Since most of my recipes call for some type of fat for frying, sautéing, baking, topping, blending or just pensively rubbing into your beard while cooking, I figured it was about time I wrote a referenceable round-up on the topic. Most of the time, from an objective standpoint, it doesn’t matter which of the following fats you use to cook with, it really comes down to personal preference based on the specific dish you're preparing. You'll likely start to match up certain fats that combine well with your particular palate as you experiment.
When choosing a cooking fat, we want something mostly saturated and monounsaturated, while being very low in polyunsaturated fatty acids. Saturated fats have bonds that are the hardest to break and most resistant to oxidation, while poly’s are quite sensitive to heat and light. I've done you the favor of breaking down the fatty acid profiles of each fat, but keep in mind these can differ a bit depending on the exact source the fat comes from (what the animal eats, etc.), but it’s not going to be a huge difference.
So here we go, my six favorite cooking fats, starting with...
Coconut Oil likely has the most health promoting (some would say medicinal) benefits of any of the fats, due mainly to its high Lauric Acid content. Speaking of Lauric Acid, it is classified as a Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT), which act as an immediate energy source for the brain and body, particularly when in ketosis. Aside from Lauric Acid, you will also find other MCT’s in the oil, like Caproic, Caprylic, and Capric Acids, just to a lesser extent than Lauric. Coconut oil also has anti-bacterial/anti-microbial properties, helps regulate appetite, and has even been shown to increase resting metabolic rate. For a great review on all the cool stuff coconut oil does, see The Top 10 Evidence Based Benefits of Coconut Oil.
As far as flavor, it will offer a mild hint of coconut to most dishes without being overpowering. Personally I don’t like the way it makes fried eggs taste (scrambled is fine), but that’s just my preference. It should go fine with just about any other dish that calls for a cooking fat source. Coconut oil stays solid until it hits about 76 degrees Fahrenheit, then will start to shift to a liquid state above that.
Breakdown of Fats
You’ll want to look for unrefined, cold pressed, organic. I don’t have a brand I swear by, I use several different brands depending on where I happen to be when I run out. Just pay attention to price; you can get screwed pretty easily paying twice as much for the same brand at two different places. Trader Joe’s sells a pretty good one (TJ’s own brand) at about $6 for a 16oz. jar.
Now, you could grow your own coconuts and press the oil, but you’ll need to live in a tropical climate, and get really good at climbing trees barefoot.
And don’t be a dick, warn the neighbors so they don’t bust their lollipops.
Also, do not use “Liquid Coconut Oil” for cooking, as the reason it stays liquid is due to the removal of Lauric Acid. So it’s fine as a liquid MCT source (it still contains the other three MCT’s, and personally I use it as a pre-workout fuel source when training fasted, along with BCAA’s and sodium), but you’re sacrificing all of the health benefits from the Lauric Acid.