It’s funny. When I first started cooking I used good old Wesson oil or Star olive oil for anything. Now that thought makes me cringe. Here is a quick primer on oils.
There are three kinds of Olive Oil. Light, Basic, and Extra Virgin or EV. For 80% to 90% of what I cook I use the basic,that is to say, not EV olive oil. I do not use products called “light” in general. There is a big difference between the two. Basic olive oil is typically just marketed as olive oil. Extra Virgin is marketed as such because it is the first oil to come from a new batch of olive pits. (Virgin because they have not been previously pressed). Interesting isn’t it that Olive Oil comes from the pits and not the fruit? Pour a little EV on a white plate next to a regular Olive Oil and you will immediately see the difference (provided it’s real EV). The EV is much greener in color. That’s because it has more plant material (and hence, flavor). The problem with that is that that green stuff burns at a much lower temperature, so the very good EV oils aren’t terribly good for cooking. This is why I always have each on hand. The other downside to EV is that that plant material has a tendency to spoil, so the oil goes rancid more quickly.
My favorite high temperature sauteing oil is Grapeseed Oil. You can buy this in small tins for a fortune or you can buy it in larger plastic bottles for a lot less. I bought one of each and just refill the small tin out of the big plastic jug. The great thing about Grapeseed oil is that it is very pure and has very little flavor so it has a very high “smoke point” (the point at which the oil starts to burn). It also doesn’t add flavor to a dish. Tim Ferris, in his book, The Four Hour Body, describes eggs sauteed in olive oil as tasting like cat pee, which I’ve always thought was both funny and very accurate. Cat pee is not a good flavor.
Peanut oil is called for in a lot of recipes for deep frying. For the most part this oil does not have a peanut flavor, or has only a very mild peanut flavor. I use it for making fried chicken or for frying Turkeys (which I almost never do anymore). That’s about it. While Peanut oil can be saved I do not recommend this because it goes rancid very quickly after it’s been used.
Many asian recipes call for sesame oil. Again, this is made from pressing the seeds. The higher end sesame oils are made from roasted seeds and have a strong sesame flavor. If you buy sesame oil buy a small amount in a container that does not let in any light. Store it in a cool, dark place. It spoils very quickly.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned, vegetable, canola, corn, etc. That’s because I don’t use these. They are high in cholesterol, have no flavor and are therefore worthless… If you must, use them for popping corn.