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Differences between sunflower and rapeseed oils and situations to use them

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Today I run out of oil that I use for my pan to roast meat, vegetables and other stuff. I found myself in my local supermarket and was bewildered by the sheer variety of oils.

However, in my supermarket the most frequent oils are rapeseed and sunflower oils (a lot of different brands too).

As I've rarely used anything besides sunflower oil, I wanted to know if it makes any difference to rapeseed oil. And if it makes a difference, I would like to know why and in which situations I should use one over the other one.

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1 answer

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There are differences in flavor between oils. That is very much personal preference - liking a strong flavor for itself, or liking a weak flavor so that the flavor of the food being cooked is more prominent.

But one thing is very scientific: the effect of heat. This is commonly referred to by the smoke point. Basically, you want to use oil with a high smoke point for frying and lower is OK (but not required) for other types of cooking and for cold uses (e.g., salad dressing).

From the Wikipedia article on Smoke Point:

  • Rapeseed (which is apparently the same as Canola Oil - which is how I know it): 204 C/400 F (for refined, which I think is most common)
  • Sunflower (refined, there are several other types): 232 C/450 F

Some other very common oils:

  • Olive: 210 C/410 F (Virgin; Extra Virgin varies but lower)
  • Coconut: 232 C/450 F
  • Peanut: 232 C/450 F

My guess is that Sunflower oil (as long as it is refined, and comparing to refined Rapeseed/Canola) would be a reasonable substitute for most purposes. Olive oil tends to have a much stronger flavor (love it or hate it) but probably avoid the Extra Virgin Olive Oil for any high heat uses.

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