Shelf life

By Times staff and wires
Published April 4, 2007

Cooking oil used to be so simple. There was vegetable and there was olive. Today, simplicity has been supplanted by overwhelming options. Here's a handy guide:

Avocado oil

Though rugged enough to tolerate temperatures to 520 degrees, avocado oil also offers flavors subtle enough to be appreciated in salad dressings and dips. No refrigeration needed; keeps for nearly a year.

Canola oil

This refined, neutral oil can tolerate heat up to 435 degrees, making it good for sauteing, baking and salad dressings. It keeps well in the cabinet (for up to a year).

Grapeseed oil

With a high smoke point and a light, nutty flavor, grapeseed oil is good for any cooked or raw preparation in which a strong oil flavor is unwanted. It is best stored in the refrigerator and keeps for six months.

Extra-virgin olive oil

Extra-virgin olive oil is unrefined, meaning it was not altered chemically or mechanically after being pressed. It is more susceptible to heat and light damage than other oils. As cooking with it kills much of its flavor, extra-virgin olive oil is best in such dishes as salad dressings or drizzled over pasta just before serving.

Olive oil

Standard olive oil is the less expensive, less flavorful cousin of extra-virgin olive oil. Because it has been refined, it has a longer shelf life (as with most refined oils, it's about a year unopened, half that after) and tolerates high heat (up to about 450 degrees).

Peanut oil

Though peanut oil can't tolerate temperatures over 450 degrees, it is popular for deep frying. It is praised for bringing a clean flavor to the food. Testing by Cook's Illustrated magazine found it the best oil for fried chicken. Best kept (in the cupboard) for special deep-fry indulgences.

Sesame oil

Sesame oil, which comes in both raw and intensely flavored toasted varieties, is used most often in the dips, sauces and marinades of Asian cuisines. Use primarily as a finishing oil. Sesame oils have a low smoke point, so they shouldn't be used for frying. Store in a cool, dark cabinet.

Vegetable oil

This classic oil generally is made from refined soybean oil. It has a neutral flavor, tolerates heat around 450 degrees and stores well at room temperature. It can keep for six months to a year after opening.

Walnut, hazelnut and almond oils

These unrefined oils offer rich, assertive flavors that go a long way with just a little bit. They are best without heating, such as to dress steamed or roasted vegetables just before serving. Buy in small amounts and keep refrigerated.

Associated Press


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