Everything You Need To Know About Keeping Your Cooking Oil Fresh

Proper storage depends on the type of cooking oil.

<p>Laura Reid / Getty Images</p>

Laura Reid / Getty Images

How confident are you that you're storing your cooking oils correctly? Maybe you’re just learning for the first time that there is a proper way to store your oils to prolong their life and flavor. Cooking oils can be finicky about how they are stored, whether in the fridge, on the countertop, or in the cupboard. Learning how to store each type properly can dramatically improve their longevity and taste. Here's a guide to help demystify the process and keep your oils at their peak.

Why do different oils need different types of storage?

Each type of cooking oil has a unique composition of fatty acids, which impacts its stability and shelf life. Light, heat, and air exposure can break down these oils, causing them to become rancid. Rancid oils not only taste bad but can also contain harmful free radicals. Storing oils properly preserves their flavor, nutritional value, and cooking properties. After purchasing, consider transferring bulk oils to smaller containers. This limits their exposure to air and light, helping extend their shelf life. Make sure the containers are clean, dry, and have a tight seal.

How to store different types of oils

The more we expand our cooking adventures in the kitchen, the bigger oil collection we amass. Here’s an overview of how to get the most out of each type of oil.

Avocado oil

Avocado oil should be kept in a cupboard or pantry where it’s shielded from direct light. Once you’ve opened the bottle, it typically remains fresh for about 6 to 8 months when stored in the pantry — and it may last a bit longer if kept in the refrigerator. Always refer to the expiration date on your specific bottle for the most accurate guidance. Look out for signs that your avocado oil is rancid: if the oil begins to emit a waxy scent or smells like play-doh, it has likely gone rancid and should be tossed.

Extra virgin olive oil

Have you ever wondered why extra virgin olive oil typically comes in a green glass bottle or a tin container? It’s because EVOO doesn’t do well in direct light, and it’s best stored in a cool, dark place, such as a pantry or a cabinet away from the stove or other heat sources. It should be kept in an opaque bottle that blocks light, like a ceramic, tinted glass, or stainless steal container. Because EVOO is my daily driver, I leave it on my countertop stored in the ceramic cruet that was our top pick in The Best Olive Oil Dispensers.

Once opened, EVOO should ideally be used within three to six months for optimal freshness, though it can remain safe to use for up to a year if stored properly. If your olive oil starts to give off an odor resembling crayons or putty, it has likely become rancid and should no longer be used for cooking.

Nut oils

Nut oils, such as walnut, hazelnut, almond, and pistachio oils, are especially prone to oxidation and rancidity due to their high polyunsaturated fat content. Proper storage is crucial to maintain their freshness and preserve their rich flavors. Once opened, store nut oils in the refrigerator to slow the oxidation process. Keep them in airtight containers, preferably in dark glass bottles to protect against light. Aim to use these oils within three to six months for the best flavor, though they can remain safe to use for up to a year if refrigerated and sealed properly. Always check nut oils for rancidity—characterized by a bitter or sour taste—before use to ensure quality in your dishes.

Unrefined coconut oil

Unrefined coconut oil, also virgin coconut oil, is best kept in a cool, dark place such as a pantry or cabinet. Unrefined coconut oil does not need to be refrigerated but should be protected from direct sunlight and heat sources. Store it in an airtight container or jar to minimize exposure to air, which can accelerate spoilage.

When properly stored, unrefined coconut oil can last for up to two to three years. It has a lower melting point (about 76 degrees Fahrenheit), so don't be concerned if it liquefies at room temperature; this does not affect its quality.

Refined coconut oil

Refined coconut oil should also be stored in a cool, dark place. Though it is more heat-resistant than unrefined coconut oil due to its processing, keeping it away from heat sources is ideal for preserving its stability. Store it in an airtight container to protect it from air and maintain freshness.It typically lasts about 12 to 18 months and, due to its processing, lacks the distinct coconut flavor and aroma present in unrefined oil.

Vegetable and canola oils

Vegetable and canola oils, along with popular blends like canola-olive oil, are staples in my kitchen due to their neutral flavors and versatility in frying and baking. To preserve their quality, store these oils in a cool, dark place such as a pantry or cabinet, away from heat sources. They should remain in their original containers, tightly sealed to protect against air and light, which can hasten degradation. Typically, when stored correctly, these oils and their blends can last 12 to 18 months. Regularly check for any signs of spoilage, such as unusual smells or flavors, especially if they are not frequently used.

How to dispose of oil?

Your oil went bad, now what? Discovering that your cooking oil has gone rancid might be disappointing, but it's important to get rid of it properly to avoid causing damage to your plumbing and the environment. Pouring rancid oil down the drain is not advisable as it can lead to clogs and other issues. Instead, consider these disposal methods:

  • Local disposal programs: Many communities offer disposal programs for cooking oils. Check with your local waste management facilities to see if they accept rancid oils and how they prefer it to be handled.

  • Absorbent material: If a disposal program isn’t available, you can mix the rancid oil with an absorbent material such as cat litter, sawdust, or sand. Once the oil is absorbed, seal it in a non-leaking container or bag and dispose of it in your regular trash.

  • Composting (check local guidelines): Many composting services allow you to add small amounts of rancid oil to compost bins, as it can be broken down by certain types of industrial composting processes. However, this option varies widely by location, service, and composting method, so it's crucial to verify with your local composting service first.

By choosing one of these disposal methods, you can ensure that your disposed oil is handled in a way that's safe for both the environment and your home plumbing system.

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