Edible Fats and Oils

By James Collier BSc (Hons), RNutr – MuscleTalk Co-Owner and Nutrition Consultant

Edible oils vary widely in fatty acid composition depending on the variety, growing conditions and the maturity of the oil seed or fruit. This serves as a very brief synopsis of all the major (and some not so major) edible oils which are available. Key aspects, brief information on their production, nutritional profile and common uses are covered. Note, the common uses are not necessarily the recommended uses.

Key to common fat acronyms:
ALA – alpha linolenic acid
DHA – docosahexaenoic acid
EFA – essential fatty acid
EPA – eicosapentaenoic acid
GLA – gamma linolenic acid
LA – linoleic acid
MCT – medium chain triglyceride
MUFA – monounsaturated fatty acid
PUFA – polyunsaturated fatty acid
SFA – saturated fatty acid
UFA – unsaturated fatty acid
n- – omega- (fatty acid)

  • Almond oil
    There are two types: Fixed* almond oil has a dry nutty taste; sweet almond oil is made from the dried kernel. Both are used in cookery and on the skin.
    Production: Extracted from the dried ripe kernel.
    Nutrient profile: The fixed oil is glyceride oleate – high in oleic acid, a MUFA.
    Common uses: As a substitute for olive oil; in massage therapy it's perpetrated to be good for the skin.
  • Argan oil
    Rich in EFAs and more resistant to oxidation than olive oil; has a 'nutty' flavour.
    Production: Produced from the seeds of the argan (Argania spinosa - a tree found in Morocco). The soft pulp is removed and the nut is cracked by stones. The seeds are removed and roasted. Traditionally the roasted seeds are then ground to a paste, which is then squeezed between the hands to extract the oil. Oil produced by this method will keep 3-6 months. Dry-pressing is now more common, as the oil will keep 12-18 months and extraction is much faster.
    Nutrient profile: 80% UFA – 12% palmitic acid, 6% stearic acid, 43% oleic acid, 37% LA.
    Common uses: Used for dipping bread or on salads. A dip for bread known as amalou is made from argan oil, almonds, peanuts and honey. Unroasted argan oil is traditionally used as a treatment for skin diseases, and in cosmetics.
  • Avocado oil
    Unusually high smoke point of 255°C, and functions well as carrier oil for other flavors.
    Production: Pressed from the avocado fruit, and avocados are a year round crop, so potential for production is high.
    Nutrient profile: Very high in MUFA and vitamin E.
    Common uses: A food oil ingredient in other dishes and a cooking oil. Also in cosmetics where it is valued for its regenerative and moisturizing properties.
  • Butter
    Dairy product made from churning cream or milk.
    Production: Unhomogonized milk and cream contain butterfat in microscopic globules surrounded by membranes which prevent the fat in milk from pooling together into a single mass. Butter is produced by churning which agitates the cream, damaging these membranes and allowing the milk fats to conjoin, separating from the other parts of the cream. Variations in the production method will create butters with different consistencies, mostly due to the butterfat composition in the finished product.
    Nutrient profile: Commercial butter is about 80% butterfat and 15% water; traditionally-made butter may have as little as 65% fat and 30% water. Butterfat consists of many SFA, and is a triglyceride. Butter becomes rancid when these chains break down into smaller components, like butyric acid and diacetyl.
    Common uses: Traditional Western spread for bread, frying or as an adjunct to hot foods.
  • Canola oil
    (See rapeseed oil)
  • Chili oil
    Standard olive oil infused with chilli peppers to make an aroma oil.
    Production: As olive oil, with infusion of chilli peppers.
    Nutrient profile: As olive oil.
    Common uses: As a flavoured oil to recipes requiring a particular taste or aroma.
  • Coconut oil
    Solidifies at room temperature and has a buttery texture. It is a very popular in Indian & Southeast Asian cuisine. Very stable fat and its home cookery usage is encouraged.
    Production: Extracted from the dried flesh of the coconut.
    Nutrient profile: Very high in SFA (86.5g per100g), which are MCT. Very low in MUFA (6g per 100g) and PUFA (1.5g per 100g). High in caprylic and lauric fatty acids (possible immune system benefits).
    Common uses: Commercially prepared baked goods, sweet products and whipped toppings, shortening production.
  • Cod liver oil
    Nutritional supplemental oil derived from the liver of the cod fish.
