July 19, 2015

Canola oil is a versatile, heart-healthy fat. We utilize it in the Cooking Light Test Kitchen for many reasons: its high smoke point makes it good for sautéing; its neutral flavor and light body make it great as a partial sub for butter in baking.

When you break down the fat profile, canola oil has a lower percentage of saturated fats per tablespoon (only 7%) than any other common cooking oil. It also has a higher omega-3 fatty acid content (11%) than most cooking oils—second only to flaxseed oil and walnut oil.

Heart-healthy, yes—but also a top source for genetically modified organisms (GMOs). About 93% of the canola oil in the U.S. is genetically engineered. You can choose organic or non-GMO verified if this is a concern for you—the USDA National Organic Standards prohibit GMOs.

Canola oil is also highly processed—but most cooking fats undergo at least minimal processing before finding their way into your kitchen. Butter doesn’t come straight from the cow; it has to be milked, strained, and churned. Coconuts, olives, almonds, peanuts—these all have to be pressed and extracted. Refined versions of these go through even more processing to remove impurities, making them more stable and suitable for high-heat cooking.

Personally, I love the full-bodied flavors that various unrefined cooking oils bring to the table—avocado, sesame, peanut, walnut, coconut, olive. The list goes on. Grass-fed butter and organic and unrefined oils top the charts for cleanest fats. But these fats are not very heat stable. They're also expensive and best used for drizzling, dressing, and dipping.

But I also love to cook. And when I do, I often need an oil that's a bit more stable when it hits that hot cast iron pan. How else am I going to cook up all those locally grown veggies from the farmers' market?

When shopping for canola oil, look for the non-GMO verified stamp, or buy organic.

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