I used to make a colossal mistake when cooking with olive oil. Whenever I was frying or sautéing practically anything on the stove, I would crank up the heat to the highest possible level and drown the frying pan with copious amounts of olive oil. Growing up, this was pretty much the only acceptable way of cooking anything on the stove. Even the chefs on early cooking shows (and I’m talking way before The Food Network), would following this approach … well, when they weren’t cooking with lard and vegetable oils; it was the 1980s after all!
Olive Oil is Best Served Cold
In recent years, I’ve been enlightened that olive oil is best used in cold dishes such as salads or on low heat settings. All oils have something called a “smoke point,” where the oil begins to lose its nutritional value and flavor. With olive oil (especially extra virgin olive oil), the smoke point is relatively low. So for years and years, I thought I was making extremely healthy dishes when cooking with olive oil in high heat; in reality, I was smoking out most of the nutrition, antioxidants and flavor.
On occasion, I will still add olive oil to dishes on the stove; however, I will keep the heat extremely low to retain the oil’s natural nutritional value and flavor profile. While olive oil isn’t ideal for medium-high or high heat cooking, there are plenty of oils and fats that are perfect for more intense flames.
The Best Olive Oil Alternatives
Unrefined and Refined Coconut Oil
My favorite olive oil alternative is coconut oil, which I use on a daily basis. I fry vegetables, turkey burgers and chicken in coconut oil, add it to smoothies and even use it as a butter/olive oil replacement on sweet potatoes. I believe that coconut oil adds such a unique flavor profile to most dishes. I truly cannot get enough of coconut oil!
Coconut oil not only tastes amazing – it contains some of the healthiest fats that you can consume. Coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids (e.g., Lauric Acid, Caprylic Acid and Capric Acid) which research has shown to be easier to digest and process than other fats. The Internet is riddled with thousands of articles about the benefits of coconut oil and I happen to believe every single one of them. I totally drink the coconut oil “Kool-Aid!”
And, coconut oil is ideal for medium and high heat frying. For high heat, I recommend refined coconut oil. Unrefined coconut oil is ideal for medium or low heat dishes on the stove.
Coconut oil is gaining quite the following. In addition to its traditional cooking uses, many are also discovering other fabulous multi-functional uses of coconut oil, such as using it as a facial moisturizer, scalp treatment, body lotion, shaving lotion, conditioner and more. Manufacturers are even adding it as a key ingredient to many leading beauty brands and products.
My second favorite olive oil alternative is avocado oil. I only started cooking with avocado oil about a year ago, but it was love at first taste.
Avocado oil has a slightly nutty taste. It really is a super oil, though, as it is tasty in cold dishes such as salads and in hot dishes alike. I use it in salads as well as cook chicken, turkey meatballs and veggie burgers in avocado oil. Avocado oil is excellent in stir fried recipes!
Similar to refined coconut oil, avocado oil retains its nutritional value in high heat. Avocado oil is packed with monounsaturated fats, potassium, vitamins (such as A, E and D) and antioxidants. Like coconut oil, avocado oil makes a great moisturizer or deep conditioner for your hair. You can’t go wrong with avocado oil!
Refined Sesame Oil
My third olive oil alternative recommendation is sesame oil. While not the perfect oil for all dishes due to its strong flavor, sesame oil is spectacular in any dishes that you want to create with an Asian flair. I typically saute green beans, carrots and sometimes chicken in sesame oil. And of course, sesame oil is ideal for most stir fried dishes.
Sesame oil, which is best in medium or low heat dishes, also contains a healthy dose of fats as well as minerals (copper, zinc and calcium) and amino acids.
Here are some other olive oil alternatives (oils and fats) that are medium and high stove heat friendly:
- Macadamia oil (best for medium heat)
- Almond oil (best for medium heat)
- Walnut oil (best for medium heat)
- Ghee (best for medium or high heat; ghee is a clarified butter where most of the milk solids are removed; tread lightly with this one if you have a dairy allergy)
I personally don’t cook with these oils/fats but many others do and they too can withstand higher levels of heat.
For many health reasons, that I won’t get into now, it is always a good idea to avoid the following oils/fats (even if they are high heat tolerant):
- Vegetable oil
- Canola oil
- Peanut oil
A Little Goes A Long Way
Just remember to avoid having a heavy hand with any oil that you use. A healthy meal can quickly turn unhealthy if your food is saturated in oil. For most dishes, a few tablespoons or less is sufficient. Here’s to creating healthier dishes with healthier oils starting today!