.
Health benefits aside, the key factors you need to consider are heating temperature and flavor. Oils break down at a certain temperature, which is known as their smoke point. The smoke point for oils is always a rough estimate, because the breakdown happens gradually and not at a precise moment, and also because smoke points depend on how refined the oil is. Regular olive oil is more refined than extra virgin olive oil, and there might be varying degrees of refinement for various peanut oils, for example.
Unrefined oils have lower smoke points than refined oils, which make them good for salad dressings. They also tend to have a stronger flavor. Refined oils have higher smoke points and typically a more neutral flavor, which makes them better for sautéing, frying or even deep-frying.
That might all sound confusing, but we're about to break it down for you. Here are 11 common cooking oils, and how to choose the right one for your recipes. Smoke points are estimates based on What's Cooking America's numbers.