8 Common Cooking Oils in Chinese Cuisine

by Ella

Chinese cuisine, renowned for its rich tapestry of flavors and diverse regional styles, relies on a variety of cooking oils to achieve its signature taste and texture. The choice of cooking oil plays a pivotal role in Chinese culinary traditions, influencing not only the dish’s flavor but also its overall healthfulness. In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of oils used in Chinese cooking, exploring the different types, their unique characteristics, and how they contribute to the art of creating exquisite Chinese dishes.

Understanding the Role of Cooking Oils in Chinese Cuisine:

Chinese cooking oils serve as more than mere mediums for cooking; they are essential components that contribute to the dish’s flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel. The diversity of Chinese cuisine, with its emphasis on balance and harmony, is reflected in the careful selection of cooking oils that enhance the natural flavors of ingredients while preserving their nutritional integrity.


In traditional Chinese cooking, oils are used for a range of culinary techniques, including stir-frying, deep-frying, pan-frying, and even in cold dressings. Each cooking method calls for a specific type of oil, taking into consideration factors such as smoke point, flavor, and nutritional content.


8 Common Cooking Oils in Chinese Cuisine:

1. Sesame Oil:

Sesame oil, often referred to as the “queen of oils” in Chinese cuisine, holds a special place in the culinary landscape. Light sesame oil, with its delicate and nutty flavor, is commonly used in salad dressings and as a finishing touch to dishes. Dark sesame oil, with its intense and toasty aroma, is favored for stir-frying and marinades. It’s essential to note that dark sesame oil is typically used in moderation due to its potent flavor.


Nutritional Benefits: Sesame oil is rich in antioxidants, including sesamol and sesamin, which have anti-inflammatory and heart-protective properties. Additionally, it contains vitamin E, an essential nutrient with antioxidant properties.


Best Uses: Light sesame oil for salads, dressings, and finishing touches; dark sesame oil for stir-frying, marinades, and enhancing the flavor of specific dishes.

2. Peanut Oil:

Peanut oil, with its mild flavor and high smoke point, is a popular choice for various Chinese cooking methods. It is versatile enough to be used in stir-frying, deep-frying, and even in cold dishes. The neutral taste of peanut oil allows the natural flavors of ingredients to shine through.

Nutritional Benefits: Peanut oil contains monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which can contribute to heart health. It also contains vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage.

Best Uses: Stir-frying, deep-frying, pan-frying, and as a general-purpose cooking oil.

3. Canola Oil:

Canola oil, known for its neutral flavor and high smoke point, has gained popularity in Chinese kitchens. Its light taste makes it suitable for a range of dishes, and its ability to withstand high temperatures makes it a reliable choice for various cooking methods.

Nutritional Benefits: Canola oil is low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fats. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to heart health.

Best Uses: Deep-frying, pan-frying, stir-frying, and as a general-purpose cooking oil.

4. Soybean Oil:

Soybean oil is a commonly used cooking oil in Chinese cuisine, appreciated for its neutral taste and high smoke point. It is a versatile oil that can be employed in various dishes without overpowering the natural flavors.

Nutritional Benefits: Soybean oil is a good source of vitamin K and vitamin E. It also contains omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential for the body.

Best Uses: Stir-frying, deep-frying, pan-frying, and as a general-purpose cooking oil.

5. Vegetable Oil:

The term “vegetable oil” encompasses oils derived from different plant sources, such as soybean, corn, or canola. While it may lack the distinct flavor of some other oils, it is a versatile option for various cooking methods.

Nutritional Benefits: The nutritional profile of vegetable oil depends on the specific plant source. Generally, vegetable oils contain a mix of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Best Uses: Deep-frying, pan-frying, stir-frying, and as a general-purpose cooking oil.

6. Corn Oil:

Corn oil, with its mild flavor and high smoke point, is suitable for Chinese cooking, particularly in deep-frying. Its versatility allows it to be used in various dishes without altering the natural flavors.

Nutritional Benefits: Corn oil is a good source of polyunsaturated fats and vitamin E. It also contains phytosterols, which may contribute to heart health.

Best Uses: Deep-frying, pan-frying, stir-frying, and as a general-purpose cooking oil.

7. Rapeseed Oil (Colza Oil):

Rapeseed oil, known as “youcaiyou” in Chinese, has been traditionally used in certain regions. Its distinctive flavor makes it suitable for specific dishes, and its use is deeply rooted in regional culinary traditions.

Nutritional Benefits: Rapeseed oil is high in monounsaturated fats and contains omega-3 fatty acids. It also provides vitamin E, an antioxidant that supports skin health.

Best Uses: Stir-frying, sautéing, and in dishes where its flavor complements the overall taste profile.

8. Wok Oil:

Wok oil, a pre-blended mixture infused with garlic, ginger, and sometimes other aromatics, is designed for high-heat stir-frying. While it may not be a traditional Chinese oil, it offers convenience and an extra burst of flavor to dishes.

Best Uses: High-heat stir-frying, adding a burst of flavor to various dishes.

Factors Influencing Oil Selection:

Several factors influence the choice of cooking oil in Chinese cuisine, reflecting the intricate balance that Chinese chefs aim to achieve in their dishes:

The flavor of the oil can significantly impact the overall taste of the dish. Oils like sesame oil and peanut oil add distinct flavors to the food, enhancing its complexity and depth.

