Sure, you have olive oil in your pantry and, yes, it's tasty, heart-smart, and a staple of the life-extending Mediterranean diet—but your relationship with it shouldn't be exclusive. "Varying the lipids you cook with balances good and bad fat intake," says Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., author of The Great Cholesterol Myth. Aside from distinct health merits, each has a unique smoke point (the temperature at which it breaks down) and therefore best use. Overheating "damages nutrients and produces free radicals," says Angela Lemond, R.D.N., a nutritionist in Plano, Texas. Rotate among these to be a well-oiled machine.

OLIVE OIL
+ Flavor
From bitter and peppery to citrusy and grassy
+ Health Perks
Rich in monounsaturated fats (also found in nuts and avocados), extra-virgin olive oil lowers bad LDL cholesterol and raises good HDL cholesterol. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that consuming more than four tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil daily significantly lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke.
+ Smoke Point
Medium for extra-virgin (374 degrees F)
+ Great for
Low-heat sautéing and raw dishes, including pestos, vinaigrettes, and emulsions (like aiolis and mayos). Don't use for high-heat cooking like searing meat. Ideal for drizzling.

GRAPESEED OIL
+ Flavor
Mild and neutral with a hint of grape
+ Health Perks
Chock-full of vitamin E and flavonoids—antioxidants that lower the risk of stroke and heart disease. But since 70 percent of the oil's fatty acids are omega-6s (an excess of which can lead to disease-causing inflammation), Bowden suggests limiting its use to once or twice a week.
+ Smoke Point
Medium-high (442 degrees F)
+ Great for
Frying, pan-searing, broiling, roasting, and baking. "Grapeseed stands up to all levels of heat, making it a solid go-to oil," says Louisa Young, head chef of Ango NYC, a farm-to-table catering company.

NUT OILS
+ Flavor
Whichever nut spawned it—peanut, macadamia, and walnut are the most common
+ Health Perks
Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, macadamia and walnut oils are good for the heart and help protect brain cells. Peanut oil contains resveratrol (also found in red wine), which may help prevent certain cancers.
+ Smoke Point
Medium-high for refined peanut (448 degrees F) and macadamia (389 degrees F); medium-low for unrefined walnut (320 degrees F)
+ Great for
Deep-frying, stir-frying, and broiling if you're using peanut or macadamia. Walnut is best used uncooked, in salad dressings or drizzled over steamed or roasted vegetables.

FLAXSEED OIL
+ Flavor
Buttery, slightly bitter
+ Health Perks
Contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the body converts into omega-3s (giving it the most of any cooking oil). Studies have shown that ALA can help reduce inflammation and may lower blood pressure.
+ Smoke Point
Low (225 degrees F)
+ Great for
Raw dishes like hummus, blending into smoothies, or stirring into oatmeal.

CANOLA OIL
+ Flavor
Neutral. "It complements the flavors of your other ingredients," Lemond says.
+ Health Perks
Made from the rapeseed plant, refined canola oil is high in heart-friendly polyunsaturated fats and has half the saturated fat of olive oil. Plus, a recent Penn State University study found that consuming canola oil helps diminish belly fat. It has gotten a bad rap for being processed (it has a strong odor, so it's bleached and deodorized), but its benefits make up for that.
+ Smoke Point
High (468 degrees F)
+ Great for
Sautéing, stir-frying, pan-searing, and baking.

• • •

The Three To Avoid

1. Coconut Oil
Contains 91 percent saturated fat.

2. Palm Oil
Has 51 percent saturated fat and virtually no inflammation-reducing omega-3s.

3. Cottonseed Oil
Very high in omega-6s and has 27 percent saturated fat.

• • •

Where to Buy
Quality affects the flavor of cooking oils dramatically. Here, where to find the top artisanal oils.

Specialty Oils
La Tourangelle (from $6; latourangelle.com) handcrafts a wide range of oils from nut- and seed-based varieties to avocado and truffle oil, using traditional French expeller-press machines.

Olive Oil
Fiore (from $10; fioreoliveoils.com), known for "chasing the crush" from country to country, works with growers in Portugal, Spain, Greece, Italy, and California to snag the freshest oils made within weeks of pressing.

Finishing Oil
Stony Brook WholeHeartedFoods (from $12; wholeheartedfoods.com) offers five varieties of roasted squash seed oils, including pumpkin, butternut, and acorn, that add a smoky, earthy flavor to cooked meats and vegetables and taste great in salad dressings.

• • •

Primer: Infuse Your Own
Flavored oils are great for dressings, drizzling over pasta, or bread-dunking.

1. In a small saucepan, warm 1/2 cup oil (light olive and canola work best) and a few teaspoons of the infusing ingredient (good options include fresh rosemary sprigs, crushed red pepper flakes, and chopped, dried chorizo) over low to medium heat until it releases an aroma, about 5 minutes.

2. Remove from heat, cover the saucepan, and allow to cool completely (about an hour).

3. Strain out ingredients and pour oil into a glass bottle with a good seal. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.