The Most Commonly Used Oil in Chinese Cooking: A Simple Guide

by Ella

Chinese cuisine is a tapestry of flavors, techniques, and ingredients that have captivated palates worldwide for centuries. A key component of Chinese culinary artistry is the judicious use of cooking oils. Among the variety of oils available for Chinese cooking, one stands out as the most commonly used and cherished: peanut oil. In this in-depth exploration, we delve into the world of Chinese cooking and the integral role of peanut oil, uncovering its history, characteristics, and the myriad dishes it enhances. Join us as we journey through the kitchens of China to understand why peanut oil is the heart and soul of this vibrant culinary tradition.

Chinese Cooking

Before we dive into the specifics of peanut oil, it’s crucial to appreciate the richness and diversity of Chinese cuisine. Chinese cooking is a celebration of contrasting flavors, textures, and ingredients that harmoniously come together in a symphony of taste. This culinary tradition is renowned for its regional diversity, with each of China’s provinces offering unique dishes and flavor profiles.


Chinese cuisine can be broadly categorized into several major regional styles, including Sichuan, Cantonese, Shandong, and Hunan, each known for their distinct flavors and cooking methods. While the ingredients and spices may differ, one constant across these regional styles is the use of cooking oil.


The Role of Cooking Oil in Chinese Cuisine

Cooking oil serves as the foundation of many Chinese dishes. It influences the texture, taste, and overall quality of the final product. The choice of cooking oil is a matter of both tradition and practicality in Chinese cuisine.


While a variety of cooking oils can be found in Chinese kitchens, peanut oil has earned its esteemed place as the most commonly used and preferred option. Its unique characteristics make it the ideal companion for Chinese dishes, and its long history in the cuisine is a testament to its importance.


Peanut Oil: A Chinese Culinary Staple

A Historical Perspective

Peanut oil, known as “花生油” (huā shēng yóu) in Chinese, has a storied history in the nation’s culinary landscape. It is believed to have been in use for thousands of years, originating in regions of China. Its use in cooking was driven by several factors, including the abundance of peanuts in China, their relatively easy cultivation, and the oil’s desirable properties for cooking.

Historically, peanut oil was pressed from roasted peanuts, which not only imparted a distinctive nutty flavor but also provided a stable and high-smoke-point oil suitable for various cooking methods, including deep frying, stir-frying, and sautéing. As Chinese cuisine evolved, so did the techniques for extracting peanut oil, resulting in a more refined and versatile product.

Characteristics of Peanut Oil

Peanut oil boasts several qualities that make it an excellent choice for Chinese cooking:

1. High Smoke Point: One of the key attributes of peanut oil is its high smoke point, typically around 440°F (227°C). This means that it can withstand high cooking temperatures without breaking down or developing a burnt taste, making it ideal for stir-frying and deep-frying.

2. Neutral Flavor: Peanut oil has a relatively neutral flavor, allowing it to complement and enhance the natural taste of the ingredients in a dish without overpowering them. It doesn’t introduce unwanted flavors, which is crucial in Chinese cuisine, where subtlety and balance are key.

3. Light Texture: Peanut oil has a light and clean texture, which contributes to the delicate, crisp results in many Chinese dishes. Its ability to coat ingredients evenly is especially important in stir-frying and shallow frying.

4. Health Benefits: It’s worth noting that peanut oil is relatively low in saturated fat and contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. It is also a source of vitamin E, which provides antioxidants and helps maintain the quality of the oil during cooking.

Culinary Versatility

Peanut oil’s versatility in Chinese cuisine is unmatched. It is the go-to choice for a wide range of cooking techniques and dishes, from the spicy and numbing Sichuan stir-fries to the light and delicate Cantonese dishes. Here are some of the culinary techniques in which peanut oil shines:

1. Stir-Frying: The high smoke point and neutral flavor of peanut oil make it an excellent choice for stir-frying. It allows ingredients to cook quickly while maintaining their individual flavors and textures. The result is a harmonious and well-balanced dish.

2. Deep Frying: When it comes to deep-frying, peanut oil is a top choice. It helps achieve a crispy and non-greasy texture in foods like spring rolls, dumplings, and chicken dishes.

3. Shallow Frying: For shallow frying, such as in pan-fried dumplings or buns, peanut oil’s light texture ensures even browning and a delectable crust.

4. Sautéing: The neutral flavor of peanut oil makes it perfect for sautéing vegetables, meat, or seafood. It allows the natural flavors of the ingredients to shine while imparting a mild, pleasant aroma.

