All Those New Oils

I often get questions about all these new—even new-fangled—oils like grape seed oil, rice bran oil, hemp seed oil and argan oil. Other oils new to the scene include avocado oil and camelina oil. Do they have any health benefits, and should we use them in cooking and food preparation?

Vegetable OilsTo answer these questions, let’s begin by looking at the fatty acid profiles.  Remember that we want to avoid oils too high in omega-6 fatty acids. Ideally the level of omega-6 should be less than 15 percent, and the balance of omega-6 to omega-3 should be two or three to one.

Saturated Monounsaturated Omega-6 Omega-3
Grape Seed Oil 11% 16% 70% 0.1%
Rice Bran Oil 25% 38% 34% 2%
Hemp Seed Oil 10% 12% 77% 1%
Argan Oil 18% 43% 37% 0.5%
Avocado Oil 12% 70% 12% 1%
Camelina Oil 11% 32% 23% 31%

That immediately rules out the first four oils.  For starters, note that hemp seed oil and grape seed oil are 70-77 percent omega-6! And only camelina oil has a good ratio of omega-6 to omega-3.

I know that promoters of grape seed oil claim that it’s a great oil for cooking, with a high smoke point, but there are many fats and oils with higher smoke points, including refined soybean oil.  The only explanation for the high smoke point of something as unstable as soybean oil is the addition of some pretty hefty anti-oxidants, which are definitely not good for you. I think we can safely conclude that grape seed oil, with its very high concentration of fragile omega-6, has a high smoke point for the same reason.

For grape seed oil, rice bran oil and hemp seed oil, the only reason these are “new” oils is because they can only be extracted from the seed with a modern oil press.  Since the stainless steel roller press for extracting oils from seeds only appeared in the late 1800s, these oils did not exist in days gone by. They are not traditional oils that can be released from the seed with an old-fashioned stone press—this is only possible with oily fruit like coconut, olives and palm fruit, or with very oily seeds like sesame seeds, flax seeds or rape seeds. Like cottonseed oil, these three oils represent an attempt to make a profit from waste products—specifically the seeds leftover from wine making, the hulls from white rice production and the seeds from hemp product production.  Better to plow the grape seeds and pulp back into the vineyard soils as they used to do, feed the vitamin B-rich rice bran to chickens. . . and the hemp seeds? Since hemp seeds and oil contain traces of cannabinoids, I am not sure what a good use for them would be, but it’s definitely not cooking oil!

And remember, grape seed oil, rice bran oil and hemp oil are all industrial oils—processed in factories using the same equipment that oil refineries use.  These oils are heated to very high temperature at least five times before bottling—and then the manufacturers claim it’s safe to cook with them! Like all the other industrial oils, these new-fangled oils break down with heat into highly carcinogenic aldehydes; it’s best to avoid them like the plague.

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Making Argan Oil

The situation with argan oil is a little different. Argan oil is a plant oil that comes from the oily kernels of the Moroccan argan tree (Argania spinosa L.), which only  yields its oil by traditional methods. Attempts to mechanize the process of cracking the nuts have been unsuccessful, so workers still do it by hand—usually it is the women who carry out this difficult task.

In some areas of Morocco, the herders allow goats to climb argan trees to feed on the fruits, later retrieving the seeds from the goat droppings, considerably reducing the labor involved!

The people of Morocco are wise enough not to heat such a fragile oil.  They use the fresh, filtered oil for dipping and for cosmetics, not for cooking. Used in small amounts in the context of the Moroccan diet, which contains goat milk and butter rich in saturated fats to balance the unsaturated fats in argan oil, it’s probably safe enough. In any event, production of argan oil is very low, not enough to make this specialized product a player on world markets.

Avocado oil is high in stable monounsaturated fatty acids, very similar in fatty acid profile to olive oil. It is fairly easy to extract at low temperature from the oily avocado flesh.  While not a traditional oil, avocado oil is safe to use and cook with; people today use avocado oil as a substitute for olive oil in cooking and making mayonnaise.

