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Cooking Spray: What's Really In It And How To Make Your Own

cooking spray

Evidence suggests that our human ancestors started cooking their food somewhere between one to two million years ago. That means that in the grand scheme of things, cooking spray is an extremely recent invention!

But many us home cooks use our trusty cans of cooking spray multiple times a day, often in spite of the disapproval of our mothers or grandmothers. (I don’t disagree that greasing a pan with butter or oil works just as well to keep food from sticking, but you just can’t beat the speed and convenience of a spray can!)

But I’ll be the first one to admit that I had very little information about what went into a can of cooking spray until I started doing research for this post! Cooking spray can be as mysterious as it is useful, so I thought that it was high time we took a close look at the subject!

By the end of this post, you’ll not only have a clear understanding of what cooking spray actually is, but you’ll know about the different types of cooking spray that are available in stores, the problems you might encounter while using cooking spray, and how to store it safely. And last but not least, you’ll know how to whip up your own homemade cooking spray too! 🙂

So let’s get started, shall we?

cooking spray

What Is Cooking Spray, Actually?

Cooking spray (also called non-stick cooking spray) is a type of sprayable oil that is used to prevent food from sticking to a surface while it cooks, or to make the surface easier to clean after cooking. You can achieve similar results by greasing a surface with fat or oil, but cooking spray can be a real time-saver when you’re dealing with non-flat surfaces. (Imagine trying to grease all the nooks and crannies of your waffle iron or an intricate bundt pan without it!)

Most aerosol cooking sprays contain the same basic ingredients: oil, lecithin (an emulsifier that prevents the oil from separating from the other ingredients), dimethyl silicone (an anti-foaming agent), and a propellant like butane or propane. These ingredients work together to disperse the cooking spray in a thin, even layer across your cooking surface.

cooking spray

Is Cooking Spray Different Than Baking Spray?

So how does cooking spray compare to baking spray? Well, that depends on who you ask, because a lot of people tend to use the terms “cooking spray” and “baking spray” interchangeably.

On the other hand, some brands like Pam also make products specifically for baking along with their original formula. These baking sprays often include flour in their formulas to further ensure that baked goods release cleanly from pans.

Personally, I just use my standard can of cooking spray for my occasional baking projects, and it works just fine for me! But if you do a lot of a baking and want to make sure your cookie and cake recipes turn out picture perfect, a baking spray containing flour may be the best option for you.

cooking spray

Types Of Non Stick Cooking Sprays

Cooking sprays may contain one of many different types of cooking oils. Pam, the United States’ most popular cooking spray brand, is made with canola oil, which is a good all-purpose option that works well for baking, cooking eggs, high-heat sautéing, and more.

But you can also find sprays that are made with olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, or even a fat like butter for taste. (These may not be as widely available in grocery stores, but you can find them easily enough online.)

Some sprays advertise that they contain “no propellants,” which usually means the can houses the propellant in a separate compartment so that it never mixes with the oil. The main benefit of these sprays is that they often produce less residue buildup on cookware and bakeware (see “Problems With Cooking Spray” next for more).

And while a propellant free cooking spray may sound like it’s healthier or poses less of a health risk, that’s not necessarily the case. In a standard can of cooking spray, propellants make up such a small percentage of the formula that it’s perfectly safe to use and consume.

cooking spray

Problems With Cooking Spray

One of the biggest drawbacks associated with using cooking spray, especially on dark or non stick cookware, is residue buildup. Dark and non stick cooking surfaces heat up and cool down quite quickly, which can cause the lecithin to adhere to the cooking surface before you have a chance to clean it.

Typically, this dark residue will build up on the sides and outer edges of pans and baking sheets. You can prevent or reduce residue buildup by avoiding these areas when spraying your pans, and cleaning your pans promptly after each use with a grease-cutting dish soap.

cooking spray

Storing Cooking Spray Safely

Cooking sprays are subject to the same safety considerations as any other product that comes in an aerosol can, most of which are related to flammability. Aerosol cans are extremely flammable, and should never be stored near a heat source or used near an open flame.

Store your cooking spray in a cool, dark place, and it should stay good for around 2 years from the purchase date.

cooking spray

How To Make Your Own Cooking Spray

You’ll need:

  • 1 part olive oil (or other cooking oil)
  • 1 part water
  • Misting spray bottle*

Note: I used this continuous mist spray bottle I found on Amazon. It produces a fine, even mist that’s perfect this purpose, but any old spray bottle would work just fine as well!


Add equal parts of water and olive oil to your bottle. (My bottle held about 5 ounces of liquid, so I used about 2 1/2 ounces each of oil and water.)

Replace the top, then shake well to combine. It’s that easy! 🙂

Because this recipe doesn’t include an emulsifier, the oil and water will separate over time. But it’s not a problem—just give the bottle a good shake before using it!

Cooking Spray Cleaning Hacks

Do you use a lot of cooking spray at home?

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