Without oils, the food world as we know it would be pretty bleak. Oil adds simple luxury to just about anything, and it’s the ultimate culinary tool: perfect for preventing food from being too dry or sticking to the pan. To get the most out of this wonder ingredient, familiarize yourself with different types and flavors. Distinguishing quality is key. For example, oil drizzled atop salad or bread should be light, not greasy and thick. It’s critical to understand which oils are best suited for frying, baking or consuming raw. Here are some clues to simplify your oil-searching process.

Olive Oil
Use olive oil for dressings, bread and cheese. Since the smoke point is low, raw use is preferable. The best is extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), which is free of acidity and additives. It possesses a tasteful balance of fruity and peppery tones with a hint of bitterness. Fresh, uncured olives are slightly tart, so this will be noticeable in an excellent EVOO.

Canola Oil
A common vegetable oil with a
relatively high smoke point, canola oil is best used for sautéing or frying at medium temperatures. It’s high in fatty and oleic acids and low in saturated fats. Its delicate flavor is well suited for light, floral dishes.

Vegetable Oil
The most popular oil, vegetable oil is comprised of a medley of oils such as corn, soybean, palm and sunflower. With its high vitamin E content, vegetable oil is a healthy additive for any meal. Its incredibly high smoke point makes it preferable for frying at high temperatures, and its mild aroma is compatible with most dishes.

Grape Seed Oil
With a high smoke point, grape seed oil is ideal for stir-frying and sautéing. Benefits include polyunsaturated fats that lower bad cholesterol while raising good cholesterol, as well as high levels of vitamin E. If consumed raw, its airy, clean taste and texture mix well with herbs, such as rosemary or thyme, or with mayonnaise to make dressing.

Coconut Oil
Coconut oil’s subtle, sweet flavor
complements scones and pastries, making it a good substitute for butter in baked goods. You can even add it to South Asian curries and noodle dishes for a nuttier zest. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature and has a low smoke point. Consume this oil in moderation, however, since it’s high in saturated fat.