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The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Oils

The type of oil with which you cook can make a big difference on taste.
The type of oil with which you cook can make a big difference on taste.

For professional and amateur chefs alike, cooking oils are an essential part of the culinary process. Cooking oils are natural substances, mostly derived from plants. One of the most popular uses is for frying or sautéing, which cooks food quickly and usually adds a crunchy exterior texture. Cooking oils are also used to flavor dishes, marinate meats and vegetables, or to dress salads.

So, what are the different kinds of cooking oils? Most cooking oils fall into the category of vegetable oils, a blanket term given to any oil that comes from vegetation. "Vegetable oil" can also refer to a blend of different types of vegetable-based oils. There are many oils on the market, and most are identified by their plant or tree of origin. Canola oil is a popular product, derived from the canola plant; olive oil is widely used in Mediterranean cuisine; grapeseed, sesame, sunflower, flax and safflower oils are all derived from the seeds of their parent plants. Nut-based oils include peanut, walnut and almond. Oils from corn plants, coconuts and oil palm trees have also been popular among commercial food manufacturers, but they've become increasingly controversial in recent years due to their adverse health effects.