Know Your Cooking Oil Smoke Points

Cottonseed Oil

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

The smoke point of cooking oils refers to the temperature when an oil starts to smoke—which it will reach before its boiling point. Heating oils past their smoking point has been linked to the formation of carcinogens and can also create an off, burnt flavor.

Knowing the difference between oils and their smoke points is an essential part of healthy cooking. Each oil has a different smoke point and it affects nutrition, flavor, and the best cooking method.

What Is Smoke Point?

A smoke point is the temperature at which an oil will begin to smoke. If you're using an oil to saute or fry food, the smoke point will be the moment when the oil smokes on the pan.

Factors Affecting Smoke Point

Each oil has a different smoke point and will vary depending on whether the oil is refined or not and what the percentage is of polyunsaturated vs monounsaturated vs saturated fats.

  • Refining: Since refining removes impurities and free fatty acids that can cause the oil to smoke, refined oils have a higher smoke point.
  • Type of fat: Oils consist of different types of fats, including polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated. Oils high in polyunsaturated fats (sunflower, flaxseed, or safflower) tend to have a lower smoke point, while oils higher in monounsaturated fats (avocado, canola, and olive) have medium smoke points. Meanwhile, oils high in saturated fats (coconut and palm) have higher smoke points.
  • Age: As an oil ages, it's exposed to light, heat, and air, which can lower its effectiveness and smoke point with time.

High Smoke Point Oils

A high smoke point is considered 400 degrees F and higher, and oils with this high smoke point are best used for frying. These include avocado oil, canola oil, corn oil, and peanut oil.

Low Smoke Point Oils

On the other end, a low smoke point is considered 225 degrees F or less. These oils—including flaxseed oil, pumpkin seed oil, and walnut oil—should not be heated and should instead be used for salad dressing or as a garnish.

Oil Smoke Points and Health

The smoke that is created once an oil reaches its smoke point is an indication of the fat's breakdown. As oil is heated, more free fatty acids are produced which lowers the smoke point.

It is generally recommended to not reuse frying oil more than twice. This is primarily because of this increase in free fatty acid formation and harmful free radicals each time oil is heated through a process called oxidation—a series of chemical reactions involving oxygen that degrade the quality of the oil and lead to rancidity.

Deep fried foods can actually contain toxic carcinogenic compounds if cooked in oil that is reheated over and over again and especially in oil that is high in PUFAs. Reheating oil also breaks down the beneficial polyphenol antioxidants, one of the major health benefits of plant-based oils. Repeatedly heating fats, especially polyunsaturated fats, at high temperatures beyond their smoke point can cause the formation of carcinogenic compounds.

Additional studies have found that prolonged and consistent exposure to cooking oil fumes has been linked to certain cancers. Avoiding ongoing exposure to fumes produced by cooking oils, as well as proper ventilation, is key to lowering the risk of lung cancer.

Oil Smoke Points and Nutrition

For overall health, the best oils are those high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats are known to be heart-protective and reduce systemic inflammation in the body.

Monounsaturated oils include canola oil, peanut oil, almond oil, olive oil, avocado oil, and high oleic sunflower and safflower oil. These oils tend to have higher smoke points. Polyunsaturated oils include wheat germ oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, grapeseed oil, walnut oil, flaxseed oil, and corn oil—all of which have a lower smoke point. Sesame oil has almost equal proportions of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (around 40% each).

After oils are extracted or pressed, they can either be bottled immediately or refined and processed. Oils left in their natural state are labeled as unrefined, cold-pressed, raw, or virgin and are processed without any chemical solvents. These oils tend to have better nutrient retention and higher polyphenol contents. These unrefined oils also tend to have lower smoke points and can turn rancid more quickly, so understanding their smoke points and storing them properly is imperative.

Oil Smoke Points and Flavor

The flavor of oils varies considerably. Most unrefined expeller-pressed and cold-pressed plant based oils will have their own unique flavors. However, some are stronger than others. For example, nut and seed oils such as walnut, almond, pecan, pumpkin seed, and sesame oil, particularly the "toasted" varieties, will have strong flavors that resemble the nut they are derived from and are best used as a key ingredient in a dish utilized specifically for their flavor.

Tips for Choosing a Cooking Oil

  • Determine which oil is the healthiest for your particular health goals
  • Narrow down which cooking oils have the appropriate smoke points for the specific cooking technique you are using
  • Think about whether you want the oil to be neutral or impart a particular flavor

Another category of oils, which chefs frequently call "neutral" oils, do not impart a strong flavor. They are used primarily for their function as a fat in the cooking process, such as to saute, impart browning or caramelization, or to use in frying. They tend to have a higher smoke point, as well.

Some neutral oils are also commonly used in vinaigrettes if the recipe includes other strong flavors and is primarily using the oil for emulsification, such as in a mayonnaise-based dressing. Neutral oils include canola oil, grapeseed oil, corn oil, and avocado oil.

