Last Updated on March 20, 2023 by Chris Whitehair
Olive Oil vs. Vegetable Oil
In the past few decades, the popularity of olive oil has skyrocketed.
One of the reasons behind the craze is the claimed health benefits.
The antioxidants and monsaturated fat in the substance has been proven to be an anti-inflammatory that reduces your risk of heart disease and regulates your blood sugar.
Compare this to vegetable oil, chock full of unsaturated fats that oxidize when heated and cause inflammation leading to plaque buildup in the arteries.
It’s hard to argue with.
At one point, researchers thought replacing animal fats like butter with vegetable oil would lower your cholesterol.
It does, but it doesn’t reduce heart disease or mortality rates.
In fact, it may be even worse for your heart when consumed in large quantities.
But can you replace vegetable oil with olive oil?
Let’s take a look.
Where does olive oil and vegetable oil come from?
To understand when you might substitute olive oil for vegetable oil, it helps to know a little about:
- Where they come from
- What they taste like
Olive oil comes from–you guessed it–olives!
Most olive oils are produced in regions in the Mediterranean like Greece, Spain, and Italy, but in the US, California is the largest producer.
(Flower City Flavor Company sources our extra virgin olive oil from California. We use the arbequina varietal).
Up to 85% of vegetable oils, on the other hand, come from soybeans.
Canola, palm, and sunflower oils also fall into this category.
It basically is the umbrella term for any plant-based oil.
Indonesia is the world’s largest producer with China, and Malaysia, and the EU coming next in line.
While olive oil is extracted using high pressure, vegetable oil is a multistep process that starts with chemical extraction.
When it comes to taste, vegetable oil and olive oil couldn’t be more different.
And when it comes to olive oil, not all bottles are the same.
Vegetable oil is neutral.
There’s a reason it’s been on the back of Betty Crocker cake boxes for years and years.
It’s tasteless and doesn’t overshadow other flavors.
There are two main types of olive oils: extra virgin, and regular, also known as pure.
So what is the difference? And why do most recipes call for the former?
The distinction between the two lies not in the type of ingredients used but in
- The process used in extracting the oil
- The amount of free oleic acid in the final product, or the amount of fat that has broken down into fatty acids.
The lower the percentage of the latter, the higher the quality.
Let’s delve a little deeper.
Oils can also be described as refined or unrefined.
Refined olive oils have been treated to remove flaws and have a longer shelf life.
As a result of this process, there’s not much flavor, smell, or color.
This would be a neutral substitute for vegetable oil, but with the refining process, you lose the antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that make olive oil so great.
The refining process is similar to that of vegetable oil using heat and chemicals.
Unrefined oil is simply the untreated stuff.
It maintains a stronger olive flavor.
Most fall into this category, having been extracted through a cold press process.
Extra virgin is the one we all hear about and use most often, because it’s unrefined and the highest quality type you can buy.
It contains1% or lower of free oleic acid.
It retains the most vitamins and minerals that are found in olives and usually has a distinct flavor with a light, peppery finish.
Pure olive oil is darker in color and is a blend of refined and extra virgin oil.
It presents a more neutral flavor and is a good all-purpose oil.
The free oleic acid content is 3-4%.
While it’s not as common, you might also see light olive oil.
This is a refined type with a light, neutral taste.
And if you come across a bottle that says “first cold pressed,” you’re looking at a high-end product, full of the oil from the first press that didn’t use heat when extracted.
Cakes and Brownies and Muffins…Oh My!
While substituting olive oil for vegetable in baking would leave you with an equally delicious-looking and moist cake or brownie, your tastebuds might find fault in your decision.
Some heavier flavored baked goods can mask a strong olive flavor. Others cannot.
There are plenty of “health-ified” brownie recipes, for example, that call for olive oil.
They’re fudge-y and fantastic, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to taste the same as a pan you made with butter or vegetable oil.
There will be a noticeable difference.
Some people adjust to the change and love it.
It comes down to personal preference.
Try a brownie recipe. They’re good.
Pumpkin, zucchini, and banana breads or muffins can sometimes be enhanced by the swap and stand up to the flavor as well.
When making the substitution, use the same amount of olive oil as you would the vegetable oil.
It’s a one-to-one substitution.
If the only olive oil you have in your house has a strong flavor you’d rather avoid, you can also do half and half, olive and vegetable oils.
You’ll get some of the benefits of the olive oil without changing the taste too much.
We tried this method ourselves with a delicious blood orange olive oil cake recipe!
It both looked and tasted great after substituting olive oil for butter.
But don’t take our word for it.
Try one out for yourself!
If you’re looking to cut out vegetable oil without sacrificing flavor, you have other alternatives with positive health benefits.
Coconut oil works equally as well and adds a tropical twist.
Plus, it can raise your “good” cholesterol.
Not your thing? Try avocado oil.
It’s pretty much impossible to tell the difference between this and vegetable oil, because it’s so neutral.
There’s a whole list of health benefits here, but that’s for another article.
And there’s always butter.
Smoke Point: Grilling and Frying
If you’ve ever turned on the Food Network, you’ve heard chefs talk about the smoke point of various oils.
If you zoned out while that was happening, don’t worry. Here’s a refresher:
The smoke point is the temperature at which an oil or fat starts burning and turning to smoke.
You don’t want to use an oil at a heat higher than its smoke point, or your food will taste like garbage.
Plus, the rancid oil will release toxic fumes and free radicals in your food.
When fat breaks down, it can also cause ignitable gases.
Definitely not something you want floating around your kitchen with an open flame on.
Vegetable oil is a chef favorite for grilling and frying, because it has a smoke point of 450℉.
To give you a comparison, frying, stir-frying, and searing happen around 375℉.
Refined oils, in general, have higher smoke points.
Olive oil starts to burn at 350℉.
While it’s fine to use in small amounts cooking onions or other vegetables, you should never deep fry with it.
To summarize, olive oil can be used in place of another oil in high-heat cooking as long as you’re aware of the differences in smoke points.
Light olive is refined and has a higher point than the other options, so it can be used in grilling or frying.
In the case of baking, the oven temperature isn’t representative of the temperature of the food, where the olive oil resides.
You don’t have to worry about hitting the smoke point of olive oil when making cakes or muffins.
If your baked goods ever got that hot, they would be burned anyway.
Salad Dressings, Marinades, and Dips
Cold dishes are the easiest dishes to experiment with oils in.
A good olive oil makes a great substitute for vegetable oil in dressings, marinades, and dips.
The food marinade or dressing pair well with the taste, even with the stronger flavor.
Almost any oil would work in this situation, so pick one with a flavor you enjoy!
Nut oils are also a good way to change things up.
This is really where quality matters.
If you’re going to use expensive oil in something, you’ll appreciate it more on a salad or in a dip than anything cooked.
Save the cheaper stuff for cooking.
So, Can You Replace Vegetable Oil with Olive Oil?
Olive oil makes a great substitute for vegetable oil in some cases, but not in all.
With a bit of an olive flavor, even a high-quality, extra virgin olive oil can change the taste of a baked good.
However, there are other, more neutral types that can be used.
Any type of oil can be used in cold dishes or dishes that use oil as a condiment.
And always be aware of the smoke points of an oil you are using in high-heat cooking.
Regardless of what oil you choose to cook with, store it properly to guarantee that it lasts as long as possible.
Keep it in an airtight container and away from heat; never store it over the stove.
Most oils come in green-tinted glass or plastic.
If yours doesn’t, wrap it with foil, or put it in a dark cabinet.
Light will make it go rancid faster.
That’s it. Go forth and cook delicious food. You’re ready to create your next masterpiece.