A moist cake is the goal of every baker, but it's sometimes easier said than done. Vegetable oil can help prevent a dry cake and you will find it as an ingredient in many recipes, as well as a staple for boxed cake mixes. Most vegetable oils will work just fine in cake, but some alter the flavor of baked goods and some are expensive. Canola is one of the most common cooking oils and wins in the category of best all-around oil to use for baking a cake. It combines ease of use, wide availability and health benefits with a relatively low expense.
Canola oil very little flavor, particularly when used in baked goods. It is considered a neutral-tasting oil and will allow the flavor of your cake to shine through. Any flavor of cake, from chocolate and vanilla to carrot and spice, works well with canola oil. Since the oil is not expensive you can splurge on other high-quality ingredients, such as real vanilla, because those will be the flavors that define the cake.
The Cleveland Clinic notes that smoke from cooking oil contains harmful toxins, so knowing the smoke point of cooking oil is important for health as well as flavor. An oil reaches its smoke point when it is heated to the point where begins to produce smoke. The flavor also begins to break down at that point. The smoke point of canola oil is medium-high at 425 degrees Fahrenheit, which means that it will not break down and alter flavor at temperatures needed for baking. Most cakes are baked at less than 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Canola oil is very low in saturated fat, which may raise cholesterol if you eat too much of it. It is also very high in monounsaturated fat, which may help prevent the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, points out the University of Michigan Health System. The oil is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids which play a role in brain development. Even though canola oil is considered a healthy fat, you still want to limit fat intake. A typical cake recipe calls for no more than ½ cup of oil so just watch your portion size to keep your fat intake down.
Many people favor olive oil for everyday cooking but avoid it in baking because of the potential to impart a strong flavor to foods. In an article in “Fine Cooking,” Leslie Revsin notes that using a mild, inexpensive olive oil, rather than a high-quality extra virgin oil, actually makes a cake very moist and does not impact the flavor. Light olive oil has a high smoke point of 460 degrees Fahrenheit, and is heart-healthy, making it a good alternative to canola oil.