A common question that is often asked is “What is the best oil to use in a wok?”
I had the same question. I didn’t know the answer, so I decided to do some research.
First, let me state that “there is no best oil to use in a wok.” The best oil to use in a wok depends on:
- what you are cooking;
- what flavor you want to infuse into the food you are preparing.
I recommend starting with an avocado oil or a coconut oil for stir-frying. Both of these oils have high smoke points. High smoke points are desired when you are stir-frying in a wok.
Once you have tried these two oils, you can experiment with the other oils I have listed below.
Highest Smoke Point Oils
Be sure to use an oil that has a smoking point at or above 400 F, including:
- Peanut oil (smoke point of 450 degrees F) **
- Avocado oil (smoke point of 570 degrees F)
- Refined Coconut oil (smoke point of 450 degrees F) **
- Crisco (smoke point of 490 degrees F)
- Canola oil (smoke point of 400 degrees F)
- Sunflower oil (smoke point of 460 degrees F)
- Flaxseed oil (smoke point of 225 degrees F)
- Grapeseed Oil (smoke point of 420 degrees F)
- Safflower oil (smoke point of 510 degrees F)
- Soybean oil (smoke point of 450 degrees F)
- Rice bran oil (smoke point of 510 degrees F)
Stir-frying is one of the most commonly used techniques in Asian cooking. Most people believe that wok cooking is done primarily by the Chinese; however, the Asian community is much larger than just the Chinese population. Asians in the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia frequently use woks in the preparation of their food.
The Main Key to Stir-Frying With a Wok
The main key to making a really good stir-fry is using a very high cooking temperature and cooking the food very quickly. Because stir-frying involves cooking food at high temperatures, it’s important to choose an oil that has a high smoke point. If you don’t use an oil with a high smoke point, the oil will burn, and the entire dish will be ruined. When oil reaches its smoke point, it will actually begin smoking and can give the food an unusual taste.
It is also important to choose an oil that does not break down with high heat or extended high heat. When oil breaks down at a molecular level, it can produce carcinogens, which are hazardous to your health.
No matter what oil you choose, try to use organic oil which does not have any GMO ingredients.
Using the right oil for your stir-fry is the first step to a wonderful dish.
How to Achieve High Cooking Temperatures When Using a Wok
One way to cook quickly and with high heat is to use a wok burner. Since wok burners produce a high heat, an oil with a high smoke point is crucial.
Edible oils that are extracted from plants are called vegetable oils. Supposedly, all solvents used in extraction are removed from vegetable oils during the manufacturing process.
It’s currently unknown whether hexane traces in vegetable oils cause damage to the cells in humans. Here is some scientific information on understanding the hazards of hexane.
Healthier types of seed and vegetable oils are cold-pressed or expeller pressed and do not use toxic solvents such as hexane.
What is Hexane?
Hexane is a chemical commonly extracted from petroleum and crude oil. It is a colorless liquid that gives off a subtle, gasoline-like odor. Hexane is highly flammable. One of the uses of hexane is to extract edible oils from seeds and vegetables.
Even though manufacturers say they remove hexane during the manufacturing process, health-conscious consumers, like myself, prefer oils that are made by crushing or pressing plants or seeds, rather than those produced using chemicals.
Chinese cooks normally use soybean, vegetable, or peanut oil, all of which have a high smoke point. Peanut oil has a pleasant nutty flavor, and is suitable for stir-frying. Peanut oil can also be used for deep frying.
On the downside, peanut oil is high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Western diets tend to be too high in these fats already, which may increase the risk of certain diseases. It is unstable when heated and also prone to oxidation, making it an unsafe choice for cooking.
Canola oil has a relatively low smoke point, compared to some of the other oils. I mention canola oil as a possible choice only because it has a neutral flavor. Be careful when stir-frying with canola oil, so that you don’t heat it to the smoke point.
Olive oil is one of the healthiest and most delicious oils around. Olive oil has been produced for thousands of years. It has a low omega-6 factor and is made by pressing the oil out of olives producing a slurry. Chemicals are not used in the extraction of olive oil, which makes it a healthy oil to use.
Modern facilities utilize a gentle process that prevents friction from elevating the oil slurry to above 80 degrees F. If the temperature is kept below this threshold of 80 degrees F, it can earn the coveted title of “cold-pressed”.
You can use olive oil to stir-fry, but understand that the smoke point is low and it can impart a very strong flavor to your food. The smoke point of extra virgin olive oil is 374 degrees F.
Try to use olive oil that is not “extra-virgin” (smoke point of about 405 to 410 degrees F).
Olive oil is an excellent example of a healthy vegetable oil that’s low in omega-6. It might be one of your best options. even though it has a relatively low smoke point.
Another oil that is becoming more popular for stir-frying and deep-frying is grapeseed oil.
Grapeseed oil, which is made from the grape seeds after the grapes have been pressed, has a smoke point of 420 degrees F.
Grapeseed oil contains a good amount of vitamin E. Vitamin E is an important antioxidant, and most people could use more of it. Compared to olive oil, it offers about double the vitamin E!
