Cooking Oil Heat Limits

Each oil has its own characteristics, like flavor and color, and one of them is the smoke point at which the oil begins to break down, burns, produces a blueish smoke, and vaporizes into the air. It’s all over for the oil at that point.

The smoke point is different for each oil. We’ve all seen the smoke coming off a pan with nothing but oil in it, and realize that we have burned the oil.  For example,

Olive oil has a low smoke point; that is, at a somewhat low temperature, it will break down, turn brown, and begin to vaporize (smoke). So olive oil is used for salad dressings (no cooking at all) and light sautéing where the temperatures don’t get very high.

Peanut oil, on the other hand, has a medium high smoke point, so it can be used for cooking in woks at high temperatures. However, it might be too heavy to use in a salad.

When the oil burns, its color changes (it turns dark yellow or brown) and its taste changes as well, very seldom for the better.  The nutritional value of the oil also deteriorates starting at the smoke point.  It is usually best to wipe the pan out and start over!

As you can see, it’s important to use the right oil for the right cooking job.

At least one company, Spectrum, has labeled its oils to indicate the heat temperatures that each particular oil can tolerate.  To some extent, Spectrum has formulated its oils to suit these temperatures (and thus, they may not apply to all Canolas, for example). It has to do with the fatty acid content of the oil, which Spectrum may be able to control to some degree in the process of refining the oil.

But we might still be able to use their ratings as a ballpark indicator for the oil in hand when we are deciding what kind of heat it can tolerate before breaking down.

Here are the Spectrum ratings.  They are general (read “somewhat vague”), so we should just use them as a rough measure of how to use these oils.

Following that is a table fromthat lists many more oils and their smoke points by temperature. You can see from the Wiki table that it sometimes makes a big temperature difference if the oil is refined, unrefined, extra virgin, etc.

Butter—Very Low Heat

Margarine—Very Low Heat

Olive Oil—Low Heat

Toasted Sesame Oil—Medium Heat

Organic Sesame Oil—Medium Heat

Canola Oil—Medium High Heat

Hazelnut Oil—Medium High Heat

Grapeseed Oil—Medium High Heat

Walnut Oil—Medium High Heat

Peanut Oil—Medium High Heat

Almond Oil—High Heat

Ghee (Indian Clarified Butter)—High Heat

Safflower Oil—High Heat

Sunflower Oil—High Heat

Regular Sesame Oil—High Heat  (not organic or toasted)

Table of Cooking Oil Smoke Points from Wikipedia 


The following table presents smoke points of various fats:

Fat↓ Quality↓ Smoke Point↓
Almond oil 420°F 216°C
Avocado oil 520°F 271°C
Butter 250–300°F 121–149°C
Canola oil Expeller Press 375-450°F[5] 190-232°C
Canola oil High Oleic 475°F 246°C
Canola oil Refined 400°F 204°C[1]
Castor oil Refined 392°F 200°C[6]
Coconut oil Extra Virgin (Unrefined) 350°F[7] 177°C
Coconut oil Refined 450°F 232°C
Corn oil Unrefined 352°F 178°C[6]
Corn oil Refined 450°F 232°C[1]
Cottonseed oil 420°F 216°C[1]
Flax seed oil Unrefined 225°F 107°C
Ghee (Indian Clarified Butter) 485°F 252°C
Grapeseed oil 420°F 216°C
Hazelnut oil 430°F 221°C
Hemp oil 330°F 165°C
Lard 370°F 188°C
Macadamia oil 413°F 210°C
Mustard oil 489°F 254°C
Olive oil Extra virgin 375°F 191°C
Olive oil Virgin 391°F 199°C[6]
Olive oil Pomace 460°F 238°C[1]
Olive oil Extra light 468°F 242°C[1]
Olive oil, high quality (low acidity) Extra virgin 405°F 207°C
Palm oil Difractionated 455°F 235°C[8]
Peanut oil Unrefined 320°F 160°C
Peanut oil Refined 450°F 232°C[1]
Rice bran oil 490°F 254°C
Safflower oil Unrefined 225°F 107°C
Safflower oil Semirefined 320°F 160°C
Safflower oil Refined 510°F 266°C[1]
Sesame oil Unrefined 350°F 177°C
Sesame oil Semirefined 450°F 232°C
Soybean oil Unrefined 320°F 160°C
Soybean oil Semirefined 350°F 177°C
Soybean oil Refined 460°F 238°C[1]
Sunflower oil Unrefined 225°F 107°C
Sunflower oil Semirefined 450°F 232°C
Sunflower oil, high oleic Unrefined 320°F 160°C
Sunflower oil Refined 440°F 227°C[1]
Tea seed oil 485°F 252°C
Vegetable shortening 360°F 182°C
Walnut oil Unrefined 320°F 160°C
Walnut oil Semirefined 400°F 204°C



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