Neutral oil is one of the most versatile oils you need in the kitchen. Which is the best one to use for your everyday cooking? In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits of cooking with neutral oil, the various options to consider, and my recommendations.
Cooking oil is an indispensable kitchen staple. For home cooks who enjoy cooking Asian cuisines at home, you’ll find that most recipes call for neutral oil or neutral-flavored oil. Why? There are a few reasons, so today we’ll take a look at the advantages of using neutral oil and the options that will serve you well in the kitchen.
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What is Neutral Oil?
Neutral oil or neutral-tasting oil refers to oils that have zero to very little flavor and aroma. It allows the natural taste of your ingredients to take center stage, without imparting any additional flavor to the dish.
They are the preferred choice for most Asian cooking—be it Japanese, Chinese, Korean, or Southeast Asian—as they are suitable for the typical cooking applications used in the cuisines. Neutral-flavored oil is also fantastic for baking, frying, deep-frying, and roasting.
Benefits of Cooking with Neutral Oil
In addition to the neutral taste, here are a few other quick benefits and reasons why we use neutral oil:
- High smoke point. You can achieve that perfect golden-brown crust on your chicken or a beautiful sear on your steak, all while maintaining the integrity of the oil.
- Light texture and viscosity. They help evenly distribute oil with heat throughout the cooking process.
Best Neutral Oil for Everyday Cooking
When choosing the best neutral oil for cooking, the market offers a wide array of options. The ideal choice depends on factors such as flavor neutrality, smoke point, health benefits, and availability.
I included my recommended brands for the various oils I use at home below, but you can always explore house brands from major grocery stores such as Costco, Whole Foods, or Trader Joe’s for budget options.
Avocado oil is high in monounsaturated fat (healthy fat) and is generally considered the healthiest cooking oil. It boasts a favorable omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio, contributing to heart health. It has one of the highest smoke points at 500℉ and its neutral flavor makes it great for frying. While it’s one of the healthiest oils available, it’s also one of the most expensive cooking oils on the market. It has a mild buttery flavor but doesn’t overpower your dishes.
- Usage: Sautéing, pan-frying, roasting, searing, grilling, or in salad dressings
- Recipes: Chicken Katsu, Asian Cabbage Salad
- Brands: Chosen Foods 100% Pure Avocado Oil
Untoasted Sesame Oil
Made from raw, pressed sesame seeds, untoasted sesame oil is my go-to choice for pan-frying for its neutral flavor. The oil doesn’t go through any roasting process, so the color is light and clear. It is on the expensive side, but it’s fabulous for recipes that do not call for a large amount of oil.
- Usage: Stir-fries, sautéing, in marinades, or in sauces and condiments
- Recipes: Homemade La-yu (Japanese Chili Oil) and Kimchi Fried Rice
- Brands: Maruhon Sesame Oil and Spectrum Organic Sesame Oil
Rice Bran Oil
Rice bran oil (米油), extracted from the outer layer of rice grains, has gained popularity as a neutral cooking oil. It offers a mild taste and a high smoke point, usually around 450°F (232°C). Rice bran oil is rich in vitamin E and contains a balanced amount of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
- Usage: Deep-frying
- Recipes: Tempura, Karaage (Japanese Fried Chicken), Shrimp Egg Rolls
- Brands: California Rice Bran Oil, Ellyndale Naturals Rice Bran Oil, Sanwa Kome Abura
Made from the canola plant, canola oil has been the most commonly used oil because of its neutral taste and versatility. It is widely available and inexpensive so most people use it for economical reasons as well. You would often see it used in prepared/packaging foods as well. It has a smoke point of about 400℉ (204°C) so it’s suitable for a variety of cooking methods.
- Usage: All-purpose
- Brands: Spectrum Naturals Organic Canola Oil, La Tourangelle Organic Canola Oil, Simple Truth Expeller Pressed Canola Oil
Safflower Oil (Refined)
Safflower oil is derived from the seeds of the safflower plant and is known for its high smoke point, typically ranging from 440°F to 450°F (227°C to 232°C). This makes it a fantastic option for deep-frying and high-heat cooking. With a neutral taste and light texture, safflower oil allows the flavors of your ingredients to shine.
