What is Neutral Oil in Cooking?

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Neutral oils' high smoke point and neutral flavour make them ideal for many baking and cooking recipes. Discover how to use neutral oils in a variety of cooking methods.


What Exactly Is Neutral Oil?

A neutral oil is one that has little to no flavour. Neutral oils can be useful in some cooking applications because they provide a neutral base for frying and sautéing without adding flavour to the dish. Safflower oil, peanut oil, and grapeseed oil are examples of neutral oils. In general, more refined or neutral oils have higher smoke points than unrefined, virgin, or extra-virgin oils.


10 Neutral Oils for Cooking

Neutral oils are ideal for cooking specific recipes with subtle or complex flavour profiles that could be influenced by non-neutral oils' flavours. The following are the best neutral cooking oils:

1. Avocado oil: Made from oil-rich avocados, this neutral oil has a mild flavour. At 520 degrees Fahrenheit, avocado oil has the highest smoke point.

2. Canola oil: Canola oil, also known as rapeseed oil, is derived from the canola plant. Canola oil is widely used in prepared foods and serves well as a neutral cooking oil.

3. Corn oil: Made from the germ of corn, corn oil is a low-cost neutral oil with little flavour to impart to dishes.

4. Grapeseed oil: Made from the tiny seeds of grapes, grapeseed oil is suitable for recipes that call for a flavourless oil. Grapeseed oil contains a good balance of fatty acids.

5. Peanut oil: Unlike other neutral oils, peanut oil has a slight flavour and can give off a nutty flavour. This flavour profile complements stir-fry dishes, fried chicken, and French fries.

6. Refined coconut oil: While virgin coconut oil has a strong flavour, refined coconut oil can be quite mild. Refined coconut oil can be used in recipes that call for a neutral oil.

7. Refined olive oil: While extra virgin olive oil does not have a neutral flavour, refined varieties known as light olive oil do have a low smoke point and a high smoke point.

8. Safflower oil: Made from the safflower plant, this cooking oil is known for its high smoke point and lack of distinct flavour. Safflower oil is typically sold refined, which means it can withstand high-heat cooking methods such as searing, sautéing, grilling, and frying.

9. Sunflower Oil: Sunflower oil is derived from the seeds of the sunflower plant. This oil is another good choice for a neutral oil because of its mild flavour and relatively high smoke point.

10. Vegetable oil: Vegetable oils, in general, contain various nut and seed oils, such as soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, palm oil, or palm kernel oil. Because vegetable oils have a neutral flavour, they are a versatile cooking oil.


How to Select the Best Cooking Oil

When you walk into a market, the options for oils appear to be limitless. They are not all interchangeable, and some may be inappropriate depending on the dish you're preparing. Consider the following primary cooking oil characteristics the next time you reach for a bottle or can:

1. Flavourful vs. neutral oil: Many oils have distinct flavours of their own. This is not always a bad thing; for example, sesame oil adds a distinct Asian flavour to dishes. Walnut oil, virgin coconut oil, and hemp seed oil each have a distinct, savoury flavour. Experiment with non-neutral oils when making a salad or a low-heat dish to see which flavours you prefer. In other cases, extra flavour in the pan will muddle the composition and harmony of the final dish. Choose neutral oils such as peanut oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, safflower oil, or corn oil in these cases. Aside from flavour differences, neutral oils have higher smoke points, making them suitable for frying.

2. Unrefined vs. refined oil: After oils are extracted or pressed, they can be immediately bottled or refined and processed. Oils that have not been refined are labelled as unrefined, cold-pressed, raw, virgin, or unrefined. These oils tend to keep flavours, minerals, nutrients, and enzymes. Unrefined oils, on the other hand, have lower smoke points and can go rancid on the shelf, so they're best used for low-heat cooking or raw applications like salad dressings or finishing drizzles. Meanwhile, refined oils are thoroughly processed by filtering, bleaching, or heating to remove volatile compounds found in virgin oils. The end result has a neutral taste, a long shelf life, and a high smoke point.

3. Omega-6 vs. Omega-3 fatty acids: Fat is not always bad; in fact, certain fatty acids, such as Omega-9 and Omega-3 fatty acids, are beneficial to the human body. Avocado oil, flaxseed oil, and extra virgin olive oil are all high in these beneficial fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids, on the other hand, have the potential to cause inflammation in the human body. Oils high in Omega-6 (such as almond oil) should be consumed in moderation.

4. Saturated vs. unsaturated fats: Saturated fats are found in a variety of foods, including meat, cheese, butter, and many processed foods. Saturated fats should be used in moderation. Unsaturated or monounsaturated fats, which are commonly found in nuts and seeds, are much better for you. In general, oils that are liquid at room temperature contain more unsaturated fat, making them a healthier overall choice than products containing more saturated fat, such as butter or lard.

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