Shop Like a Chef: How to Choose the Best Cooking Oils

Intimidated by the wall of oils at your local supermarket? Here are Natural Gourmet Institute chef Celine Beitchman's top three varieties for everyday cooking, plus a few handy tips for picking out the best bottles.
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Intimidated by the wall of oils at your local supermarket? Here are Natural Gourmet Institute chef Celine Beitchman's top three varieties for everyday cooking, plus a few handy tips for picking out the best bottles.

Welcome to our new column, Shop Like a Chef, in which we ask chefs at Natural Gourmet Institute to offer expert tips on choosing vegetarian staples.

Intimidated by the wall of oils at your local supermarket? Here are the top three varieties used at Natural Gourmet Institute for everyday cooking, plus a few handy tips for picking out the best bottles:

1. Olive Oil
Choose extra virgin every time, which veritably guarantees that it has been cold-pressed—with optimum flavor and heart-healthy nutrients. Look for the USDA Organic stamp for quality assurance, but judge taste based on a range of variables. Every olive has its own flavor profile, and an “estate-bottled, single varietal” label carries the same promise as any terroir-driven wine. Olive oil can be used for high-heat cooking, but the loss of delicate flavors mean frying may not be the best use of that $30 bottle.

2. Canola Oil
Because much of the rapeseed used to make canola oil is GMO, choose only USDA Organic and/or Non-GMO Project–verified bottles. At Natural Gourmet Institute, this is the go-to high-heat oil. Its neutral flavor and relatively low price make it a great choice for roasting, sautéing, and occasional deep-frying, as well as a great foundation for marinades, vinaigrettes, and aioli.

3. Coconut Oil
Nothing like the commercial sludge of yore, much of the coconut oil available nowadays is high-quality and organic. The refined, odorless type is great for high-heat cooking, and the aromatic unrefined version works for more delicate preparations. Because this oil solidifies at cold temperatures, it works great as a vegan shortening and finds its way into pie crusts, scones, and cookies when dairy-based shortenings won’t do.

Shopping Tip
Buy from stores that rotate their stock often, and pick oil sold in a dark or opaque container. Taste what you purchase as soon as you get home, so you can start discerning changes as the oil degrades over time. It may not be rancid, but just like with a bottle of wine, heat, light, and oxygen will start breaking down aromatic compounds and the stuff just won’t taste “fresh” anymore. One way to prolong the lifetime of an oil is to keep a week’s supply on the countertop for easy access, and store the rest in your fridge.

Meet the author: Celine Beitchman is a chef instructor at Natural Gourmet Institute. She is a graduate of NGI’s Food Therapy Program, where she studied under the school’s founder, Dr. Annemarie Colbin. She holds an Advanced Certificate from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust and has a lifetime of apprenticeship experience beginning at Le Dome in Paris. Chef Celine is committed to promoting sustainable, health-supportive food, and loves training the next generation of chefs. She is also a private chef, nutrition counselor, and avid globetrotter.