Air fryers are fantastically convenient appliances with a near-endless list of practical applications. Not to mention the many health benefits that come with switching conventionally fried food for air-fried food.
But in order to achieve the best air-fried results, you need to make sense of the various different oils available. There are numerous oils that are compatible with air frying, making it quick and easy to cook fresh or frozen food to perfection. You can also take time to read about the best air fryers for your family or the best air fryers under hundred dolars, before we get back to the topic.
Deep frying may be an equally quick and easy cooking method but has the potential to do a real number on your health.
Higher quality oils come highly recommended when using an air fryer to ensure a fresh taste and enjoyable results when using as little oil as possible. But as far as the different types of oil for air fryer cooking are concerned, it’s often a case of adopting a trial and error approach.
In this detailed guide, we’ll be taking a look at a selection of the best oils for air frying, along with their individual properties and everything else you need to know to air fry foods to perfection.
Choosing From the Best Oil for Air Fryer Cooking
Everyone adopts a slight approach to air fryer cooking, with their own personal preferences regarding which oil to use. Of the dozens of different types of oils available, the following are by far the most popular among air fryer owners:
- Avocado oil
- Extra light olive oil
- Soybean oil
- Peanut oil
- Vegetable oil
- Extra virgin olive oil
Each of the above is indeed a versatile oil, which can be used in a variety of ways to produce outstanding results. Likewise, each of the above can also be purchased as a premium oil or a relatively basic oil.
But these are really just a few of the oils you can use in an air fryer to cook foods to perfection. They differ in terms of flavor, smoke points, and nutritional value but can all get the job done.
Choosing from the best oils available for an air fryer means considering a handful of important factors. Each of which can have a major impact on your enjoyment of the resulting food due to the way the oil in question reacts with the high temperatures in the machine.
Different Cooking Oil for Different Purposes
On that note, it’s worth pointing out at this point that there is no one-size-fits-all oil that’s best for all applications. Choosing the most appropriate type of oil for your air fryer means taking into account what you intend to cook.
As different ingredients and dishes cook at entirely different temperatures, and for different lengths of time, it stands to reason that you’ll occasionally need to vary your air fryer oil.
Whatever you intend to cook, there are a few important factors to consider when looking to use the ideal oil in an air fryer:
Unrefined and Refined Cooking Oils
Firstly, any oil that is unrefined is going to have a significantly lower smoking point than a comparable refined oil. Unrefined oils start smoking at much lower temperatures, therefore, are unsuitable for cooking at higher temperatures.
Unrefined oils are also commonly referred to as virgin, raw, cold-pressed oils. They are as close as it gets to the original natural extract, and often have an elevated nutritional content. However, they also have a much shorter shelf life and are not typically considered suitable for air fryer cooking.
These types of oils are fantastic for low-temperature applications and as the basis for delicious dressings.
Neutral Oils Vs. Distinctive Flavors
The benefits of using a completely neutral oil are that it keeps the flavor of the food as the star of the show. You cannot pick out the flavor of the oil in the final result, so you can enjoy the full flavor of whatever it is you are cooking. Examples of popular neutral oils for air fryer cooking include safflower oil, peanut oil, and everyday vegetable oil – all of which have almost no taste at all.
At the opposite end of the scale, you have oils with very distinctive flavors. Examples of which include walnut oil, coconut oil, and sesame oil. Each of which has a flavor powerful enough to overpower the food you are cooking with it.
This can actually be the idea when preparing some types of foods, such as tossing noodles in sesame oil to give them a delicious nutty flavor. However, they are not the preferred oils for preparing fried food in an air fryer.
Saturated and Unsaturated Fats
The health benefits of an air fryer can be taken a step further by getting to grips with saturated and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are those typically found in meat, which can cause a wide range of problems with cardiovascular health. They should therefore be consumed in strict moderation or avoided entirely where possible.
By contrast, unsaturated fats actually have a beneficial impact on cardiovascular health. Olive oil and extra virgin olive oil, in particular, are both renowned for their association with heart health. The vast majority of common vegetable oils (including sunflower oil and grape seed oil) are also naturally high in unsaturated fats and low in saturated fats.
Omega 6 and Omega 3 Fatty Acids
The human body requires regular Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acid intake, as it is unable to produce these nutrients on its own. Many premium quality oils that can be used in an air fryer contain generous quantities of these fatty acids, which are associated with beneficial effects on both the body and the brain.
Some of the richest concentrations of these fatty acids can be found in flaxseed oil, avocado oil, and extra virgin olive oil. The best olive oils on the market often come highly recommended by nutritionists as a nutrient-rich daily dietary essential.
