What can you substitute for vegetable oil? Can you substitute olive oil for vegetable oil? In this article we will help you figure why you might want a substitute for vegetable oil and give five vegetable oil substitutes you could use.
Why Use a Vegetable Oil Substitute?
While the term vegetable oil can refer to any non-animal-based cooking oil, most bottles that are just labeled "vegetable oil" at the store are made up almost entirely of soybean oil, processed to be odorless and flavorless.
Generic vegetable oil is not necessarily bad for you, but it may not be the best tool for every cooking job. Here are four reasons why you might want a substitute for vegetable oil:
Vegetable oil is highly processed to give it a neutral, flavorless quality. Trace amounts of the chemicals used in processing may remain in the oil. If you're trying to avoid overly processed foods, go for cold-or expeller-pressed oils that are manually extracted.
More Favorable Fats
All cooking oils are basically just fat. The difference is what kinds of fat and what ratio those fats appear in. There are five main fat types of interest when assessing cooking oils:
- Trans fats: Most experts agree that trans fats are bad and should be avoided, so much so that the FDA is trying to remove them from the food supply. However, just so long as your oil isn't "partially hydrogenated," it should be pretty low in trans fats.
- Saturated fats: It used to be accepted as gospel that saturated fats are bad for your heart, but recent studies have called this idea into question. Saturated fats could be part of a healthy or unhealthy diet depending on how you are getting those fats and what else you are eating. Plus, saturated fats can withstand very high cooking temperatures without harmful oxidation.
- Monounsaturated fats: Monounsaturated fats are heart-healthy fats that are more stable (and thus less prone to oxidation) than polyunsaturated fats. Olive oil is super-high in monounsaturated fats.
- Polyunsaturated fats: Polyunsaturated fats are generally considered to have a positive impact on heart health. These fats can be subdivided into omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids are both important for health, but omega-3 fatty acids appear to be especially beneficial for reducing inflammation in the body. Additionally, it's best to maintain a good ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 consumption in your diet. (Most Americans consume too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3). Furthermore, polyunsaturated fats oxidize easily when exposed to heat, releasing toxic compounds. Generic vegetable oil tends to be fairly high in polyunsaturated fats (omega-6 specifically). So it oxidizes easily, and it may not help you maintain a favorable omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.
The best fats for your purposes, then, will have a lot to do with the rest of your diet and the temperature you are cooking at.
Better Smoke Point
The smoke point of an oil is the point at which heat starts to break down the oil into toxic compounds that taste bad and shouldn't be inhaled (it's not quite the same as the oxidation point, but the concepts are similar). Oils with higher smoke points are better for things like searing, browning, and frying. Oils with very low smoke points are best for things like making dressing.
Generic vegetable oils are meant to be flavorless. But that's not always what you want! Many cooking oils you can substitute for vegetable oil can add a delicious flavor to your dish.
5 Vegetable Oil Substitutes: When to Use What
Here are some of our favorite cooking oil choices to replace vegetable oil and when to use them. Note that if you are substituting for vegetable oil, you should use the same amount. You can also expect the calorie count to be about the same (about 120 cals per tablespoon), as all of these cooking oils are pretty much 100% fat.
Avocado oil is about 60% monounsaturated fats, 20% polyunsaturated fats (mostly omega-6), and 20% saturated fats. It has a very high smoke point (above 500 degrees) and is pretty oxidation-stable. Unlike the creamy avocado itself, avocado oil has a neutral flavor profile.
Pros: Great for high-heat cooking, loaded with healthy fats, easy to find in unrefined-low processed versions.
Cons: Avocado oil is expensive!
Best for: Anything! Very versatile oil.
Canola oil is made from the rapeseed plant. It's about 60% monounsaturated fats, 30% polyunsaturated fats (of which 10% of the total fats are omega-3s), and less than 10% saturated fats. It has a medium-high smoke point of about 400 degrees and a neutral flavor.
Pros: It can withstand a decent amount of heat without smoking and won't oxidize as easily as generic vegetable oil. It has a neutral flavor profile, so you don't have to worry about it making your food taste weird. This makes it a versatile oil.
Cons: Canola oil is usually pretty processed, so not the best choice if you are going for a more natural oil. Unrefined canola oil is hard to find and pretty expensive.
Best for: Baking, oven-cooking, stir-frying or sautéing
Coconut oil is mostly saturated fats (about 90%), which is why it's solid at room temperature. However, it raises both LDL and HDL cholesterol and is pretty stable, making it less prone to oxidation. It has a medium smoke point of about 350 degrees.
Pros: Coconut oil has a delicious sweet flavor that complements many dishes. It's readily available in unprocessed, unrefined forms (as virgin coconut oil).
Cons: Because of its distinctive flavor, coconut oil needs to be deployed carefully, especially for sautéing.
Best for: Sautéing at medium heat, baking (if you are using it in baking, you may want to microwave it for a few seconds first so it gets liquid). It's also great for your hair!
You may be surprised to see ghee, an animal product, on this list! But as Mark Bittman once put it, "Butter is back!" and ghee (or clarified butter) may be even better for some things. Ghee has been used for centuries in Indian cooking. While ghee is high in saturated fats (with about 60% of its calories coming from sat fats), it has a very high smoke point (485 degrees F), it provides some omega-3s, and it is very stable. It doesn't even need to be refrigerated!
Pros: Ghee is very low in casein and lactose, making it a great butter substitute for people who are lactose intolerant or dairy sensitive. Additionally, it's a good source of vitamins, especially Vitamin A. It also has a delicious nutty, buttery taste.
Cons: Ghee is slightly more calorie-rich than the other fats mentioned, at 135 cals per tablespoon instead of about 120. It also does have about 4% trans fats. And grass-fed ghee—the healthiest kind—is about 4x as expensive as butter on an ounce-per-ounce basis.
Best for: High-heat cooking, dairy-sensitive eaters
Olive oil is the superhero of cooking oils: it's comprised of over 3/4 monounsaturated fats and thus is resistant to oxidation and heart-healthy. Extra virgin olive oil has a medium-high smoke point of 410 degrees, and more processed "light" or refined olive oil and has a high smoke point of about 470 degrees.
Pros: Olive oil is chock-full of healthy fats, flavorful, and great for medium-high to high-heat cooking.
Cons: The bold flavors of extra-virgin olive oil may not go well with every dish, which may be an issue if you are trying to substitute vegetable oil for olive oil. Light olive oil—which is refined—has a more neutral flavor and can withstand higher temperatures, but it's not the best choice if you are looking to avoid processed oils.
Best for: Extra-virgin is great for sautéing, stir-frying, and oven cooking. Light olive oil is a great choice for searing, browning, frying, and even baking.
5 Substitutes for Vegetable Oil: Summary
Why would you want a substitute for vegetable oil? Well, depending on your cooking and health needs, you might want an oil that is less processed, has a more favorable ratio of the different kinds of fats, has a higher smoke point, or has a good flavor!
Here are five great vegetable oil substitutes:
- Avocado Oil
- Canola Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Olive Oil
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Jane is a staff writer at PrepScholar.