With so many different types of oils available for cooking and baking, it can be next to impossible to keep them all straight. What's the difference? Say you're working with a box of store-bought cake mix that calls for vegetable oil. Can you substitute canola oil for vegetable oil?
Yes, canola oil is a type of vegetable oil that is mostly interchangeable with other oils in cooking and baking.
Benefits of Plant-Based Oils
Although fat has often been skewed as bad for weight loss efforts and heart health, experts, such as those with the American Heart Association, will tell you that dietary fat is important — and plant-based fat sources like oil are a much better choice over butter because oils are full of monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.
Commonly called the "good fats," monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help improve your cholesterol levels. These are different from saturated fat, found primarily in butter but also in vegetable oils to a lesser extent, which can raise your cholesterol.
When you're choosing a specific type of oil for cooking, the American Heart Association recommends finding one that has fewer than 4 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. Otherwise, most of the common cooking oils can be used interchangeably.
Although the most popular ones on the market are canola oil, corn oil, olive oil, peanut oil, safflower oil and soybean oil, all of these fall under the umbrella of vegetable oils. Products that are marketed and sold as vegetable oil tend to be a blend of two or more kinds of oil.
Using Canola Oil for Baking
So if your cake recipe calls for vegetable oil, you can easily substitute canola oil for vegetable oil because, well, canola oil is vegetable oil. CanolaInfo.org recommends canola oil for baking because it has a neutral taste and light texture, which lend themselves to a variety of purposes. Canola oil for baking also works well because it has a high heat tolerance.
Canola oil stands up well nutritionally to other types of oils. Even though any type of oil has 14 grams of fat per tablespoon, canola oil has the least amount of saturated fat, at approximately 1 gram, according to USDA FoodData Central. Its remaining fatty acids are a 2-1 ratio of monounsaturated fats to polyunsaturated fats.
Read more: Monounsaturated Fat Vs. Polyunsaturated Fat
If you want to know what type of oil is used in a product marketed and sold under the label of vegetable oil, turn the bottle over and look at the ingredient list. Crisco and Wesson both sell vegetable oils that are pure soybean oil with 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon.
Because Mazola Vegetable Plus is a blend of soybean and canola oil, it has 1.5 grams of saturated fat (note that it advertises itself as having 25 percent less fat than vegetable oils put out by Crisco and Wesson — but it still has a half-gram more than pure canola oil).
How do these compare with other types of oil besides canola? For example, take vegetable oil versus corn oil. Corn oil has 2 grams of saturated fat, so Crisco and Wesson vegetable oil versus corn oil would be the same from that perspective, and Mazola would have a slight edge. Corn oil has a ratio of 1:2 grams of monounsaturated fat to polyunsaturated fat, just as Crisco and Wesson vegetable oil does. So as far as vegetable oil versus corn oil goes, it might be a tie.
As Michigan Medicine explains, both monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are good for you because they lower your LDL cholesterol (or bad cholesterol), but monounsaturated fats are extra good for you because they keep your HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels up.
With twice as much monounsaturated fat as polyunsaturated fat, canola oil might be the one that comes out a winner among these vegetable oils. So if you substitute canola oil for vegetable oil when baking, you could be giving yourself just a minor edge in good fats.
- American Heart Association: “Healthy Cooking Oils”
- Crisco: “Pure Vegetable Oil”
- Mazola: “Vegetable Plus”
- Mazola: “Cooking Oil FAQs”
- Wesson: “Vegetable Oil”
- USDA FoodData Central: “Canola Oil”
- USDA FoodData Central: “Soybean Oil”
- USDA FoodData Central: “Corn Oil”
- CanolaInfo.org: “What Is Canola Oil?”
- Michigan Medicine: “Types of Fats”