Smokin’ Hot or Unsafe? Is cooking with grape seed oil a good idea?

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I (Margaret) get asked all the time about whether grape seed oil is safe for cooking. There’s lots of confusion and mis-information on the topic of fats generally, and cooking is no exception. Grape seed oil is advertised as appropriate for high heat because of it’s high smoke point. But is it? Caroline Barringer NTP CHFS FES, owner of Immunitrition and lead instructor for the Nutritional Therapy Association gives a thoughtful answer here. This is an excerpt from her article “Cooking with Grape Seed Oil or Rice Bran Oil: Is it safe?”, which you can read in full on her website here (scroll down to the “articles” section on that page)

A professional chef recently contacted me at Immunitrition with a question about the smoke points of oils, as well as the safety of cooking with rice bran oil and grape seed oils in particular. She explained to me that the smoke point of an oil or fat is considered important to culinary professionals because they want to be able to cook certain foods quickly at high temperatures without the food burning or having an “off” flavor, which is a strong indication that the oil has gone rancid. Oils with higher smoke points may be important to a modern chef, but what they fail to understand is that the smoke point of an oil or fat has nothing to do with its health benefits or its safety for cooking at higher temperatures. Fats and oils are made up of all fatty acid types (mono-unsaturated, poly-unsaturated, and saturated), so we must first investigate to see what the predominant type of fatty acid a specific oil or fat contains to determine whether or not it should be exposed to heat, oxygen, light, or moisture.

As a rule of thumb, if the predominant classification of an oil or fat is polyunsaturated, then we should never cook with it – regardless of its smoke point. Grapeseed oil is predominantly classified as a polyunsaturated fatty acid, and is thus highly reactive. Lipid (per)oxidation and free-radical production quickly takes place when these types of fatty acids are exposed to any degree of heat – even very low heat. This is a big red flag for producing inflammation and irritation within our bodies.

Here are the fatty acid profiles for grape seed oil and rice bran oil.

Grape Seed Oil Rice Bran Oil
71% POLYunsaturated 36% polyunsaturated
17% monounsaturated 48% MONOunsaturated
12% saturated 17% saturated
(485º smoke point) (490º smoke point)

As you can see, grape seed oil is mostly a polyunsaturated fat and should never be exposed to any degree of heat. It should be stored in the refrigerator and used sparingly. Rice bran oil, on the other hand, is predominantly a monounsaturated fatty acid. It is a bit more stable than grape seed oil, and can be used for very low-heat applications, but rice bran oil still has a hefty polyunsaturated content (36%), so it’s best to store it in the fridge and use in moderate amounts. Rice bran oil’s 17% saturated fatty acid content protects the delicate polyunsaturated fatty acids when exposed to low-heat cooking. Rice bran oil shares a similar profile to sesame oil (43 poly, 42 mono, and 15 sat), so it’s best to follow the same rules for cooking with both rice bran and sesame oils, although sesame oil has a higher antioxidant profile for added protection. I always add a bit of a saturated fat to any monounsaturated fat I use for cooking a light stir-fry or low-simmer dish to protect the polyunsaturated content that particular fat may have.

For comparison, let’s take a look at the fatty acid profiles of other commonly used monounsaturated oils: avocado, macadamia nut, and olive oils.

Avocado Macadamia Olive
10% polyunsaturated 10% polyunsaturated 12% polyunsaturated
70% monounsaturated 78% monounsaturated 75% monounsaturated
20% saturated 12% saturated 13% saturated
(485º smoke point) (490º smoke point)

As you can clearly see, avocado and macadamia nut oils have a very similar profile with a substantial mono-unsaturated fatty acid content and a fairly low poly-unsaturated fatty acid content (especially macadamia oil), along with a fair amount of saturated fatty acid content to help protect the more delicate poly and mono fats when exposed to heat. Olive oil has the highest poly-unsaturated fatty acid content of this group, so it may be wise to store it in the refrigerator then allow it to melt at room temperature for pouring over foods after cooking, or to use with a very low heat setting for a short period of time. Peanut oil is another type of monounsaturated dominant oil, but it also has 34% poly fats in its profile, so very limited use, especially where heat exposure is involved, is advised.