    Production: Cod liver oil is made by cooking cod livers with steam, and then pressing and decanting the cooked livers to extract the oil.
    Nutrient profile: High levels of the n-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA and very high levels of vitamins A and D.
    Common uses: Nutritional supplements, medicine (e.g. heart health, arthritis).
  • Corn oil
    Almost tasteless and odourless, which makes it good oil for baking and the refined oil version is one of the best oils for frying due to its high smoke point.
    Production: Produced from the germ of corn (maize) kernels.
    Nutrient profile: Rich in PUFA (51.3g per 100g) and a source of vitamin E (17.24g per 100g).
    Common uses: Frying and baking, salad dressings, margarine & shortening production.
  • Cottonseed oil
    A commonly used vegetable oil in snack food production.
    Production: Extracted from the seeds of the cotton plant after the lint has been removed. To make it edible it is then refined to remove the natural insecticide gossypol which is toxic.
    Nutrient profile: over 50% omega-6 PUFA and only trace amounts of omega-3s, so needs to be balanced or used in moderation. Susceptible to oxidation. Rich in palmitic acid, oleic acid and LA.
    Common uses: Commonly used in manufacturing crisps (potato chips) and other snack foods, where it is often hydrogenated producing unhealthy trans fats.
  • Evening primrose oil (EPO)
    A historically used supplemental oil used to treat an array of remedies. The evening primrose is a small plant and it is the seeds that provide the oil.
    Production: Oil is extracted from the seeds and prepared as medicine using a chemical called hexane.
    Nutrient profile: Seeds contain up to 25% EFA including the n-6s LA and GLA.
    Common uses: Nutritional supplements, medicine.
  • Fish oils
    There are a variety of fish oils available as nutritional supplement oils. It is preferable to obtain these oils from the fish themselves. Each fish oil is not listed separately, but they generally have favourable levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Oily fish include salmon, mackerel, sprats, herring, sardines, pilchards, trout and certain types of tuna. Some fish oils are readily purchased as supplemental oil, e.g. krill oil. Fish oils are added to fortify foods due to marketed health benefits.
  • Flaxseed oil (linseed oil)
    A smooth, buttery flavour, which makes it ideal for use as a salad oil or an addition to cooked vegetables.
    Production: Produced from the seeds of the flax plant.
    Nutrient profile: A rich source of the n-3 PUFA ALA (35-60%)
    Common uses: Nutritional supplement, salad dressings, condiment.
  • Garlic oil
    Aromaful oil, used in cookery. But can be dangerous if not produced and stored correctly, due to risk of Clostridium botulinum infection (botulism)
    Production: It's a mixture of vegetable oils and garlic. Garlic cloves are separated, crushed and covered with vegetable or olive oils, sealed and refrigerated for 7-10 days. The oil is then strained off. It must continue to be refrigerated and used within two weeks, as there is risk of C botulinum spores producing toxins which will not affect the taste, but will cause food poisoning.
    Nutrient profile: Has the properties of the oil used, with the additional possible health benefits from garlic
    Common uses: Stir-fry cookery.
  • Ghee
    Clarified butter originating from the Indian subcontinent. Unlike butter, ghee can be stored for extended periods without refrigeration, provided it is kept in an airtight container to prevent oxidation and remains moisture-free.
    Production: By simmering unsalted butter in a large pot until all water has boiled off and protein has settled to the bottom. The cooked and clarified butter is then spooned off to avoid disturbing the milk solids on the bottom of the pan.
    Nutrient profile: Almost entirely saturated fat.
    Common uses: Indian cookery (however modern cookery can use vegetable ghee for economic reasons which can widen negative health concerns from oxidised UFAs and trans fats).
  • Goose fat
    Used in gourmet cookery due to its rich, silky flavour. Solidifies between 16 - 22°C and has a melting point between 25 - 37°C. High smoke point, so foods can be cooked at a high temperature without the fat breaking down.
    Production: When a goose is cooked a large amount of fat drains off. This is collected, sieved and stored (for up to 2-3 months in a refrigerator).
    Nutrient profile: Per 100g: 32.7g SFA, MUFA 55g and PUFA 10.8g. Rich in oleic acid (58%) - generally higher compared to other animal fats.
    Common uses: Favoured in gourmet cookery, in particular for roast potatoes.
  • Grapeseed oil
    High smoke point oil, with a clean 'nutty' taste. It is often required in smaller amounts in recipes than other oils.
