Vegetable oils belong to the larger family of plant oils, referring to any oil that is not made from animal fats or petroleum products. Canola oil is a type of vegetable oil produced from a variety of the rapeseed plant. While canola and other oils all belong to the family of vegetable oils, ingredients lists and cooking oil manufacturers often use “vegetable oil” to refer to a distinct product. To ensure that the oil you are using suits the needs of your recipe, check the ingredients list before purchasing any product labeled as “vegetable oil.”
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Not all vegetable oils are edible, with examples of inedible oils being those used in biofuel, cosmetics and paint products. Edible vegetable oils, or cooking oils, can be made from a number of different vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits and trees. Some widely available vegetable cooking oils include olive oil, corn oil, sesame oil, peanut oil and palm oil.
Due to its high oil content, the rapeseed plant has a long history of use in the development of both edible and inedible oils. The canola plant was developed from rapeseed to create a source of edible oil low in erucic acid, a toxin found in high concentrations in wild rapeseed. Containing no trans fats, low in saturated fat and high in both omega-3 fatty acids and unsaturated fats, canola oil can be safely used in both cooking and baking without adverse effects on health.
Products Labeled as “Vegetable Oil"
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's specifications for vegetable oil margarine state that a product must be made from canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, soybean or peanut oil to use the "vegetable oil" label. Despite this range of possible sources and the availability of vegetable oil blends, products labeled as “vegetable oil” in the U.S. generally refer either to soybean oil or soybean/canola oil blends. Wesson and Crisco, for example, label their soybean oil products as “vegetable oil,” while Mazola uses the “vegetable oil” label for its soybean-canola blend.
Canola Oil as a Vegetable Oil Substitute
Canola oil and vegetable oil are both suitable for use in cooking and baking. As the “vegetable oil” label can be used for products containing canola oil, there is often little difference between vegetable and canola oils. Both soybean and canola oil are capable of withstanding the high temperatures required for baking, and neither oil considerably alters the texture or taste of foods when used in baking. As such, the two may be used interchangeably when making brownies. Further, comparing soybean oil's 15 percent saturated fat content with canola's 7 percent, canola oil may be the healthier option for use in brownies.