Corn, safflower, sunflower, flax (linseed), walnut, hazelnut, hemp, pine nut, pumpkin, and wheat germ oils should only be used raw and in small amounts. Never cook with these nut and seed oils as they are polyusaturated dominant. They are delicate and easily damaged by heat, light, oxygen, and moisture, so refrigeration in a tightly sealed, opaque bottle is a must. Look for cold-pressed, unrefined versions only.

Additionally, accessory oils such as cod liver, fish liver, borage, black currant oil, and evening primrose should NEVER be used for cooking. These therapeutic fatty acids are mostly found in nutritional supplements, but there are some free-flowing versions now available. If you plan on using a free-flowing version, keep it cold at all times, stored in an opaque bottle, and take it as a supplement – right off the spoon – as directed by your health care practitioner.

Cottonseed oil, canola oil, and any hydrogenated oils should always be avoided. These fats are anti-nutritive, denatured, highly processed, pesticide and solvent laden, rancid, and refined. Of course, we all now know about the dangers of trans fats so avoid all fats that have hydrogenation listed on the label. NO AMOUNT OF TRANS FATS is safe to consume.

For more on cooking with vegetable oils, check out these articles:

The Complete Guide to Fats and Oils – What to Cook With (or not), What to Avoid and Why
5 cooking oils you think are healthy, but aren’t
Why vegetable oil is NOT healthy
The real dangers of vegetable oils

And for all of you asking WHAT to cook with if not grapeseed or vegetable oils, here’s a great article on the 6 healthiest cooking oils.

Is cooking with grapeseed oil a good idea? | eatnakednow.com

101 Comments

  1. Megan L.

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    I see above that you recommend coconut oil for cooking. However, unrefined cold-pressed, virgin coconut oil is the best to use and it can’t be heated above 350 degrees. I saw above that someone mentioned that they stir fry with coconut oil, but only refined coconut oil can withstand higher heats and isn’t it bad to use refined oils? I also saw someone recommend fractionate coconut oil. Isn’t that also refined and bad for use to ingest? I, like Randi above, am also wondering about which oil to use for roasting vegetables at 400 degrees, as I’m guessing butter and ghee are not suitable for such hight heat?? I roast butternut squash and other types of squash at high heat. Is that just bad to use such high heat? Or is there a healthy oil to use at 400 or 425 degrees? Thanks!

  2. Ben

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    This is straight out of the paleo anti seed oil manifesto.
    But can people stop referring to ghee as clarified butter and vice versa?
    Clarified butter is the translucent golden butterfat left over after the milk solids and water are removed. Clarified butter and ghee are not the same. Ghee is clarified butter that has been cooked longer to remove all the moisture, and the milk solids are browned (caramelized) in the fat and then strained out.

  3. Cookie

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    What about palm oil? I recently bought a bottle but didn’t like it because it’s so greasy. It’s 45% saturated fat! Does this mean it’s safe to cook with?

  4. Jennifer

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    So what type of fat would be best for seasoning my cast iron cookware? The manufacturer recommends “vegetable oil” but after reading this article, that seems like a bad idea.

  5. Michele f

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    Lacy We use coconut oil. It is the recommended oil for the Whirley Pop popcorn aker that we have. It tastes delicious.

  6. So what oil is best for deep frying?

    • I like ghee, but lard is an extremely great deep frying oil. Not cheap though. That said, all deep frying, no matter what the oil isn’t going to be good for you.

  7. Zona

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    Ellie, I am EXTREMELY allergic to dairy. There is a lot of confusion between lactose intolerant (missing the digestive enzymes) and allergy. If I eat dairy, I get purple welts on my neck and/or other parts of my body. Even from the lactose in a pill, which would seem inconsequential. I also have allergic reactions to lactose free dairy products, and the enzymes do nothing for me. I am, however, able to eat ghee. All of the impurities are removed from it.

  8. Kim Catapano

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    I don’t use Grapeseed Oil for cooking but I do use it for baking because of its neutral flavor. Is it safe to bake with?

