Vegetable oil and canola oil are two of the world’s most widely used cooking oils. Beloved by home and professional cooks, they are very similar and used for many of the same reasons. Are they the same? Will you get anything from one that you won’t get from the other? This SPICEography Showdown takes a closer look.
How does canola oil differ from vegetable oil?
The first key difference has to do with how many plants are used to make each type of cooking oil.
Canola oil is a kind of vegetable oil since it comes from a plant. Canola oil comes from the seed of the canola plant, which is a variety of rapeseed. The canola plant was crossbred to eliminate the unpleasant taste from glucosinolates that is a characteristic of regular rapeseed oil. Its erucic acid content was also much lower; the name stands for Canadian oil, low acid. The low acid refers to erucic acid. Erucic acid is associated with heart problems and cancer.
Vegetable oil is a blend of oils from a variety of plants that can include canola but may also include oils from sunflower, soybean, and corn. Usually, canola or soybean will make up most of the blend. The fact that canola oil comes from one plant means that you know exactly what to expect from it. Because vegetable oil can differ depending on the blend, it is somewhat less predictable.
Health is one of the main reasons that people opt for canola or vegetable oil, and it is one of the main areas where they differ. Canola oil contains significantly less saturated fat than most vegetable oil blends. Keep in mind that vegetable oil’s saturated fat content can vary since the oils that make it may differ from blend to blend. A diet with too much saturated fat can result in cholesterol accumulating in your arteries, which places you at a higher risk of heart disease.
Canola oil contains more omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids than vegetable oil. Both are important for cardiovascular health.
Can you use canola oil as a substitute for vegetable oil and vice versa?
Canola oil is an excellent substitute for vegetable oil. Like vegetable oil, canola oil has a high smoke point and a neutral flavor profile. You can use canola oil for any high-heat cooking styles that require vegetable oil with no worries. Both oils are relatively inexpensive and are usually within the same price range.
Vegetable oil will also work as a canola oil substitute for stir-frying, deep-frying, and similar applications. Note that the flavor may be slightly different. Depending on the blend, vegetable oil may have a very mild taste, or it may be just as neutral as canola oil. Even if your vegetable oil does have a flavor, it will still be very close to neutral. Any difference between the two oils is likely to be so slight that a difference will be undetectable for most people.
When should you use canola oil, and when should you use vegetable oil?
The differences between canola and vegetable oil are so minor that they are interchangeable in most applications. The possible flavor differences are rarely significant enough to warrant choosing one over the other; however, you may want to opt for canola for your baked goods if you want the most consistently neutral flavor.
Vegetable oil works well for stir-frying, vinaigrettes, and sauteing.