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-have. With a smoking point exceeding 500°F on average, avocado oil surpasses most other options, making it ideal for higher temperature applications.
Additionally, avocado oil boasts a comparatively neutral flavor, with a subtle hint of avocado in the background. Moreover, it is rich in essential nutrients and provides a decent dose of vitamin E. These benefits make avocado oil the perfect choice for my air fryer, as it is both healthy and versatile.
Not only is it my go-to spray due to its health advantages, but I also enjoy using it in various cooking recipes. Its tastelessness and ability to withstand high heat levels are remarkable, and it adds no calories or smoke at 450°F, making it excellent for charring vegetables or searing fish.
2. Extra Light Olive Oil
The best olive oils to use in an air fryer are those in the extra light olive oil category. This is because extra light olive oil has an extremely high smoking point, typically around 470°F, which makes it ideal for air frying.
In fact, even compared to avocado oil, extra light olive oil has almost no discernible taste. That's precisely why it's the most popular oil for air frying and deep frying in major markets.
You can often find extra light olive oil sold as an oil blend, which may include vegetable oil, flaxseed oil, and similar oils specifically formulated for high-temperature frying. Not only does it perform exceptionally well, but it also offers great value for money.
Users rave about its fantastic taste and its versatility in various cooking applications and temperatures, making it an excellent choice for frying a wide range of foods and meats.
3. Soybean Oil
Soybean oil is a popular choice for high-temperature air frying, as it can withstand temperatures of up to approximately 460°F.
In the past, soybean oil had a slightly unpleasant taste that would often permeate the fried foods. However, thanks to advancements in the refinement process, this oil has undergone a complete transformation.
The best soybean oil available today is practically tasteless, making it an excellent option for air frying. Not only does it work exceptionally well for frying, but it is also considered one of the healthiest cooking oils.
It can inhibit cholesterol absorption in the human body, further adding to its benefits.
4. Canola Oil
Definitely worth considering, although canola oil can result in slightly greasier-feeling food compared to some of its counterparts. Nonetheless, it's a small trade-off for an oil that not only offers nutritional benefits but also imparts a distinctive yet mild nutty flavor to your dishes. Depending on what you're cooking, canola oil can enhance its taste significantly. However, if you're not a fan of nuts, it's advisable to avoid this oil for obvious reasons.
Canola oil is excellent for cooking and frying, as it maintains its performance even at high temperatures. Many users have taken a chance on this to fry their chicken and found it to be satisfactory in terms of taste. Others have described it as incredible for frying food, highlighting its affordability and lack of overwhelming flavors.
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.
Peanut oil is the perfect choice for high-heat cooking methods like stir-frying and deep-frying, thanks to its ability to withstand elevated temperatures. Its freshness and ability to enhance the taste of food make it a popular option. Personally, I opt for peanut oil in my fryer as it imparts a delightful flavor to my fried dishes without any lingering aftertaste.
6. Vegetable Oil
Vegetable oil is not a single type of cooking oil but rather a category that encompasses various oils such as sunflower oil, grape seed oil, rapeseed oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, and many others.
These oils are extracted from grains, seeds, vegetables, and similar sources. Vegetable oil is a popular choice for households due to its affordability, lightness, and lack of strong taste.
It has a high smoke point of around 400°F, making it versatile for different cooking methods. Moreover, the quality of vegetable oil is excellent. It is particularly suitable for stir-frying and sautéing vegetables.
Many often appreciate how it leaves dishes non-greasy, as experienced by a friend of mine. Personally, it is the only type of oil I purchase, and I find it wonderful. It enhances the flavor of my food while improving its cooking.
7. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is not considered the best choice for air fryer cooking or any type of frying due to its relatively low smoke point of around 380°F, making it unsuitable for high-temperature cooking.
Moreover, extra virgin olive oil has a strong taste that inevitably imparts flavor to the dish being cooked. However, it remains one of the healthiest oils for cooking and offers a delicious flavor.
If you're not cooking something that requires a temperature exceeding 380°F, you can certainly use extra virgin olive oil. It's a smooth blend with subtle notes of pepper and herbs, and many people enjoy its taste. Everyone has praised this olive oil for its versatility and good flavor, using it regularly in their daily cooking routines.
8. Palm Oil
Last but not least, a notable mention has to go to this controversial character. While it may not have the same nutritional value as some of its counterparts mentioned earlier, it is not nearly as unhealthy as many people believe.
Although it contains trans fats, it's important to note that many other types of oils for air fryers also have them. However, the main issue with most palm oils lies in their contribution to deforestation and habitat destruction.
Therefore, it is crucial to avoid palm oils that are not sustainably sourced and ethically produced. Personally, I enjoy its rich, umami flavor, and find it safe to use in cooking.
It's a great quality oil that I always keep on hand, and I love its flavor, texture, and overall quality. I have no regrets using it to sauté vegetables and in certain stews.
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!