Grapeseed oil has an abundance of omega-6 fatty acids, which produce inflammatory reactions in the body. Omega-3 fatty acids do not promote inflammatory reactions. Therefore, oils should have a lower omega-6 fatty acid content than omega-3 fatty acids. There should be a happy balance between those two fatty acid components.
The oils found in grape seeds are usually extracted by crushing the seeds and using toxic solvents. Many people are concerned that traces of these toxic solvents, such as hexane, could adversely affect their health.
There are different kinds of coconut oil. Virgin coconut oil, which is gently processed, is one of the best forms of coconut oils to use, as is cold-processed coconut oil. Virgin coconut oil may not have the same harmful effects as highly processed oil.
Highly processed coconut oils, which have been treated with solvents and subjected to intense heat, raise cholesterol. The harsh processing may destroy some of the good essential fatty acids and antioxidants, such as lauric acid. Lauric acid is a medium chain fatty acid believed to raise good HDL (High-Density Lipoproteins) cholesterol as well as LDL (Low-Density Lipoproteins).
A recent study found that lauric acid didn’t appear to increase the risk of heart disease quite as much as other types of saturated fatty acids, such as palmitic acid which is substantial in butter. Coconut oil may be a better choice than some other sources of saturated fat, especially animal fats.
Some researchers point out that coconut oil is rich in phytochemicals that have healthful antioxidant properties. While it’s true that extra-virgin coconut oil, like extra-virgin olive oil, contains phytochemicals, most of the coconut oil on the market is refined and provides few of those antioxidants, said Dr. Qi Sun, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Even if the coconut oil you are using is extra-virgin, “the saturated fat effects outweigh any beneficial effects of the antioxidants,” he said.
The best form of coconut oil to use is cold-processed, followed by virgin or extra virgin coconut oil.
I use coconut oil to make my egg dishes, such as scrambled eggs or omelets. A wonderful taste is imparted into the eggs while frying, and it also smells great. I use about 1/2 a teaspoon of coconut oil for my eggs. This provides about 6-7 grams of saturated fat to my diet. If you remember “everything in moderation”, then you should be okay. The American Heart Association recommends that you limit your intake of saturated fat to about 13 grams daily.
Healthiest Stir-Fry Oils
So which stir-fry oils are the healthiest? Both canola oil and olive oil are low in unhealthy saturated fats and high in healthy monounsaturated fats. Scientists believe monounsaturated fats help to lower bad cholesterol (LDL), which can clog arteries and lead to heart disease or strokes, while they increase the level of good cholesterol (HDL) that removes cholesterol buildup from the arteries.
Grapeseed oil is low in saturated fat and high in polyunsaturated fat, which scientists believe can also help raise HDL levels. Grapeseed oil is also a good source of linoleic acid—a type of essential fatty acid which, like the Omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, can’t be manufactured by our bodies and must be obtained from food.
Oils to Avoid for Stir-Fry
Besides extra-virgin olive oil, there are other oils that should not be used to stir-fry due to their low smoke points. Sesame oil has a very low smoke point. Although there are some Chinese dishes that use toasted sesame oil to fry the ingredients, such as three cup chicken, it is not recommended for high-heat cooking. You need to be very careful when you heat up toasted sesame oil in a wok—don’t overheat it! It will burn and make your dish taste very bitter. Most of the time in Chinese cooking, sesame oil is only used for seasoning or added to stir-fry dishes at the end of cooking.
Another oil to avoid is flax-seed oil. Don’t use butter or shortening to stir-fry! You will never see any Chinese stir-fry recipe include butter, because butter has a much lower smoke point than most cooking oils.
More Stir-fry Tips
The final choice of oils is up to you, and – of course – price, availability, and personal taste will play a role in your decision. Once you’ve selected your oil, there are a few tips to keep in mind for a top-notch stir-fry. First, cut up all your ingredients before heating the oil. Once the oil is hot, you’ll want to stir fry quickly at a high heat, so having everything ready will make this process go smoothly.
If you are adding meat or poultry, it’s a good idea to cook it first and then set it aside. That way you can be sure it’s cooked thoroughly. Also, add ingredients based on the amount of time they need to cook. Broccoli, for example, should go into the wok (or pan) before scallions. Make sure to keep your stir-fry moving—if you allow it to sit, you’ll end up with something closer to a stew.
Is Coconut Oil Better for you Than Olive Oil? Olive oil has less saturated fat than coconut oil. It is important to understand that saturated fats from some plant-based products are not as bad as those from animal-based products. Most of the saturated fats in coconut oil come from lauric acid, which can increase bad cholesterol (LDL) but it can also increase good cholesterol (HDL). Olive oil has a low smoke point, so it is not the best oil to use in a wok where you need high temperatures.
Can Coconut Oil Help You Lose Weight? Coconut oil is the world’s most weight loss friendly fat. It contains a unique combination of fatty acids with positive effects on metabolism. Studies show that just by adding coconut oil to your diet, you can lose fat, especially the “dangerous” fat in the abdominal cavity.