Grapeseed oil has started to gain more traction in recent years, touted for its relative tastelessness compared to other cooking oils, its richness in Vitamin E, and its high amounts of polyunsaturated fats (most notably, omega-6 fatty acids). As such, companies have been pushing it as the cheaper and healthier alternative to other popular cooking oils, even though all the science behind its benefits aren’t really in yet.
But based on what we do know, is grapeseed oil really better than other oils? Or are there pitfalls that companies aren’t telling us? Today, we will explore what exactly makes grapeseed oil stand out, the best uses for this oil, and what are some things you should watch out for to make sure you use it the right way.
What is Grapeseed Oil?
As you might have guessed from its name — grapeseed oil comes from the seeds of grapes. Since grapes have been used as medicine from the days of Ancient Greece, it is no wonder that the oil produced from its seeds would be given the same regard. The use of grapeseed oil supposedly dates back to at least the Roman Empire, but it’s hard to find any proper sources detailing the history or the cultural significance it had, if any.
A by-product of winemaking, the oil is extracted from grape seeds either through pressing (cold-pressing or expeller-pressing), or through the use of solvents or chemicals. Most grapeseed oils are extracted via the latter method, but the solvents and chemicals would be removed during the manufacturing process. If the packaging doesn’t mention how the oil is extracted, most likely it was extracted using solvents. One of such solvents is hexane, which is known to be toxic in large amounts and is harmful to the environment. As such, grapeseed oil has become rather controversial, where the environmental costs of producing it is weighed against its health benefits for consumers.
Rich in Vitamin E and Antioxidants
Similar to olive oil, grapeseed oil is high in phenolic antioxidants and vitamin E (which also works as an antioxidant), which provide a natural protection from oxidative damage and helps to fight free radicals that can damage our cells and lead to disease. It can also boost good cholesterol, and combat high blood pressure and obesity. In one tablespoon of grapeseed oil, there is 3.9 mg of vitamin E, which is 19% of the Recommended Daily Allowances.
Besides vitamin E, however, there doesn’t seem to be any other vitamins in grapeseed oil. In fact, there are arguments that extra virgin olive oil may be a better source of antioxidants and vitamin E, as well as a source of other nutrients, but the lack of study on this subject has made this a difficult argument to prove or disprove.
High Smoke Point
One of the most popular aspect of grapeseed oil (or at least, its most marketable aspect) is its high smoke point. In case the term went over your head like it did for me the first time I heard it, the smoke point of an oil basically refers to the moment the oil starts to burn and produce smoke. Generally, the more refined an oil is (which means the more pure, and less compound-filled it is), the higher its smoke point.
When it comes to cooking, you do not want your oil to burn. Different oils react differently, but in most cases, once it heats up to its smoke point, the fats will start to break down thanks to the heat and release free radicals and substances that may be harmful to your body. The oil will also start to take on an acrid smell and taste (basically bitter and pungent, like the stench of a burnt-down house), which would be terrible for whatever you are cooking.
In the case of grapeseed oil, its normal smoke point is 195°C, while the smoke point of its refined oil can go up to 216°C, which is quite a feat. This is in comparison to natural oils such as olive oil (165-190°C) and coconut oil (175°C), though it does seem to lose out to other common cooking oils like vegetable oil (205-230°C), and canola oil (238°C).
Despite this, grapeseed oil has been said to be unsuitable for high-heat frying, an argument which I will talk more about later.
High in Polyunsaturated Fats (and Omega-6 Fatty Acids) and Low in Saturated Fats
Saturated fats are known to be rather unhealthy, contributing to an array of fat-related health risks, such as stroke and heart attacks. Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, are known to reduce these risks when they are consumed in place of saturated fats. Basically, saturated fats are the “bad fats”, the ones you want to avoid, while unsaturated fats are the “good fats”, which you should use to replace these bad fats. (Take note though, it does not mean that unsaturated fats are ‘healthy’, they are just a healthier choice. Unsaturated fat should still be consumed in moderation and only as much as your body needs.)
When it comes to unsaturated fats, there are a couple of variants: monounsaturated, which are fatty acids with only one double bond in their molecular structure; and polyunsaturated, which have more than one double bond in their structure. Grapeseed oil is mostly made up of the latter; 71% of it is polyunsaturated fat, 17% is monounsaturated fat, while only 12% is saturated fat. This is in comparison to other oils, such as coconut oil, which contains 92% saturated fat, and olive oil, which contains 77% monounsaturated fat and 14% saturated fat. There is generally not a lot of difference between monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats besides the health benefits they bring, but there are debates trying to determine which one is better for human consumption. Unfortunately, there is a lack of reliable research to back either side of the argument.
