Tea Seed Oil Is an Asian Cooking Staple You Must Try

Make room in your pantry for tea seed oil, the versatile plant-based oil with a high smoke point and an impressive nutrient profile.

If you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, you probably have a few bottles of various types of cooking oils on hand for cooking and baking. Olive oil and vegetable oil are classics, but we've also seen specialty varieties such as avocado oil, coconut oil, and MCT oil join the ranks for their various touted benefits over the years. The latest you might want to consider adding to the pantry: tea seed oil. Don't get this confused with the inedible tea tree oil. This is a versatile cooking oil you can use in many ways. It's not a new oil—in fact, it's been around for centuries in some Asian cuisines. Read on to learn about tea seed oil and how to use it.

bottle of tea seed oil pouring into white dish against yellow background
Courtesy of Yóu Yóu

What Is Tea Seed Oil?

Tea seed oil is made from the seeds of the Camellia oleifera plant, which is a flowering tree native to the Hunan region of China. (This shrub is a cousin to Camellia Sinensis, whose leaves are harvested to turn into the leafy black and green teas.) After five seasons of maturing, tea seeds are harvested and cold-pressed into oil. The result—which takes eight years total to produce—is a light oil with a slightly nutty flavor that's comparable to grapeseed oil.

Tea Seed Oil Benefits

Upon closer examination of tea seed oil, registered dietitian Andy De Santis was impressed with tea seed oil's nutrient profile. For starters, De Santis points out that tea seed oil is rich in the "potent flavonoid class of antioxidants known as catechins," which have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory potential. The other big health benefit of tea seed oil is that it provides an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Tea seed oil also contains minerals and vitamins, most notably vitamins B, A, and E.

How to Use Tea Seed Oil

"Because of its neutral flavor and high smoke point, tea seed oil came to be known as the 'olive oil of the East,' says Anthony Chen, co-founder of Yóu Yóu Tea Seed Oil. It's been a staple ingredient in authentic Asian cuisine for 1,000-plus years, so it's obvious you can create some pretty delicious stir-fries and other Asian-inspired dishes at home. But tea seed oil's uses go far beyond a single cuisine. The high smoke point allows you to sauté or fry foods up to 486°F without burning your food. (For comparison, olive oil's smoke point falls between 374°F and 405°F.) Since it has such a mild flavor, you can use tea seed oil as an equal swap in any cooking or baking recipe.

While we're on the subject of oil, stay in the know with the best oil substitutes whenever you're out of a specific oil for a recipe and don't want to run to the store.

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  1. Fan, Fei-Yan, et al. "Catechins and Their Therapeutic Benefits to Inflammatory Bowel Disease." Molecules, vol. 22, no. 3, 2017, MDPI, pp. 484, doi:10.3390/molecules22030484

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