Finally, camelina oil comes from the “false flax” seed and has a long history of cultivation.  Archeological evidence indicates its use in Europe for at least three thousand years, and it served as an important oil crop in eastern and central Europe until the 1940s. Camelina oil has a fatty acid profile similar to that of flax seed oil—very high in omega-3 fatty acids.  So it can be used in the same way as flax seed—added in small amounts to salad dressing or dips—but never heated!  Yet, some manufacturers advertise camelina oil as safe for cooking with a high smoke point! As with soybean oil, the high levels of omega-3 make it totally unsuitable for cooking, and if it has a high smoke point, the only explanation is the addition of strong industrial anti-oxidants.

While olive oil and avocado oil are safe for cooking, animal fats are a better bet, especially of you want to fry something at higher temperatures. Here’s a list of safe fats and oils and how they should be used:

  • Olive Oil and Avocado Oil: Use for salad dressing and light cooking—make sure it is real extra virgin olive oil and cold pressed avocado oil!
  • Flax oil and Camelina Oil: Add in small amounts to salad dressings or dips—never use in cooking! Make sure it is truly cold pressed and store in the refrigerator.
  • Coconut Oil: A very healthy oil, helpful for weight loss. Use for light cooking or stir into soups, etc.
  • Palm Oil: Safe and stable for cooking. This is the oil that food manufacturers should be using.
  • Lard and Bacon Fat: Good stable fats for cooking and frying; good sources of vitamins A and K.
  • Beef Tallow: The most stable fat, the best fat for deep frying.
  • Duck Fat and Goose Fat: Great sources of vitamin K; can be used for sautéing
  • Butter: The queen of fats! It is stable for cooking and a good source of fat-soluble vitamins. Spread on bread, put on your vegetables, use in sauces, OK for sautéing.

The Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) is your source for accurate information on diet and health; use the WAPF Shopping Guide, now available as an app, to find healthy fats and oils.

Author: Sally Fallon Morell

Sally Fallon Morell is best known as the author of Nourishing Traditions®: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. This well-researched, thought-provoking guide to traditional foods contains a startling message: animal fats and cholesterol are not villains but vital factors in the diet, necessary for normal growth, proper function of the brain and nervous system, protection from disease and optimum energy levels.

10 thoughts on “All Those New Oils”

  1. Palm oil (and coconut oil) was the fat that food manufacturers used years ago, before the crazy Soy oil recommendation started!

  2. How about peanut oil? I was thinking since it is naturally so oily that it may be good.

  3. Palm oil production is having a devastating effect on wild life, especially orangutans. Many here in England and the rest of Europe don’t feel this is a sustainable fat at all. Please investigate this issue and, perhaps, change your advice. Thanks.

  4. I did a little research on avocado oil. It turns out that in Mexico they have an insect pest which attacks the avocado which means that all the avocados grown in Mexico (that are not organic) are doused with tons of pesticides. Most of the non-organic avocado oil is made from avocados grown in Mexico. The Environmental Working Group has rated the avocado among the cleanest of the conventionally grown produce, but they tested avocados grown in the US, where those pests don’t exist. If you use avocado oil or eat fresh avocados, make sure it is from either US grown avocados for conventional, or Organic Mexican avocados.

  5. Dear Sally,
    Would you please give us your thoughts on “Essential Fatty Acids” (EFAs) as a necessary diet component. Also please comment about the quandary of getting sufficient EFAs from Sunflower oil use vs the hazard of that oil.

  6. The more I research and learn, the more upset I am at the food industry. My blood is boiling at the deception and false propaganda. I’m praying daily that the Lord help me eliminate ALL seed oils from my consumption and for my son. Praying for my husband as well, that his eyes will be opened and that he’s willing to make the necessary sacrifice.

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