- Usage: Pan-frying, stir-frying, deep frying, sautéing, and baking.
- Recipes: Stir-fried Vegetables, Butter Shoyu Chicken
- Brands: Oléico High Oleic Safflower Oil, Spectrum Organic Safflower Oil
Sunflower oil, pressed from sunflower seeds, is another popular neutral oil for cooking. With a smoke point that can reach up to 440°F (227°C), sunflower oil has a light flavor profile and a golden color. Sunflower oil contains vitamin E and is relatively low in saturated fat, making it a healthier option for everyday cooking.
- Usage: All-purpose
- Brands: La Tourangelle Organic High Oleic Sunflower Oil, Healthy Harvest Non-GMO Sunflower Oil, Smude’s Brand Cold Pressed Sunflower Oil, Spectrum Naturals Organic Hi Heat Sunflower Oil
This can be a confusing term since olive oil is also technically a vegetable oil. To clarify, vegetable oil refers to a blend of oils containing different nut and seed oils, such as soybean oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, palm oil, or palm kernel oil. Vegetable oils have a neutral flavor and high smoke point, making them popular for high-heat cooking such as deep-frying and baking. They are also a lot cheaper compared to other types of oil.
- Usage: Sautéing, cooking over moderate heat, or in recipes that call for a larger amount of oil.
- Brands: I don’t use vegetable oil, but some popular brands include Wesson Pure Vegetable Oil and Crisco Pure Vegetable Oil.
Refined Olive Oil (Not Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
Not to be mistaken as extra virgin olive oil (short for EVOO), olive oil or light refined olive oil has been processed with heat to neutralize its flavor. It has a more neutral taste and a higher smoke point of 465–470°, making it suitable for high-heat cooking. You can easily tell it apart from the EVOO from its lighter color.
- Usage: Sautéing
- Brands: I don’t use refined olive oil, but some popular brands include Pompeian Rich Taste Olive Oil, Bertolli Extra Light, Filippo Berio Extra Light Olive Oil
Extracted from the seeds of grapes, grapeseed oil offers a neutral flavor and a high smoke point, typically ranging from 390°F to 420°F (199°C to 215°C). Its light, clean taste makes it an excellent choice for dishes where you want the natural flavors to shine. Its versatility and ability to handle high-heat cooking make it an appealing option for both home cooks and professional chefs.
- Usage: Sautéing and frying, or in baked goods, sauces, mayonnaise, and dressings
- Recipes: Homemade Japanese Mayonnaise
- Brands: I don’t personally use grape seed oil, but some popular brands include Baja Precious Grapeseed Oil, Pompeian 100% Grapeseed Oil, La Tourangelle Expeller-Pressed Grapeseed Oil
Peanut oil is a vegetable-derived oil made from the edible seeds of the peanut plant. It is widely used in different cuisines for deep-frying but is most common in Chinese, Southeast, and South Asian cooking. You can use it for deep-frying and recipes that require high-smoked point oil. Take note as they are different types of peanut oils as well.
- Usage: Frying and deep-frying
- Recipes: Twice Cooked Pork, Fried Chicken with Scallion Soy Sauce
- Brands: I don’t personally use peanut oil, but some popular brands include Planters Peanut Oil, Spectrum Naturals High Heat Organic Peanut Oil
Everyone has their cooking budget and preferences, so my recommendation is to be mindful of the source and quality of the oil, ensuring it comes from reputable brands and is stored properly to maintain its freshness.
Q: Are seed oils such as canola oil or sunflower oil unhealthy?
If you follow health trends, you’ve probably read or heard that seed oils are bad for you as they are inflammatory. However, like most controversies in nutrition, it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon without having a proper understanding of the subject. To help you have a broader perspective and insights, here are some resources you can refer to: