Sort your sunflower from your coconut with MF’s guide to cooking oil ingredients, smoke points and health benefits.







Vegetable oil

The most common oil used in the UK is refined rapeseed but can also include others such as corn, soybean, safflower, palm, and sunflower oils, or a blend of several.


  • Mostly unsaturated fats.
  • Cheap.
  • High smoke point, so suitable for deep frying.
  • High in omega-6 fatty acids (although essential, most people in the West have too much).
  • Highly refined: production involves high heat and exposure to chemicals which markedly decreases nutrients.


Sunflower oil

Most large manufacturers use high heat and solvents to extract the oil from sunflower seeds.


  • Mostly unsaturated fats.
  • Cheap.
  • High smoke point so suitable for deep frying.
  • High in omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Aldehydes produced when heated repeatedly – as is often the case in commercial deep fat fryers – which are toxic.

Cold-pressed rapeseed oil

Rapeseed is simply pressed at low temperatures and filtered.


  • Source of omega-3 fats.
  • Even lower in saturated fat than olive oil.
  • Contains vitamin E and naturally occurring plant sterols.
  • High smoke point, so suitable for most domestic cooking methods.
  • Expensive.
  • Some love the nutty favour but it’s not to everyone’s taste.

Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)

The oil is extracted by grinding and pressing olives; no other chemicals, heat, or processes are used.


  • Taste.
  • High in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.
  • Contains polyphenols and antioxidants.
  • Expensive.
  • Easy to over-consume in dressings, sauces, etc.

Refined olive oil

Refining process will often include the presence of heat or chemicals.


  • Higher smoke point than EVOO.
  • Longer shelf life.
  • Cheaper.
  • Very little flavour.
  • Refining process strips most nutrients found in EVOO.

Coconut oil

Coconut flesh is ground and pressed, then oil separated off.


  • Adds authentic flavour for South Asian cooking.
  • Solid at room temperature, which is a useful property in some recipes.
  • Very high in saturated fat (even higher than lard).
  • Studies show it raises LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol.
  • High environmental impact.


Words: TJ Waterfall