High quality extra olive oil should have a fruity, bitter, and even pungent peppery taste depending on the type of olive used and its origin and processing. Regular virgin and light olive oils, are either a blend of cold-pressed and refined oils or fully refined with a processing method that uses heat and will have a more neutral taste and slightly higher smoke points.

Be careful to follow the particular smoke point for the oil you choose. Cooking any oil past its intended smoke point can produce bitter, burnt, and generally unpleasant flavors. While every oil has its own particular flavor—unless it's one of the "neutral" oils listed above—it can taste off if cooked beyond its smoke point.

Cooking Oil Smoke Point Chart

Choosing the best oil for your recipe will depend on several factors. You want to choose an oil that best fits your health goals, has (or doesn't have) a particular flavor, and which one has the appropriate smoke point for the cooking style you're using.

Use the chart below to choose the best flavor for your dish.

Smoke Points of Different Oils
Oil Smoke Point  Best Used For
Refined Avocado Oil 520F Deep-frying, searing, stir-frying
Refined or Light Olive Oil 465F Grilling, sautéing, stir-frying
Refined Peanut Oil 450F Deep-frying, stir-frying
Ghee or Clarified Butter 450F Sautéing, stir-frying
Corn Oil, Sunflower Oil, Safflower Oil 450F Sautéing, searing
Refined Coconut Oil 450F Sautéing, stir-frying
Refined Sesame Oil 410F Stir-frying
Canola Oil 400F Baking, grilling, sautéing
Grapeseed Oil 400F Sautéing, stir-frying
Extra Virgin Olive Oil 375-400F Baking, salad dressing, sautéing
Duck Fat, Chicken Fat, Lard 375F Baking, frying, sautéing
Vegetable Oil 400F Baking, deep frying, roasting, searing
Unrefined Virgin Avocado Oil 375F Roasting, searing, sautéing
Unrefined Virgin Coconut Oil, Unrefined Sesame Oil 350F Sautéing
Unrefined Walnut Oil, Unrefined Peanut Oil 320F Drizzle for salads and vegetables
Walnut Oil 300-350F Drizzle for salads and vegetables
Butter 300F Baking, searing

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I cook with extra virgin olive oil?

Yes! Not being able to cook with extra virgin olive oil is a myth. While its smoke point is not high enough for deep frying (and it would be very costly), extra virgin olive oil can easily be used for low to moderate heat cooking methods such as baking, roasting at moderate heat, sautéing and pan-frying.

Extra virgin olive oil is primarily made up of monounsaturated fats similar to avocado oil so is not as prone to oxidation as the oils high in polyunsaturated fats. In fact, in the Mediterranean region, extra virgin olive oil is pretty much used for everything!

The polyphenol content will start to decrease with heat so it is still good to use extra virgin olive oil in cold applications to get the maximum nutritional value in terms of antioxidants. But there are other health benefits from using extra virgin olive oil when cooking such as the high content of heart healthy monounsaturated fats, not to mention its incredible flavor.

If extra virgin gets too costly, the next best option is virgin olive oil which will just be a grade below extra virgin but still highly nutritious.

To season a pan, do you need an oil with a high smoke point?

When seasoning a pan such as cast iron, it's best to use an oil with a high smoke point. Since you'll be heating your pan on high heat to season it, reach for grapeseed, avocado, peanut, vegetable, or canola oil.

What are the benefits of a high smoke point cooking oil?

The primary benefit of oils with a high smoke point is that they can withstand high heat, and are therefore ideal oils for frying, sauteing, and searing. You can use these oils for high heat cooking methods without worrying about them smoking and developing rancid flavors.

What is the healthiest cooking oil?

Healthy cooking oils contain healthy fats—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated—rather than saturated fats. Oils high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats include olive, avocado, flaxseed, sesame, and canola.

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2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ganesan K, Sukalingam K, Xu B. Impact of consumption of repeatedly heated cooking oils on the incidence of various cancers- A critical reviewCritical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2019;59(3):488-505. doi:10.1080/10408398.2017.1379470.

  2. Chen T-Y, Fang Y-H, Chen H-L, et al. Impact of cooking oil fume exposure and fume extractor use on lung cancer risk in non-smoking Han Chinese womenScientific Reports. 2020;10(1):6774. doi:10.1038/s41598-020-63656-7.

Additional Reading
  • Olive Oil and Health. International Olive Council website. 2019

  • Polyphenols. Olive Oil Times. Accessed January 10, 2020.

  • Chart of Oil Smoke Points. Cooking Oils and Smoke Points: What to Know and How to Choose the Right Cooking Oil. Masterclass website. Updated Sept 25, 2019.

  • de Alzaa F, Guillaume C, Ravetti L. Evaluation of Chemical and Physical Changes in Different Commercial Oils during Heating. Acta Scientific Nutritional Health. 2018;2(6): 02-11.

  • Grootveld M, Silwood C, Addis P, Claxson A, Bonet Serra B, Viana M. Health Effects of Oxidized Heated Oils. 2001; 13 (1): 41-55.