Ask the Internet: Best Cooking Fat?

Today’s question comes from reader Alice. She writes:

A: Can we talk about cooking fat for a sec? What do you (and/or the readers) have to say about the pros and cons of cooking with different oils?

I usually save the butter for either baking or direct use (e.g., toast) and then cook with either olive or grapeseed oil (or sesame, if I want that taste). Lately though, I've head that grapeseed isn't so great (full of omega 6's, which we already get too many of). On the other hand, I've heard that canola (high in those 'good for you' omega 3's) is a really heavily sprayed crop and it's better to avoid it. The trouble with olive is that you can't get it too hot and it has as others and it has a taste.

Thoughts on a healthy, neutral, can-cook-at-high-temperatures-with-it oil? I know you're not a dietitian, but I thought I'd throw this one out there. Anyone?

A: Good question, Alice! With a few exceptions, I use three basic cooking fats:

1) EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL. I like its heart healthiness, plus the subtle flavor it imparts to some dishes. Good on salads and in nearly all marinades, too. I’ve read lately, though, that it’s almost interchangeable with regular olive oil. Has anyone tried the blends?

2) VEGETABLE OIL. Cheaper and seemingly more neutral in flavor than olive oil, I often saute or bake with this. It’s pretty versatile, especially for the price, and supermarket vegetable oil (usually soybean oil) has a good fat breakdown (15% saturated, 21% monounsaturated, 61% polyunsaturated).

3) BUTTER. Like Holly, butter goes primarily into my baked goods and on toast. But I’ve found that it enhances eggs, mushrooms, and a few other random foods, as well. I don’t use spreads (a la Country Crock), because honestly, they freak me out a little. Ma swears by them, so maybe I’m wrong.

Beyond those, I occasionally whip out canola oil for kicks, peanut and/or sesame oil for Chinese dishes, margarine for lactose-intolerant friends, and shortening for greasing. A small batch of truffle oil sits in the back of my condiment shelf for special occasions. We own corn oil, but I’ve only ever used it once.

Readers, what about you? What cooking fats do you use most often? What do you avoid at all costs? What the heck is a safflower? Alice and the comment section await.

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.