    Production: Produced from the pressing of seeds of common vine grapes, a bi-product of wine production
    Nutrient profile: Very high in the n-6 PUFA LA, with some oleic acid.
    Common uses: Has a relatively high smoke point so is safe to use at high temperatures. Use in salad dressings, marinades, deep frying, flavoured oils, backing and skin and hair care products.
  • Groundnut oil (peanut oil)
    Derived from peanuts, groundnut oil has a taste and aroma akin to its parent legume. High smoke point.
    Production: Pressing and filtering of peanuts to form a pure oil
    Nutrient profile: Major fatty acids are palmitic, oleic and LA.
    Common uses: Commonly used when frying foods, particularly chips and chicken. Commercial peanut oil will not cause an allergic reaction because the protein allergen has been removed; however, the cold pressed and organic oils will, as are less filtered, retaining some peanut proteins for the sake of flavor and nutrition.
  • Hemp oil
    Extracted form hemp seed or the hemp plant itself. Unrefined help oil has a light green colour and a grassy, nutty mild flavour.
    Production: Produced from the seeds or whole hemp plant.
    Nutrient profile: Has roughly a 3:1 n-6:n-3 fatty acid ratio; the unrefined version is high in essential, undamaged UFA.
    Common uses: Must not be used in cooking. Used as a nutritional supplement oil for potential health benefits.
  • Krill oil
    Krill oil is derived from the krill shellfish. It is listed separately to fish oils as it is commercially available as supplemental oil.
    Production: Extracted from krill shellfish
    Nutrient profile: Very high in n-3 PUFA and also antioxidants, meaning the oil is relatively stable from oxidation.
    Common uses: As a nutritional supplement oil in diets where a higher omega-3 intake is desired, like sports, as well as reducing symptoms of menstruation problems in females. Can be used for cooking, but may change taste of food.
  • Lard
    Lard is pig fat which has long been used in traditional Western and commercial cookery.
    Production: Lard is produced from the rendering of pig fat and may be hydrogenated.
    Nutrient profile: Lard is high in SFA, but also contains MUFA and PUFA; the exact fatty acid composition will very depending on the diet the pig was fed. There may be some trans fats if the pig fat was hydrogenated.
    Common uses: Traditional Western cookery, frying, baking, fast foods or in commercial food production. However is less used these days due to consumer pressure regarding saturated fats.
  • Linseed oil
    (See flaxseed oil)
  • Macadamia oil
    Production: Produced from the pressing of macadamia nuts.
    Nutrient profile: Particularly of note is that it is 22% palmitoleic acid, an uncommon omega-7 unsaturated fatty acid which behaves like a SFA with its effects on blood lipid profile. However macadamia oil is quite resistant to oxidation.
    Common uses: Edible but rare in food, but common in cosmetics.
  • Olive oil
    Olive oil is thought to be one of the key aspects in the protective effects of the Mediterranean diet.
    Production: From the pressing of olives, but there are different grades:
    - Extra-virgin olive oil comes from cold pressing of the olives, contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and is judged to have a superior taste. Contains no refined oil.
    - Virgin olive oil has an acidity less than 2%, and judged to have a good taste. Contains no refined oil.
    - Pure olive oil / olive oil are a blend of refined olive oil and one of the above two categories of virgin olive oil, containing no more than 1.5% acidity. Commonly lacks a strong flavor.
    Nutrient profile: Richest source of MUFA (73g/100g) of the edible oils, especially high in the MUFA oleic acid (71.9g per 100g).
    Common uses: Cooking, salad dressings, olive oil-based spreads as an alternative to butter. Extra-virgin or virgin olive oils should not be heated to high temperatures.
  • Palm oil
    It has a strong unique flavour and is popular for use in the preparation of dishes native to the Caribbean, Central & South America and Western Africa.
    Production: Obtained from the pulp of the fruit of the African palm. A highly refined version is usually blended with other oils for the creation of generic fats and oils.
    Nutrient profile: High in SFA (47.8g per 100g), and also contains a reasonable amount of MUFA (3.1g per 100g).
    Common uses: Cooking, flavouring ingredient, vegetable oil production.
  • Peanut oil
    (See groundnut oil)
  • Rapeseed oil (Canola oil)
    Crops are grown in many parts of Europe and North America and the oil has a mild flavour.
