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It used to be that when you wanted an oil to cook with, you went to the supermarket, grabbed a bottle of oil from the shelf and went on your way.
Boy, how times have changed.
Choosing an oil has become almost as challenging as choosing a car. (Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration.) But really, with so many varieties available, how are you to know which one is best? Truth is, there probably isn’t a best. But you may choose one according to the taste, its varied uses and its health benefits. Here’s a look at a some of the options today:
Best uses: With a light, delicate flavor and exceptionally high smoke point, algae oil is quite effective in allowing the flavors of food ingredients to shine through, making it ideal for sauteing and frying, as well as salad dressings.
Pros: Algae oil provides an unprecedented level of healthy monounsaturated fats and the lowest level of saturated fats in food oils. Monounsaturated fats may help to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Cons: This type of oil can be tough to find, but due to demand for more sustainable oils, I predict we’ll see algae oil in stores in the near future.
Best uses: Typically, it’s not recommended to heat almond oil (especially the cold-pressed kind) to high temperatures. Instead, you should treat it more as a finishing oil, adding it to a meal just before it’s served. Because of its nutty, toasty flavor, almond oil is also ideal in salads, salad dressings and for baking cookies, cakes and muffins.
Pros: Almond oil is a good source of vitamin E, which is a powerful antioxidant that protects your body from free radicals, and may strengthen your immune system.
Cons: Are there any?
Best uses: With its high smoke point, avocado oil is ideal for frying and sauteing, but it also works well in salads and salad dressing because of its nutty flavor and buttery texture.
Pros: There is research to support that avocado oil may improve overall blood pressure.
Cons: If you’re hoping it tastes like liquid avocado, you’re out of luck.
Best uses: With its neutral flavor and medium-high smoke point, canola oil is very versatile. It can be used for sauteing, stir-frying, grilling and baking.
Pros: Canola is the richest cooking oil source of alpha-linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fat (essential in your diet, that is, because your body can’t make it) that has been linked to heart health and lowering cholesterol.
Cons: A large amount of canola oil sold today is genetically engineered. If that’s a concern for you – although it’s not for me – choose a brand labeled “certified organic.”
Best uses: Coconut oil is best for baking, and substitutes well for butter and shortening in recipes. It’s also good for sauteing, but only if you like the coconut flavor.
Pros: A few studies looked at coconut oil and found the combination of fatty acids in coconut oil may improve the ratio of total cholesterol.
Cons: Coconut oil contains high levels of saturated fats. I recommend using it minimally.
Best uses: Flaxseed oil should not be heated. It’s best used in salads, salad dressings or drizzled on cooked vegetables for extra flavor.
Pros: Flaxseed oil is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown it may help lower blood pressure and have a protective effect on your heart.
Cons: Flaxseed oil can go rancid very quickly, so keep it in the refrigerator and use it within a few months of opening.
Best uses: Grapeseed oil has a fairly neutral flavor and a medium-high smoke point, which makes it good for sauteing, frying and salad dressings.
Pros: There is some research to suggest that grapeseed oil may lower blood pressure levels as well as overall heart rate.
Cons: Grapeseed oil can occasionally have dangerous levels of pollutants due to the drying process, which involves direct contact with combustion gases. Whenever possible, buy organic grapeseed oil, as this means it is produced without any chemical substances.
Best uses: Olive oil can be used for sauteing over medium heat, but to really enjoy the flavor, it’s best used as a dressing for salads, tossed in pastas or drizzled over soups or bread.
Pros: Olive oil is high in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that helps to protect your cells from damage, and possesses anti-inflammatory properties. And, in addition to its heart-healthy monounsaturated fat content, there is some research that shows that olive oil’s aroma may help to aid in satiety.
Cons: Not all olive oil is created equal. For optimal taste, you should buy extra virgin olive oil, which is not ideal for high-temperature cooking, and can get a little pricey.
Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report
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