5. Salad Dressings and Cold Dishes: In contrast to its use in hot cooking methods, peanut oil’s neutral taste is beneficial for making salad dressings and marinating cold dishes.

Peanut Oil in Regional Chinese Cuisines

Different Chinese regional cuisines make distinctive use of peanut oil, often combining it with various regional spices and ingredients:

1. Sichuan Cuisine: Known for its bold and spicy flavors, Sichuan cuisine relies on peanut oil for stir-frying dishes such as Kung Pao chicken and Mapo tofu. The neutral flavor of peanut oil helps balance the fiery spices.

2. Cantonese Cuisine: In Cantonese cuisine, characterized by its subtle and light flavors, peanut oil is used for stir-frying, steaming, and deep-frying. It contributes to the delicate and nuanced taste of dishes like Cantonese-style steamed fish and dim sum items.

3. Shandong Cuisine: Peanut oil is a favorite in Shandong cuisine, where it is employed for deep-frying seafood, poultry, and savory pancakes. The oil’s ability to achieve a crispy texture is highly valued in this region.

4. Hunan Cuisine: Known for its spiciness and bold flavors, Hunan cuisine also utilizes peanut oil for stir-frying fiery dishes like General Tso’s chicken. The high smoke point of the oil ensures that it can handle the intense heat required for these dishes.

Peanut Oil vs. Other Cooking Oils

While peanut oil is the preferred choice for Chinese cooking, it’s important to understand how it compares to other common cooking oils used in Chinese cuisine. Here’s a brief overview of some alternatives:

1. Soybean Oil: Soybean oil is another popular choice in Chinese cooking. It has a relatively neutral flavor and a high smoke point, making it suitable for stir-frying. However, some find it less desirable than peanut oil due to its slightly heavier texture.

2. Canola Oil: Canola oil is known for its heart-healthy properties, as it is low in saturated fat and contains omega-3 fatty acids. It has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point, making it versatile for Chinese cooking. Canola oil is often used in restaurants that want to provide a healthier option to diners.

3. Sesame Oil: While not typically used as the primary cooking oil, sesame oil is a crucial flavoring agent in Chinese cuisine. It imparts a rich, nutty flavor to dishes when used in small quantities, particularly in stir-fries or as a finishing touch.

4. Vegetable Oil: “Vegetable oil” is a broad category that encompasses various types of oils, including blends of soybean, canola, and sunflower oils. It can be a suitable choice for frying and stir-frying, but the specific blend and quality may vary.

Peanut oil remains the top choice for most traditional Chinese dishes due to its specific attributes that align with the goals of Chinese cuisine. While other oils are certainly options, peanut oil is the classic and revered selection.

Health Considerations

While peanut oil is a beloved staple in Chinese cooking, it’s important to consider the potential health implications, especially for individuals with allergies. Peanut oil can be derived from both refined and unrefined peanuts, and the allergenic proteins are often removed during processing. Refined peanut oil is generally considered safe for those with peanut allergies, but it’s crucial to read labels and consult with a healthcare professional if you have concerns.

From a broader health perspective, peanut oil is regarded as a healthy cooking oil option due to its high levels of monounsaturated fats and low levels of saturated fats. It also contains vitamin E, an antioxidant that can help maintain the oil’s quality during cooking. However, as with any cooking oil, moderation is key, as excessive consumption of cooking oils can contribute to overall caloric intake.


Peanut oil is the heartbeat of Chinese cuisine, a versatile and essential element that binds together the diverse flavors, techniques, and regional styles of this culinary tradition. Its unique combination of high smoke point, neutral flavor, and health benefits has made it the go-to choice for stir-frying, deep-frying, and sautéing in Chinese kitchens for centuries.

As we’ve journeyed through the historical and culinary significance of peanut oil in Chinese cooking, we’ve seen its impact on dishes from various regions, each bringing its own unique approach to flavors and ingredients. The respect for tradition, balanced with the constant evolution of culinary art, showcases the depth and complexity of Chinese cuisine.

Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a home cook eager to explore Chinese cooking, understanding the role of peanut oil is a fundamental step. Its versatility and compatibility with a wide range of Chinese dishes make it a trusted companion in the exploration of this ancient and dynamic culinary tradition. As you embark on your own culinary adventures, may you find inspiration in the art of Chinese cooking, guided by the guiding light of peanut oil.



Wellfoodrecipes is a professional gourmet portal, the main columns include gourmet recipes, healthy diet, desserts, festival recipes, meat and seafood recipes, etc.

【Contact us: [email protected]

Copyright © 2023