There is no shortage of fats to chose from when shopping at the supermarket. They come either in liquid form (oil) or solid (lard, butter, margarine). There are various ways to classify oils and fats, such as animal or plant based, their flavor, percentage of unsaturated vs saturated fatty acids, etc…
Another means to sort the oils is by their smoke point.
The smoke point is simply the temperature at which the oil’s chemical composition begins to change and it becomes something different. As you may already know, all oils are a collection of various types of fatty acids. At the smoke point, the oil breaks down into these individual fatty acids, also releasing glycerine molecules. The glycerine molecules are further broken into acrolein – the substance we smell and perceive as stinky, eye irritating smoke.
As the oil breaks down, it loses its flavor and its nutritional benefits, so you want to make sure the oil you are using to saute your mushrooms or fry your onions does not pass its smoke point.
Here are the smoke points for some popular oils, ordered from high to low.
- 520°F – Avocado oil
- 460°F – Soybean oil (refined)
- 400°-450°F – Canola Oil (the more refined, the higher the smoke point)
- 400°F – Extra virgin olive oil
- 375°F – Olive oil
- 370°F – Lard
- 250°-300°F – Butter
Please note that these values can vary widely depending on the specific oil you have in hand. The only way to really know is to start heating the oil and see what happens.
A popular misconception is that olive oil should not be used for frying because of their low smoke point. As you can see, that is not always the case. The reason some chefs don’t always use olive oil for frying is that imparts its strong flavor, unlike canola or soybean oils.