Smoke Point:
The smoke point, or the temperature at which an oil starts to smoke and break down, is a crucial consideration in Chinese cooking. Oils with high smoke points, such as peanut oil and canola oil, are preferred for deep-frying and stir-frying at high temperatures.

Nutritional Profile:
Chinese cuisine places importance on the healthfulness of ingredients. Some oils, like sesame oil, are valued for their nutritional benefits, including antioxidants and healthy fats. Chefs often balance flavor preferences with nutritional considerations.

Regional Traditions:
The choice of cooking oil can vary across different regions of China. Regional culinary traditions and locally available ingredients influence the oils preferred in specific areas.

Culinary Technique:
Different cooking techniques require specific oils. For example, stir-frying may call for an oil with a higher smoke point, while finishing oils like sesame oil are added at the end of the cooking process for flavor.

Choosing the Right Oil for Chinese Cooking:

Selecting the appropriate cooking oil for Chinese dishes involves considering the specific cooking method, the desired flavor profile, and the nutritional goals of the meal. Here are some guidelines to help you make informed choices:


For stir-frying at high temperatures, oils with high smoke points, such as peanut oil, canola oil, and soybean oil, are ideal. These oils can withstand the intense heat without breaking down and imparting off-flavors to the dish.


When deep-frying, oils with high smoke points and neutral flavors are preferred to avoid transferring unwanted tastes to the food. Peanut oil, canola oil, and vegetable oil are commonly used for deep-frying in Chinese cuisine.


For pan-frying, where moderate heat is applied, oils with a moderate smoke point and mild flavors work well. Canola oil, peanut oil, and vegetable oil are suitable choices.

Finishing Oils:

Light sesame oil and dark sesame oil are commonly used as finishing oils in Chinese dishes. Adding a small amount of these oils at the end of cooking enhances the overall flavor and aroma of the dish.

Marinades and Cold Dishes:

In recipes that call for marinating or preparing cold dishes, flavorful oils like dark sesame oil or rapeseed oil can be used to add depth to the dish.

Culinary Regions and Oil Preferences:

China’s vast and diverse culinary landscape is reflected in the regional preferences for cooking oils. Different provinces and cities may favor specific oils based on local agricultural practices, climate, and traditional culinary techniques. Here are some notable regional oil preferences:

Sichuan Province:

Known for its bold and spicy flavors, Sichuan cuisine often uses rapeseed oil for its distinctive taste. The pungent aroma of rapeseed oil complements the numbing and spicy qualities of Sichuan peppercorns.

Cantonese Cuisine (Guangdong Province):

Cantonese cuisine, characterized by its emphasis on fresh and natural flavors, often opts for neutral oils like peanut oil and vegetable oil. These oils allow the natural taste of ingredients to shine through.

Shanghai Cuisine:

In Shanghai, a blend of soybean oil and peanut oil is commonly used. This combination provides a balanced flavor profile, suitable for the delicate and sweet flavors often found in Shanghainese dishes.

Hunan Province:

Hunan cuisine, known for its fiery and bold flavors, may utilize a variety of oils, including rapeseed oil, soybean oil, and even sesame oil for added depth.

Northern China:

In the colder northern regions, where winters can be harsh, heartier oils like sesame oil are often incorporated into dishes for their warming properties.


Taiwanese cuisine may use a mix of oils, including soybean oil, peanut oil, and sesame oil. The choice of oil depends on the specific dish and the desired flavor profile.

Tips for Properly Using Cooking Oils in Chinese Cuisine:

Preheat Before Adding Ingredients:

Allow the cooking oil to heat thoroughly before adding ingredients. This ensures a quick and even cooking process, especially in high-temperature methods like stir-frying.

Use Moderate Amounts:

Exercise moderation when adding oil to your dishes. While oil is essential for cooking, excessive amounts can lead to greasy or oily textures and may mask the natural flavors of the ingredients.

Consider Oil Substitutions:

In certain cases, you can substitute one cooking oil for another based on availability and flavor preferences. However, be mindful of the oil’s smoke point and adjust cooking times accordingly.

Store Oils Properly:

Store cooking oils in a cool, dark place to prevent oxidation and maintain their quality. Exposure to heat and light can cause oils to become rancid, affecting both flavor and nutritional content.

Try Infused Oils:

Experiment with infused oils to add an extra layer of flavor to your dishes. Infused oils, such as garlic-infused sesame oil, can provide a unique twist to familiar recipes.

Invest in Quality Oils:

Choose high-quality oils for better flavor and nutritional benefits. Cold-pressed or unrefined oils may have a more pronounced taste, while refined oils offer a neutral base for various dishes.

See Also: 7 Health Benefits of Fish Oil


In the tapestry of Chinese cuisine, the selection of cooking oils is a thread that weaves together flavors, textures, and regional nuances. The careful consideration of oil varieties, coupled with an understanding of their properties, is crucial for achieving the authentic taste and character associated with Chinese dishes. Whether it’s the robust nuttiness of peanut oil, the aromatic richness of sesame oil, or the versatility of soybean oil, each plays a unique role in the symphony of Chinese culinary creations.

As you embark on your culinary journey, embrace the diversity of Chinese cooking oils, experiment with different varieties, and pay homage to the rich traditions that have shaped this captivating cuisine. By understanding the nuances of oil selection and usage, you can elevate your Chinese culinary endeavors, creating dishes that not only delight the palate but also honor the age-old artistry of Chinese gastronomy.



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