Now, about omega-6 fatty acids. There’s a reason why I added it in brackets in the title, mostly because it seems to be rather inconsequential in regards to the health benefits of grapeseed oil. While a lot of companies are keen to talk about it, the point is that omega-6 is already quite common in our normal diet. The thing about these omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids, is that they should be consumed in balance. It is the imbalance of these omega fats that contribute to chronic diseases. Of these three, omega-9 is the only one that can be naturally produced by our body, while omega-3 (common in fish and olive oil) and omega-6 (common in nuts, seeds, and grapeseed oil) have to be found in our diet. The American diet (filled with lots of processed and fried foods) is supposedly extremely high in omega-6 already, which is why there’s a boom in demand for foods with omega-3 fatty acids in the Western world. I couldn’t find any sources about the balance of omega-3 and omega-6 in Asian diets, but it would still be a good idea to understand how it works when you plan your meals, especially since grapeseed oil would be a relatively healthier source of omega-6 fats. A ratio of 1:1 between omega-3 and omega-6 seems to be the ideal. If you find yourself lacking some omega-6 in your meals, a drizzle of grapeseed oil would do the trick.
While this might be an interesting point to note, grapeseed oil is known to have a relatively mild (or some might call it ‘clean’) taste compared to other oils. Its virgin oil variant is said to have the taste of white wine, while as a refined oil, its taste is neutral. This means that it may not be suitable as dips during parties, or for drizzling over pizzas or snacks, but in cooking, it allows the natural taste of your ingredients, especially speciality oils or herbs, shine through. This relative lack of taste also makes it a good substitute for butter or oil in baking.
As a Cooking Oil
As I’ve previously mentioned, grapeseed oil has a higher smoke point compared to other healthy oils, but its high amount of polyunsaturated fats has caused people to advice against using it for high-heat cooking. Polyunsaturated fats are very sensitive to high-heat, resulting in them breaking down and oxidising. And as I mentioned previously, that would result in the formation of chemicals that might be bad for you.
However, grapeseed oil’s high smoke point means that these polyunsaturated fats won’t break down until it gets really hot, but the problem is that the science behind this isn’t all in yet, and there aren’t enough scientific evidence to prove or disprove this problem. Regardless, people are still not too keen to take the risk. It’s been advice that grapeseed oil maybe be best used for dressings (its lightness helps makes it spread more evenly over salads and other foods), soups, sauces, or baking. You can even use the oil to coal vegetables or other ingredients before frying them, to prevent them from getting burnt.
If you’re wondering what kinds of oil are good for high-heat frying or deep frying, well… it’s those that contain high amounts of saturated fats. Saturated fats do not contain the sort of molecular bond that exists in unsaturated fats (and it is these molecular bonds that get unstable and break down when in contact with heat — monounsaturated fats are also relatively more stable because of this, as they only contain one bond instead of many), but saturated fats still remain to be relatively unhealthy. That basically means that fried food will be unhealthy no matter what oil you use, so if you do want some fries, use your good-old oils rich in saturated fats, and make sure to eat in controlled amounts.
One of the popular use of grapeseed oil appears to be for beauty, be it for skin or hair. On its own, grapeseed oil can be used as a carrier oil to dilute strong, essential oils, and is also an excellent choice for those who are sensitive or allergic to certain essential oils. (Thanks to this, it is also a good choice for aromatherapy!) Grapeseed oil can penetrate the skin quite easily and quickly, so it doesn’t leave a greasy layer on the skin. It also doesn’t clog pores, making it ideal for all skin types, even oily skin that needs moisturising. The omega-6 in grapeseed oil contains linolenic acid, which can help reduce inflammation in the skin’s middle and outer layers.
Besides being a moisturiser, grapeseed oil can also heal acne, lighten skin (and dark circles), tighten pores, and reduce scars. It can also be used as a makeup remover!
Grapeseed oil is also a natural remedy for baldness — linolenic acid contains powerful antioxidants called procyanidin oligomers, and studies have shown that it can induce hair growth, but more research may be needed.
Otherwise, grapeseed oil is also deemed an effective moisturiser for both the scalp (it can reduce dandruff that is caused by dry scalp), and for the hair. Compared to other natural oils like coconut oil (which is quite a popular hair moisturiser), grapeseed oil is lightweight, feels less greasy, and doesn’t carry a strong smell. If you want some shine and moisture in your hair, grapeseed oil may be a cheaper and more effective alternative.
Should I Still Get Grapeseed Oil?
Now that we have gone through all these aspects about grapeseed oil, you may be wondering, “What’s the point?” The health benefits of grapeseed oil seem to require more research, while other more popular and common cooking oils, like olive oil, seems to have more proven health benefits and less risks.
