Olive oil and vegetable oil are two of the most common cooking oils. Most serious cooks will keep both around, but is one better than the other? Can you switch one out for the other? Let’s see how they compare in this SPICEography Showdown.
How does olive oil differ from vegetable oil?
Olive oil and vegetable oil have different sources. Olive oil is extracted from olive fruits. Because it comes from a plant, it meets the definition of vegetable oil, but it comes from the fruit of one type of plant. Vegetable oil is a blend of oils that have been extracted from different plants. A vegetable oil blend may include olive oil, but most of it is likely to be soybean or canola oil.
Olive oil and vegetable oil aren’t processed to the same extent. Unlike other vegetable oils, you can consume olive oil that has been freshly pressed from the fruit with no further processing. The oils that make up vegetable oil are highly processed.
Olive oil’s smoke point depends on how much it has been processed. The smoke point is the temperature at which the heated oil will begin to burn and produce smoke. Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed olive oil, and it has a very low smoke point, which means that you won’t be able to use it for high-temperature cooking.
The smoke point of extra virgin olive oil can be as low as 320 degrees Fahrenheit. All vegetable oil blends have high smoke points, which generally start at around 400 degrees but can range significantly higher.
The less processing olive oil undergoes, the stronger its flavor. Extra virgin olive oil has a strong herbaceous flavor profile with hints of grassiness and lightly peppery notes. Vegetable oil has none of these flavors or much of any other flavors for that matter. Vegetable oil’s flavor profile is neutral or close to it, which means that it has very little flavor of any kind.
There are different grades of olive oil, which means that some are more expensive than others; however, most are still more expensive than vegetable oil. Vegetable oil is one of the most affordable cooking oils available.
Can you use olive oil as a substitute for vegetable oil and vice versa?
The noticeable flavor that you can get from some types of olive oil makes it unsuitable as a vegetable oil substitute in many applications. Olive oil can overpower the flavors of other ingredients in a dish and will stand out, which won’t be good if your recipe specifies vegetable oil.
The low smoke point can also be a problem since vegetable oil is often used in dishes that must be cooked over high heat. Olive oil may be a better substitute in some raw applications since it will retain its health benefits.
Vegetable oil won’t be a good substitute for olive oil if the olive oil flavor is vital to the dish since vegetable oil is largely flavorless.
When should you use olive oil, and when should you use vegetable oil?
Use olive oil for flavor, especially extra virgin olive oil. It is also important for the health-boosting compounds it provides. To get the most flavor and to maximize its health benefits, it is best to consume extra virgin olive oil uncooked or in dishes cooked over low heat.
Vegetable oil’s neutral flavor allows ingredients to shine and can result in cleaner-tasting dishes. Its high smoke point is useful for stir-fries and other high-heat cooking styles.