The aisle of your local store that’s devoted to cooking oils can be confusing these days. You can find oils for just about any use, from salad toppers to stir fry, but knowing which oil you need can be difficult.
Cooking oils break down into three main groups:
Olive oils: The most important thing to look for in olive oil is its grade, which is usually printed right on the front of the bottle. In ascending order of quality, you’ll find pure, virgin, and extra-virgin.
The grade has to do with the oleic acid content of the oil, with the finest oils having the least acidity. All three varieties of olive oil come from the olive’s first pressing (the crushing process that releases the oil from the olives), but extra-virgin is the highest quality. Extra-virgin olive oil usually has the richest aroma and strongest flavor. Pure olive oil can come from both the first and second pressing of the tree-ripened olives and may be blended with 5 to 10 percent virgin olive oil to enrich its flavor.
Neutral-flavored oils: Use corn, peanut, canola, or safflower oil when you don’t want your oil to add its own flavor to your dish. You also can mix these neutral flavors with equal amounts of olive or nut oils to create a different flavor.
Strong-flavored oils: Walnut, hazelnut, and sesame oil are strong, so use them sparingly.