    Production: Extracted from the seeds of the rape plant, which is a member of the turnip family.
    Nutrient profile: Rich in MUFA (59.3g/100g) and the n-3 PUFA ALA (9.6 per 100g). Low in SFA (6.6g per 100g). Source of the antioxidant vitamin E (22.21mg per 100g).
    Common uses: Frying, baking, salad dressings.
  • Rice oil
    Has a nutty flavour, enhances the taste of fried foods, is oxidatively stable and is popular in Japanese cookery. It is considered a healthy alternative to some other cooking oils due to its rich content of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and antioxidants.
    Production: Produced from the rice bran, which is removed from the grain of the rice as it is processed.
    Nutrient profile: Contains naturally occurring vitamin E group antioxidants; tocopherol, oryzanol and tocotrienol. Its major fatty acid constituents are the MUFA oleic acid and the n-6 PUFA LA.
    Common uses: Cooking, snack-food production, flavouring ingredient, margarine and shortening production.
  • Safflower oil
    Safflower oil is flavourless and colourless and nutritionally similar to sunflower oil.
    Production: Produced form the seeds of the safflower plant.
    Nutrient profile: There are different types of safflower oil, one high in oleic acid (MUFA) and the other higher in LA (PUFA).
    Common uses: Used principally as a cooking oil, in salad dressing and in the production of margarine.
  • Sesame oil
    The oil has a mild flavour and is very popular in Asian and Middle Eastern cooking. A darker version of the oil has an intense, bold flavour and is most often used as a flavouring ingredient in Asian cooking.
    Production: Extracted from the sesame seed. The unrefined oil is produced by crushing the seeds and filtering the resulting oil. Occasionally the seeds are roasted before crushing to produce a darker oil.
    Nutrient profile: Contains roughly equal amounts of MUFA (37.5g per 100g) and PUFA (43.4g per 100g).
    Common uses: Light oil: cooking, salad dressings; Dark oil: flavouring, marinade.
  • Soya oil
    It plays an important part in Asian Cuisine and is now the dominant oilseed produced worldwide.
    Production: Extracted from the soya bean, which is a species of legume native to eastern Asia.
    Nutrient profile: Rich in PUFA (51.3g per 100g) and a source of vitamin E (17.24g per 100g).
    Common uses: Cooking, salad dressings, manufacture of vegetable oil, margarine and shortening.
  • Suet
    This is raw beef or mutton fat; has a high melting point.
    Production: Fat from around the kidneys and connective tissue is removed, coarsely grated and refrigerated.
    Nutrient profile: 52g/100g SFA, 32g/100g MUFA.
    Common uses: Used to make tallow or as an ingredient in cooking, e.g. dumplings, haggis, Christmas pudding, steak and kidney pudding.
  • Sunflower oil
    Has a mild flavour and is therefore suitable for use as a base for salad dressings or in combination with stronger flavoured oils, but is commonly used in food as frying oil.
    Production: Produced from sunflower seeds.
    Nutrient profile: Its fatty acid composition depends upon where the crop is grown. A rich source of PUFA (63.3g per 100g), predominately as the n-6 LA. A rich source of the antioxidant vitamin E (49.22mg/100g).
    Common uses: Cooking, salad dressings, margarine and shortening production.
  • Truffle oil
    Truffle oil is a modern culinary ingredient added to foods, which is intended to impart the flavor and aroma of truffles. However, contrary to popular belief most truffle oil does not, in fact, contain any truffles, but is actually olive oil containing a synthetic flavoring agent 2,4-dithiapentane.
  • Vegetable oil
    Often very little taste or aroma and a high smoke point making it a useful all-purpose oil, however qualities vary and there may be some oxidation. Often highly processed and not regarded as a 'healthy' oil.
    Production: It usually consists of a highly refined blend of various oils such as soybean, corn and sunflower oils, or it may consist of one type of oil.
    Nutrient profile: Depends on the blend of oils used.
    Common uses: Cooking, baking.
  • Walnut oil
    Has a rich, nutty flavour and is light-coloured, unrefined and delicate.
    Production: It is made from walnuts that are dried and then cold-pressed.
    Nutrient profile: High in PUFA (n-6 mainly and some n-3) and some MUFA. Also contains some antioxidants (destroyed in heating).
    Common uses: Best used uncooked or in cold sauces because when it is heated it can become slightly bitter.

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* A fixed oil is a glyceride of one fatty acid