Canola oil and olive oil are both widely recommended for their ability to enhance flavor and their health benefits. Let’s see how they compare to each other in the SPICEography Showdown below.
How does canola oil differ from olive oil?
Canola oil comes from a different plant than olive oil. Canola oil comes from a variety of rapeseed that has been bred for low levels of erucic acid and glucosinolates, which make regular rapeseed oil toxic and give it an unpleasant taste.
Olive oil is made from pressed olive fruits. The extraction processes for each oil are also different since most canola oil extraction involves chemicals and heat, while extra virgin olive oil is cold-pressed.
Most cooks will tell you that canola oil and olive oil’s most easily detectable difference is flavor. Regular canola oil is formulated to have a neutral taste, which means that it does not have distinct notes of its own but is supposed to blend in seamlessly with other ingredients and not interfere with their flavors.
Extra virgin olive oil is supposed to be one of the stars of the dishes in which it appears due to its distinct and noticeable flavor profile. The flavor profile includes grassy, herbaceous notes, as well as a slight nuttiness and taste of the olive fruit. Some even have a mild pepperiness. Extra light olive oil (also called refined olive oil) approaches the neutral taste of regular canola oil, while cold-pressed canola oil can have a robust buttery note.
Canola oil and olive oil also differ when it comes to nutrition and health benefits. For example, Canola oil is the best source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Among the benefits of ALA is its ability to mitigate problems like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Olive oil is rich in a compound called oleocanthal that is known to be a potent anti-inflammatory agent. Olive oil is the only vegetable oil with this compound.
Canola oil and olive oil can have very different smoke points. The smoke point is the temperature at which a heated oil will start producing smoke. Canola oil’s smoke point is about 457 degrees Fahrenheit, which is high. Cold-pressed canola oil’s smoke point has been reported to be slightly lower at about 446 degrees Fahrenheit. The smoke point of extra virgin olive oil is low at about 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Extra light olive oil does not start putting out smoke until it gets to 468 degrees Fahrenheit and is therefore preferable for high-heat cooking.
Can you use canola oil as a substitute for olive oil and vice versa?
No form of canola oil will be a good substitute for extra virgin olive oil since it lacks the characteristic flavor profile. Canola oil’s mild flavor will not add much to salad dressings, hummus, and other applications where it is used raw. It won’t ruin them, but it won’t enhance the flavor either. Canola oil can make a decent substitute for extra light olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil won’t be a good substitute in most recipes that require canola oil. Its low smoke point won’t be good for high-temperature cooking, and its strong flavor may affect the flavors of ingredients. Extra light olive oil can stand in for canola oil in most cases.
When should you use canola oil, and when should you use olive oil?
Use canola oil for stir-frying, deep-frying, and other applications where the oil isn’t a focus. It is primarily a cooking oil, not a seasoning.
Use extra virgin olive oil for raw applications where you want the flavor of the oil and its nutritional value. Use extra light olive oil for low-temperature shallow-frying, sauteing, and similar applications.