Between drizzling over salad for flavor, greasing a nonstick pan and adding to recipes to yield a crispy texture, oils have a wide variety of purposes when it comes to food.
In addition to flavor and texture, cooking with oils can also be part of a balanced meal plan and provide a source of many nutrients as they're a rich source of dietary fat.
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When it comes to what oil to use for which purpose, it depends on what you're cooking and how. Each oil has a unique flavor and smoke point (or the temperature at which it starts to smoke in a pan), which can affect the recipe.
Canola oil is derived from the canola plant, a type of rapeseed, while vegetable oil is a blend of different oils, mainly soybean and corn. Because they both have neutral flavors and a high smoke point, canola oil and vegetable oil can be used interchangeably. But, canola oil may be the more nutritious option as it’s lower in saturated fat.
Vegetable Oil vs. Canola Oil
Vegetable oil is a catch-all term for the viscous liquids made from plant-based sources. According to Cleveland Clinic, oils made from the following are all common types of vegetable oils:
If you see a container marked as vegetable oil in the supermarket, it's usually made with soybean or corn oil, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Canola vs. Rapeseed Oil
Canola oil is a type of vegetable oil made from the seeds of the canola plant, which is a type of rapeseed, according to Mayo Clinic. Canola and rapeseed oil are often used interchangeably, but there is an important distinction: Rapeseed oil can be high in erucic acid, which can be dangerous in large amounts. To be called canola oil, it must be lower in erucic acid, per Mayo Clinic.
When you're comparing canola oil vs. vegetable oil, you may actually be comparing canola- and soybean-based liquids, respectively. Both have neutral flavors and high smoke points, so a core difference between canola and vegetable oil comes down to its saturated fat content.
Soybean-based vegetable oil has 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon while canola oil contains 1 gram of saturated fat per tablespoon, per the USDA. While dietary fats are part of a balanced diet, foods with saturated fat should be eaten in moderation.
What Is Canola Oil?
Canola oil is made from the canola plant, which was developed via crossbreeding with the rapeseed plant, according to the Mayo Clinic. Rapeseed oil contains erucic acid, a compound that in large quantities can be toxic to humans, but canola oil contains very low levels, per the Mayo Clinic.
Canola, like most vegetable oils, contains low levels of trans fats. This is due to the deodorizing process, which is the final step of refining the oil, to yield a bland, neutral flavor. This process also lends canola's high smoke point of 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Because most canola and vegetable oils are labeled "trans fat-free," it may come as a surprise that they actually contain small amounts of trans fat. If a food contains 0.5 grams of trans fat or less per serving, manufacturers can denote it as 0 grams of trans fat on the nutrition facts label, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Nutritionally, canola is low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat, according to the Mayo Clinic. This makes it a more healthful choice when it comes to cooking oils.
What Is Vegetable Oil?
Vegetable oil is made of a blend of plant-based oils. This can even include canola oil, though vegetable oil is usually made of mainly soybean or corn oil.
The viscous liquid from soybeans contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is the main vegetarian source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, making vegetable oil a source of healthy fats.
Because soybean oil is refined, any vegetable oil that is composed of soybeans is good to use in cooking at high heat. The processing that goes into achieving the neutral taste of soybean liquid is what makes it better for cooking at high temperatures.
The smoke point of soybean oil is 450 F. That means soybean oil, often labeled vegetable oil, is good for searing, sautéing, deep frying or stir-frying. Any food-based oil starts to degrade once it reaches its smoke point, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), so it's better to cook at a high temperature that is just below that smoke point.
Healthy Fats in Oil
Soybean and canola oil both contain ALA, and so they're good sources of essential omega-3 fatty acids, per the National Institutes of Health.
Oils with oleic acid are linked to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, so much so that the FDA allows oils that contain at least 70 percent oleic acid per serving to make a qualified health claim that eating these may reduce heart disease risk.
Canola oil still provides a large dose of linolenic acid. Using these oils instead of solid fats (like butter, lard and stick margarine) and tropical liquids (palm oil and coconut oil) may benefit your heart, according to the AHA.
Fat is essential to your health. It helps your body absorb vitamins A, D, E and K, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Certain types of fat, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, help protect your heart as long as you eat reasonable portions. Canola and soybean-based vegetable oil fit this description.
Can You Substitute Canola and Vegetable Oil?
Canola and vegetable oil can be used interchangeably in a 1:1 ratio. If a recipe calls for canola oil, use vegetable oil in equal amounts, and vice versa.
Though canola oil is derived from rapeseed and vegetable oil is usually derived from soy, they are similar enough to use interchangeably. This is largely due to their neutral flavors and high smoke points.
If you have both on hand, canola oil may be the more nutritious choice as it's lower in saturated fat. The drawback for some, though, is that canola oil comes from a plant that has been crossbred and is genetically modified. Vegetable oil has the advantage of being an affordable option, but the type of oils used in the blend aren't disclosed.
No single oil can do it all. There are a wide variety of oils, each with its own unique flavor, smoke point, pros and cons. When it comes to choosing between canola and vegetable oil, you can't go wrong. Both have a place in your kitchen cabinet.
- Mayo Clinic: "Nutrition and Healthy Eating: I've Read That Canola Oil Contains Toxins. Is This True?"
- American Heart Association: "Healthy Cooking Oils"
- University of Rochester Medical Center: "Health Matters: Cooking Oils: Which One, When and Why?"
- Food and Drug Administration: "FDA Completes Review of Qualified Health Claim Petition for Oleic Acid and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease"
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: "Omega 3 Fatty Acids"
- Mayo Clinic: "Nutrition and Healthy Eating: Dietary Fats: Know Which Type to Choose"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Fat: What You Need to Know"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Heart Healthy Meal Preparation"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Oil, vegetable, soybean, refined"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Oil, canola"
- Food and Drug Administration: "Small Entity Compliance Guide: Trans Fatty Acids in Nutrition Labeling, Nutrient Content Claims, and Health Claims"