Choosing Your Cooking Oils based on Scientific Evidence and Ayurvedic Principles

For starters – your choice of cooking oil depends on availability.  In many cultures this is not very difficult because there are only a few oils available.  However, this changes when we talk about countries where there is a myriad of oils available, like in the U.S.   So many of you may be wondering how to choose among all these oils and how does eastern thinking and western science help me do this.

Let’s address which scientific facts are important to understand when choosing cooking oils and then what ayurvedic principles will help you personalize what oils you choose to work with.

Inside this blog post you will learn:

  1. Why the composition of the oil is important when choosing the right oil for cooking.
  2. Why the smoking point of oil is important.
  3. The difference between refined oil and unrefined oil and when to use them.
  4. That being aware of you personal taste preference is important in your choice of oils.
  5. How your personal constitution from the eastern perspective will help you determine what oil is best for you to use.
  6. How to customize your cooking oils.

Okay so let’s start with the first point.

Why the composition of fats and oils is important.

Just so we are all talking about the same thing – when I refer to oils I am speaking of a liquid at room temperature and fats as solid at room temperature.  The exception to this is coconut and palm oil that are really solids at room temperature but are referred to as oils.  Rather confusing I know but that’s the way it is at the moment.

When we talk about the composition of an oil or fat we are essentially talking about the quantity of saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fatty acids that it contains.  See post for Mediterranean style diet.

Fats that are high in saturated fatty acids such as butter, lard, and suet create wonderfully crisp fried foods.  The good side of this is that saturated fats are less affected by heat and light but, the bad side is they have lower smoking points – more about that below – and they are not considered very healthy by the medical community.

The polyunsaturated fatty acids are very much affected by heat and light, producing not so healthy products of spoilage.  However the good side is that polyunsaturated oils have higher smoking points.

The monounsaturated fatty acids are more stable than the polyunsaturated acids and are considered to be healthy fats by the medical community so keep this in mind as you start to customize.

What is the smoke point and why should I consider it when cooking with oils?

The smoking point of oil is the temperature at which the oil begins to break down.  At this point the oil or fat produces a bluish smoke, smells acrid, and imparts an unpleasant flavor to foods. The higher the smoke point, the better suited a fat or oil is for frying. Reusing a fat and exposing it to air reduces its smoke point.  See some of the Smoke point of various oils.

The difference between a refined oil and an unrefined oil and how that ties in with smoke point.

During the process of frying, when oils and fats are heated to high temperatures they are also exposed to the air.  The combination of high heat and oxygen produces products that are not healthy.  These unhealthy chemicals can remain in the oil and become absorbed by the food you cook and eat.

Oils that are left in their natural state (unrefined) do not hold up well under high heat and will produce these unhealthy products.   Refined oils, oils that have had impurities filtered out, can stand a much higher heat on the stove without producing those unhealthy products.

Bottom line:  it is best to use refined oils for cooking especially if you are deep frying, stir-frying, wok cooking or any other cooking that you do at high heat or for long periods of time.  Refined oils are more expensive and are best suited to those fine tasty salads and sauces that require subtle flavors.

The taste of an oil is a personal preference

Most refined oils will be neutral in taste.  Refining the oil has removed most of the taste.  For making sauces, or salad dressings you may want to consider using oils that are more delicate and have a definite taste.  These include walnut oil, hazel nut oil, unrefined olive oil and unrefined sesame oil to name a few.

According to Ayurvedic principles the entire cosmos is an interplay of the energies of the five elements: space or ether, air, fire, water, earth.

In the Ayurvedic way of thinking human beings can be classified according to the predominant elements that they contain.  There are 3 basic constitution types: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.  These constitution types are known collectively as doshas.  If you don’t already know your dosha take the dosha test.

Customizing your oils.   Here is a general scheme of the oils that are good and not so good depending on your body type.

Oil Guidelines Based on Dosha Type

Vata Pitta Kapha
FlaxseedSesameAlmondSunflowerAvocadoAll Oils in small amounts
Most other OilsSafflowerOliveSafflowerSunflower
SesameSoySesameSesame (External use only)
Coconut & Avocado (external use only)Almond

Set up your kitchen with several oils to fit your lifestyle and how you cook.  For example if you are a Vata person you may want to use an unrefined olive oil for dishes that don’t require high heat but that you want to have the taste of the olive oil.  For high heat cooking you can choose among the refined oils that have a high smoking point.  Keep in mind the composition of the oils and try to balance the saturated and unsaturated ones.  With a little effort you can customize your kitchen with oils that suit your constitution, your cooking preferences and are healthy.