In some ways, grapeseed oil functions mostly as an alternative option to other natural oils, partly due to its lower price tag. Compared to coconut oil, which is high in saturated fats, grapeseed oil contains high amounts of polyunsaturated fats while is low in saturated fats — this is hard to find in other cooking oils. For those who are not fond of eating nuts or seeds, grapeseed oil is perhaps their best source of polyunsaturated fats.
If you decide to get some grapeseed oil for yourself, there are certain aspects that you should look out for, such as how the oil was extracted (through the use of solvents and chemicals, or through pressing), if it’s been refined, and where the oil — or rather, the grape seeds — came from. Grapeseed oil mostly comes from the Mediterranean, especially Europe, which make those the most trustworthy sources of the oil.
If in doubt, Borges’ Refined Grapeseed Oil is a safe option. With a high smoke point of up to 216°C, and hailing from Mediterranean sources, you can be assured that you are getting the best of the best when you purchase grapeseed oil from Borges.
What You Can Do with Grapeseed Oil
Considering grapeseed oil’s strengths and limitations, and its flexibility both in cooking and beauty, I have gathered some grapeseed oil recipes from across the Internet, food or otherwise, which you can try out yourself!
Grapeseed Oil Salad Dressing
Here’s a simple recipe to get the ball rolling: a healthy salad dressing that you can pour over any leafy greens of your choice! Simple and easy, it uses ingredients that you can find around your home, as well as our titular grapeseed oil.
2-3 tbsp grapeseed oil
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Whisk grapeseed oil and lemon juice together. Mince or finely chop one garlic clove and mix into the dressing. Add salt and pepper to the bowl and stir or shake up in a glass jar. Add into vegetables of your choice, toss and serve.
Grapeseed Oil Brownies
Here’s a reduced-fat recipe that is not too greasy, yet very chocolaty. It contains less fats than most recipes, allowing you to snack without too much guilt!
1 tbsp butter
28 g chopped unsweetened chocolate
2 tbsp room temperature grapeseed oil
65 g unsweetened cocoa
2 large eggs
1 large egg white
320 g cups granulated sugar
1¼ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp baking powder
⅜ tsp salt
248 g flour or whole wheat pastry flour
45 g extra dark chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 177°C. Line an 8 inch metal pan with non-stick foil.
- In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the chocolate, remove pan from heat and stir until chocolate melts in the hot butter. If residual heat doesn't melt the chocolate enough, put the pan back on low.
- Stir the grapeseed oil into the melted chocolate, then stir in the cocoa. The mixture will look like thick, black, mud.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, egg white, sugar and vanilla. Whisk in the baking powder and the salt, then scrape into thick chocolate mixture and stir well. Stir in the flour. When well mixed, stir in the chocolate chips.
- Bake on centre rack for 30 minutes or until brownies appear set.
- Let cool completely on a rack. Lift from pan and slice into squares or for a cleaner cut, chill for a few hours and then cut. I always chill mine before cutting, then serve at room temperature.
Grapeseed Oil Lotion
A light and simple skin lotion for your use. Easy to make and use, just make sure to store it in a glass jar in a cool and dry place. You can even add essential oils of your liking to give it a nice smell!
3 tbsp beeswax or emulsifying wax
177 ml grapeseed oil
2 tsp coconut oil
4 tbsp water
In a double boiler over low-medium heat, melt the beeswax or emulsifying wax and add in the grapeseed oil and coconut oil. Mix everything well. Let cool slightly and blend or whisk in the water.
Grapeseed Oil Hair Mask
Now, this one isn’t that much of a ‘recipe’ but a little hair treatment you can do to moisturise and improve your hair’s shine. Using common ingredients you can find around your house, this quick and effective
60 ml grapeseed oil
½ smashed avocado
3 egg yolks
The science behind grapeseed oil remains to be quite limited, and there seems to be a lack of interest in researching about its health benefits and risks. There are points of arguments from both sides, with people touting it as a healthy, cheaper alternative to other cooking oils, and others pointing out that olive oil’s strengths far outweigh those of grapeseed oil. There is also a growing voice supporting grapeseed oil as a unique oil by itself.
At the moment, it does seem like grapeseed oil might not stand up to the test against other more popular oils, but that does not mean its benefits should be overlooked. It still remains to be one of the best sources of omega-6 fatty acids compared to processed and fried foods, and its high smoke point ensures that food doesn’t get burnt as easily. Meanwhile, its relative lack of smell and taste, and its lightweight nature, allows it to be versatile both in cooking and beauty.
Interested to find out more about other foods and their health benefits? Check out this post on coconuts and what makes it so popular! You can also find other topics on health and beauty on our website, so don’t hesitate to take a look around!