  9. Katie

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    what about being massaged with grapeseed oil?

  10. Greg Miller

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    Mary Enig is a great resource and expert…BUT doesn’t mean she is always right. Here is something she said about GSO…”Also, grapeseed oil is industrially processed with hexane and other carcinogenic solvents, and traces will remain in the oil.”

    NOT TRUE. There are manufacturers that still process the way they did centuries ago…via expellar pressed.

    GSO has been around for centuries…without the chronic illness of modern day. It’s the processed (refined) foods so dominant in our food supply. GSO can be used in moderation. Our bodies DO NEED polyunsaturated fats to function. I know this topic covered “cooking”…but not many are ready to go to a raw food diet.

  11. brian

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    From reading the article there are no safe oils for frying, is that right? If no what oils would you recommended for frying?

  12. Mark

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    Just to add to the “doubters” category………I just purchased a bottle of grapeseed oil made by Pompeian that states: 100% grapeseed oil, perfect for stir-frying, deep frying, sauteing and baking. I think I will go by that and phooey on these “internet experts”. Cheers and happy eating!!

  13. Nancy

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    Thanks for writing this post. I concur with everyone’s feedback: it is entirely too confusing to try and figure out which oil is appropriate for which use. I suffer from a chronic health condition and my rather brilliant doc. told me recently, “Do not cook with any liquid oil, I don’t care what it says on the label”. She suggested using coconut oil, butter or ghee only for roasting/frying/sauteeing.

    Prior to hearing this, I had always heard to use grapeseed oil because of its high smoke point. However, then I read by a health-minded blogger that grapeseed oils can be problematic because they are rarely organic and since vineyards are treated with a fair amount of pesticides, she felt that they would concentrate in the seeds. Then you are pressing the seeds to extract the oil, if you follow her line of argument. I’m not trying to demonize yet another oil but it did make me rethink the use of grapeseed oil (prior to my doc’s prohibition of all liquid oils, of course). It’s a shame that we have to be so neurotic about something as seemingly benign as cooking oil, isn’t it? :0)

    Cheers and thanks for raising awareness!

    Nancy

  14. Mia

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    Thank you Margaret for posting this interesting and informative article. I had a feeling I should avoid using olive oil for cooking because it would smell somewhat toxic when heated. I use extra-virgin oil for salads, cold dishes, and dips. I was considering switching to grape seed oil for cooking, but I felt doubtful. My research has brought me to your page, and I am thankful for that. I am always sharing info with my family and friends. It’s good to know that using plain and simple butter is one of the best choices. I always use organic, so that is a plus as well. I have a question about the coconut oil, should it be raw-virgin? Thank you.

  15. Jonathon

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    I just wanted to say, that Dr. Mary Enig is a nutritionist and to me that means her research and opinions on the chemistry of oils and how they interact with our bodies is totally editorial . She has no direct qualifications to do any bio-chemical science analysis of her own, and is simply relying on cherry picked research that complies with her thesis. You are fooling yourself if you believe she is the ultimate credible source. In fact most of the information out there on cooking with oils is reiterated pseudo-science non-sense. Two years from now someone will be telling us that nose oil is the only way to go. If you simply use common sense for storing food, avoid eat highly processed foods, and consume everything else in moderation, you will live a long and healthy life.

  16. James

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    I think it’s great information Margaret. Sorry Jonathon, just because one is a nutritionist doesn’t mean we cherry pick anything. It means we have studied things and learned from many different sources rather than merely believe what food manufacturers, pharma or anyone else tried to offload as ‘healthy’. Look at the problems across the world with obesity, heart disease and cancer…. which if everyone used common sense or trusted pharma, regular medicine etc we wouldn’t have those. Healthy living is not taught anymore from a young age like my mother used to say she was taught and look at the problems we arenow facing. Ignorance is a rather expensive problem, so let’s not all just stick our heads in the sand, we are responsible for our health.

  17. star

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    As you can see, grape seed oil is mostly a poly fat and should never be exposed to any degree of heat.
    can one explain this ???
    though grape seed oil has among the highest smoking point ,after all !!!??