As the name suggests, the smoking point of an oil refers to the temperature at which the oil starts smoking. An oil with a lower smoking point will be unsuitable for cooking in an air fryer at high temperatures, as it will begin to smoke long before reaching the temperature required.
At which point, it will take on a highly unpleasant taste and could quite quickly fill your entire kitchen with smoke.
For example, extra virgin olive oil has a smoking point of 380° F. Given how the recommended temperature for air frying French fries is 375° F; you could just about get away with using extra virgin olive oil. However, you would be right on the brink of its smoking point – a few degrees higher could ruin your batch of fries.
By contrast, extra light olive oil has a smoke point of around 465° F. General refined olive oil and most types of vegetable oil have a smoke point in the region of 430° F. Both of which would therefore make for a preferred oil for French fries, as there would be no chance of them smoking if the temperature got a little too high.
Selecting the best oils to use with an air fryer also means considering the consistency of the cooking oil. Choosing the best oil for air fryer cooking is really no different from choosing oils for shallow or deep frying. Some of them are lighter and thinner than others, while some are extremely thick and viscous.
Oil for air fryers that falls into the latter bracket will inevitably leave a more prominent coating on whatever it is you are cooking. By contrast, a lighter and thinner oil will result in crisper and drier results.
Can I Use Infused Oil in An Air Fryer?
Technically speaking, the answer is yes – if it has a high enough smoking point. The problem with most infused oils is that you really have no idea how they will react to the high temperatures until you try them out.
Depending on the extent to which they are refined, processed, and infused, things could go one way or the other. They could add a satisfying flavor to the food you cook or make the entire result completely inedible.
It’s therefore advisable to approach these kinds of specialty oils with caution, as they can be unpredictable at the best of times.
Best Oil For Air Fryer Cooking – Top Picks and Recommendations
As touched upon back at the beginning, you can use almost any oil for air frying and come out with decent results. But if looking to take your air frying game to the next level, these are by far the best oils for air fryer cooking and the only oils you should allow near your air fryer basket:
1. Avocado Oil
Despite being a relatively new addition to the mainstream oil market, avocado oil is an absolute must. On average, avocado oil has a smoking point in excess of 500° F. That’s higher than just about anything else you can pick up, making it great for higher temperature applications.
In addition, avocado oil has a comparatively neutral flavor, with just a light taste of avocado in the background. As an added bonus, avocado oil is loaded with plenty of essential nutrients and a decent dose of vitamin E.
2. Extra Light Olive Oil
The best olive oils to use in an air fryer are any in the extra light olive oil category. This is again due to the extremely high smoking point of extra light olive oil, which is usually somewhere around 470° F. Even when compared to avocado oil, extra light olive oil has practically no taste whatsoever.
Precisely why extra light olive oil is the most popular oil for air frying and deep frying in most major markets, extra light olive oil is often sold in the form of an oil blend, which may contain vegetable oil, flaxseed oil and other similar oils for high-temperature frying.
3. Soybean Oil
This stuff is good for up to a temperature of around 460° F, making soybean oil a popular choice for high-temperature air frying. In the past, soybean oil was associated with a slightly unpleasant taste that had a habit of permeating the foods it was used to fry.
Today, the refinement process has completely transformed what was once a not particularly desirable oil. The best oil made from soybeans is practically tasteless, making it one of the best oils to use for air frying by far.
4. Canola Oil
Definitely worth considering, though canola oil can result in slightly greasier-feeling food than some of its counterparts. In any case, it’s a small price to pay for an oil that is not only packed with nutritional benefits but also imparts a distinctive yet mild nutty flavor to your food.
Depending on what it is you’re cooking, canola oil can make it even tastier than it would have been. However, it is definitely an oil to avoid if you are not a fan of nuts for obvious reasons.
5. Peanut Oil
The oil of choice in millions of foodservice establishments, peanut oil, is a staple on the scene in the Far East. If looking to cook up the most exquisite Asian dishes as good as your favorite restaurant, peanut oil can be pure magic.
It has a high smoke point of approximately 450° F, with a predominantly neutral taste and just a slightly nutty hint in the background. It’s broadly considered to be the best oil you can buy for shallow, deep, and air frying and is just about as versatile as it gets.
6. Vegetable Oil
Vegetable oil is more a category of oils than a single type of cooking oil. The vegetable oil category includes popular products like sunflower oil, grape seed oil, rapeseed oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, and many more besides.
In fact, pretty much any oil is extracted from grains, seeds, vegetables, and so on. It’s the first choice for most households due to the fact that it tends to be the most affordable and is an extra light oil with almost no taste whatsoever. Its smoke point in the region of 400° F also makes it a highly versatile oil for most applications.
7. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is not considered the best olive oil for air fryer cooking or any other type of frying. This is due to the fact that it has a relatively low smoke point of around 380° F, making it unsuitable for cooking at high temperatures. In addition, extra virgin olive oil is the strongest taste in olive oil, inevitably imparting a flavor on whatever it is you are cooking.
Nevertheless, it is also one of the healthiest oils you can cook with, and its flavor is absolutely delicious. This means that just as long as you are not cooking something that needs a temperature in excess of 380° F, you can definitely get away with extra virgin olive oil.
8. Palm Oil
Last but not least, a notable mention has to go the way of this controversial character. While it may not have the same nutritional value as some of its counterparts above, it is not nearly as unhealthy as most seem to have concluded. It has its fair share of trans fats, but so do many other types of oils for air fryers.
Instead, the main issue with most palm oils is the way in which the sector is a major driver of deforestation and the destruction of habitat. Consequently, palm oils that are not sustainably sourced and ethically produced should be avoided at all costs.
What Oils Should I Avoid While Using an Air Fryer?
At the opposite end of the scale, there are several types of oils it is best never to use in an air fryer. Despite the fact that the following oils can technically be used to fry food, they are not the best choices for the air frying method:
On the other hand, you could (quite rightly) argue that corn oil is good for frying at high temperatures. On the other hand, you could also point out that it has a relatively decent nutrient content, compared to some of the less healthy oils for your air fryer.
However, corn oil has a tendency to impart such a strong flavor to the food you cook that it shouldn’t really be your first choice. It’s not that the flavor is particularly unpleasant, but it can nonetheless be overpowering.
Coconut oil has skyrocketed in popularity as of late but is not a recommended oil for an air fryer. For one thing, it begins to burn at a low temperature with a low smoke point of just 350° F. Not nearly enough to prepare crispy French fries or most of the stuff you’d probably like to crisp in your air fryer.
Secondly, coconut oil has a surprisingly high saturated fat content. And as it cannot be heated to a particularly high temperature, the coconut oil you use to fry your foods will soak into them like a sponge.
The flavor of sesame oil is simply fantastic – an absolute essential for an endless list of classic Asian dishes. However, its flavor is so incredibly potent that it will completely overshadow the flavor of the foods you fry.
In addition, it has a lower smoke point and begins to burn at a comparatively low temperature. You can use sesame oil to successfully fry quite a lot of different foods, but in all instances, the only thing you will be able to taste is toasted sesame.
Best Oil for Air Fryer Cooking: Air Fryer Tips and Tricks
Rounding things off, we’ll now share a selection of tips and tricks for getting the most out of your air fryer – whichever type of cooking oil you decide to use:
1.Before frying anything in your air fryer, grease up the air fryer basket itself. This is an absolute must before each application in order to prevent the food from sticking and burning.
2. One of the best ways of evenly distributing your preferred oil is to invest in an oil sprayer pump. However, the vast majority of standard compressed oil sprays are not compatible with air frying. This is due to the presence of various other ingredients in the oil, which can compromise its performance.
3. Remember that there is always the option of coming up with your own unique oil blends to try out. For example, you could mix a few drops of sesame oil with your favorite olive oils or a drop or two of walnut oil with your peanut oil.
4. Less is more when it comes to getting the most out of your air fryer, which is again where an oil sprayer can help. The more evenly you distribute a thin layer of oil over everything you intend to cook, the better.
5. Finally, it’s essential to be mindful of exactly how your air fryer works, as different models work in entirely different ways. Some use completely different air frying mechanisms, while others cook faster and slower than others in different settings.
While experimenting with oils, cooking times, and temperatures, keep a constant note of the adjustments you make. Scrutinize your French fries like a pro and give them a score out of 10, each time you adjust your method.
Plus, be mindful of the fact that different ingredients need entirely different cooking times, temperatures, and oils to reach crispy perfection. What works wonders for your French fries might not do the trick for your chicken nuggets - or macaroni cheese balls (see the best chicken air fryers and the best ones for chicken wings,too).
Getting the Best Air Frying Results: Bottom Line…
The bottom line to the whole thing is simple – the best oil for your air fryer is the oil you like best. If you are happy with the results, it really doesn’t matter which way you go. However, the benefits of choosing healthy fats over oils loaded with harmful fats are self-explanatory.
Don’t be afraid of experimenting until you get things right; using the air fryer oils recommended above is a good starting point. Each of which is also suitable for use in a deep fryer, in case you occasionally decide to switch to the dark side!