Stir-frying is one of the most commonly used cooking techniques in Chinese cooking. The key for making a really good stir-fry is using a really high cooking temperature and cooking the food really quickly. You can check this article “Chinese Stir-Fry Tips” for more stir-fry tips.
As amazing as stir-fries are people often ask me what the best kind of oil is for stir-fries so this article is going to tell you what type of oil you should be using.
Because stir-frying involves cooking food at high heats, it’s important to choose oil that has a high smoke point, otherwise the oil will burn and the whole dish will be ruined. You will never see any Chinese people use butter to cook stir-fries because butter, as with some oils, have a much lower smoke point than oils like sunflower oil, vegetable oil and olive oil.
Oil that is heated to its smoke point or higher will begin smoking and will start to impart a bitter taste to the food. Furthermore, because the oil is breaking down at a molecular level, it can produce carcinogens.
Chinese cooks normally use soybean oil, vegetable oil or peanut oil, all of which have a high smoke point. Peanut oil usually has a pleasant nutty flavour and it’s suitable not only for stir-frying but also for deep-frying. Canola oil, which also has a high smoke point but a neutral flavour is also a good choice. Other types of oil you can use are corn, soybean and coconut oil.
You can also use olive oil to cook a stir-fry. Nowadays more and more Chinese families care about healthy living and eating so olive oil is another oil that’s become very popular in Chinese households. I personally use olive oil to cook all the time but please don’t confuse this with “extra virgin olive oil”.
Extra virgin olive oil has a very low smoke point with a strong flavour making it completely unsuitable for stir-frying.
Another oil that is becoming more popular for stir-frying and deep-frying is grapeseed oil. Grapeseed oil is made from the seeds of grapes after the wine has been pressed. Grapeseed oil has a clean flavour and a high smoke point (420 degrees Fahrenheit or 195 degrees Celsius). One of the benefits of grapeseed oil is that is has similar health benefits to olive oil but with a more neutral flavour.
List of the high smoke point oils:
Safflower oil (510F/ 265C)
Rice Bran Oil (490F/ 260C)
Light/Refined Olive Oil (465F/240C)
Soybean Oil (450F/230C)
Peanut Oil (450F/230C)
Corn Oil (450F/230C)
Vegetable Oil (400-450F/ 205-230C)
Sunflower Oil (440F/225C)
Grapeseed Oil (390F 195C)
So which stir-fry oils are the healthiest? Both Canola oil and olive oil are low in unhealthy saturated fats and high in healthy monounsaturated fats. Scientists believe monounsaturated fats help to lower bad cholesterol (LDL) that can clog arteries, leading to heart disease or strokes while increasing the level of good cholesterol (HDL) that removes cholesterol buildup from the arteries.
Grapeseed oil is low in saturated fat and high in polyunsaturated fat, which scientists believe can also help raise HDL levels.
Grapeseed oil is also a good source of linoleic acid - a type of essential fatty acid which, like the Omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, can’t be manufactured by our bodies and must be obtained from food.
Some people might ask so how about sesame oil? Can sesame oil be used for stir-fry? Sesame oil has a very low smoke point so we don’t generally use this for stir-fries. There are some Chinese dishes that use toasted sesame oil to fry the ingredients, such as three cup chicken. But you need to be very carefully when you heat up toasted sesame oil in a wok. Don’t overheat it otherwise it will burn and make your dish taste very bitter. Most of the time in Chinese cooking, sesame oil is only used for seasoning or adding to stir-fry dishes at the end of cooking.
You can have a look of this article “ How to Use Different Sesame Oils In Chinese Cooking” for more information about different type of sesame oil and how to use them in Chinese cooking.