  18. kosher kitchen

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    I keep a kosher kitchen so it makes it on the side of impossible to use ghee for cooking vegetable that are to be eaten with meats. lard is out of the question. most of my cooking involves making a mirepoix prior to adding other ingredients. what would be a great oil to use then. also no red meat or products made from red meat are eaten in our family , so no beef tallow. my last choice seems to be coconut oil which i i have tried without any success of decreasing its mild aroma that no one in our family is very keen to. what am i to do??

    • Mila – you could try rendered duck fat or chicken fat. That would keep it stable, avoid the pork issue, avoid the red meat issue, avoid the dairy issue, and avoid the aroma with coconut oil.

  19. Jenny

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    What a great blog! It was hard to take in though because I sell Wildtree. Wildtree sells grapeseed oil and sells it with the pitch that it’s the healthiest oil for any use in the kitchen. I love Wildtree and I love how it helps me educate others how to eat healthier. Just wish I didn’t have to exclude my sales of grapeseed oil for cooking. I’ll definitely be sure to highlight the healthy reasons to use it for cold use or after cooking.

  20. Rebekah Fisher

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    Margarete, Palm Shortening has had the unsaturated fat removed, giving it the high melting point of 97°. What about palm shortening for high heat, such as deep frying, cooking? Is this the same as fractionated coconut oil?

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  22. Chelsea

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    HI there!

    I recognize coconut oil being the best choice for cooking for a multitude of reasons, however i am curious if you have any other oils you recommend (vegetarian options)? Sometimes, I do not feel inclined to the flavor of cooking with coconut oil, and would like a safe alternative.

    Thank you in advance,

    C

  23. Joan

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    How is “light” olive oil (NOT meaning lighter in calories) for cooking at higher temperatures? It has a higher smoking point, but I know that it also has been processed more. Is it a healthy oil for cooking at higher temperatures?

  24. Ilona Edens

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    Wow, what a great article and the comments under are even more informative! I have to say this at first reading your article my heart sank, I just bought a bottle of grapeseed oil and thought, “oh great, I have to get rid of it now!” Reading further down in the comments where you state it’s okay to use in recipes that don’t require cooking, sigh, what a relief! I just made a week’s worth of mayo from it! I didn’t want to throw it out! Thank you and adding not to cook with the grapeseed oil to my mental Rolodex.

  25. Anousheh De Martino

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    HI
    Couple of years ago my Cholesterol was high, my GP recommended to use Grape Seed Oil for cooking, and I have been doing so ever since.

    I do not use oil much oil, very rarely to fry. Can you recommend what else to use, considering that I am always at look out for my Cholestrol level?
    thanks
    Anousheh

  26. vin

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    i’m still confused 🙁 i have been changing oils and started using grape seed oil with the notion i am cooking using a ‘healthy’ oil. I do a lot of frying, deep frying. Indian/Asian Food requires a lot of high heat. I have little kids and am now soo confused. I cant use ghee for deep frying nor coconut oil as it will just alter the flavour .. Pls pls advise

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  29. Lina

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    what about un-hydrogenated organic canola oil? High monounsaturated, high smoking point.

    • @lina – even with high oleic acid content in canola oil, it’s not stable enough to be used for cooking in my opinion. mono-unsaturated fats are more stable, but should only be used on very low heat or after the food has been cooked.

    • JT

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      Additionally Canola oil (Rapeseed oil) contains Erucic which is toxic to the central nervous system through a process of demyelination of the nerve sheath. Rapeseed oil should only be used for as a penetrating oil on machinery.

  30. Dee

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    I decided to ditch butter and try to cook as healthy as possible. I went out and bought olive oil and canola oil– I cooked with both of these for awhile before finding out that neither are healthy when heated at high temperatures… I, too, am completely confused by all of this!! The one thing I do know is NOT to cook with grape seed oil. I am trying to find something safe to bake at high temperatures with. I have coconut oil, but I wasn’t aware of the “cold-pressed”, “refined”, etc you had to be aware of on the label. I’m to the point where I bake or boil EVERYTHING, then, after it has cooked, I put whatever oil I want on it.

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