Can You Use Olive Oil Instead of Vegetable Oil?
Looking to switch to olive oil? Here's how to know if you can use olive oil instead of vegetable oil in your recipes.
Recipes can get very specific sometimes, calling for a variety of flour, sugar or oil you don’t have in the pantry. If you’re not careful, you might end up with a cabinet full of ingredients you only use once! Luckily, we have plenty of substitution hacks, like how to make a buttermilk substitute or what to do when you’re out of vanilla extract.
When it comes oil, though, you need to think carefully. Can you use olive oil instead of vegetable oil? The answer is sometimes, but not always.
Is Olive Oil the Same as Vegetable Oil?
Olive oil and vegetable oil are quite distinct when it comes to the finer details. Olive oil is made from pressing olives, giving the oil a rich flavor and aroma compared to vegetable oil. Its color ranges from golden to light green depending on the ripeness and variety of olive. The finished product has a fruity aroma with green, grassy flavors and a peppery bite on the back of the throat. Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed of all olive oils, so its flavor is more pronounced. This more-expensive oil is best reserved for uncooked dishes, like salad dressings or as a finishing drizzle over cooked meat or vegetables. (Since it is more expensive, make sure you know how to store olive oil—and how to know when olive oil goes bad.)
Vegetable oil, on the other hand, is made by extracting oil from plant seeds, nuts, grains and fruits. It can be sold as a single plant source (like canola, sunflower, peanut, corn or safflower oil) or it can be blended into a generic oil labeled vegetable oil. The extraction process uses heat to extract the oil, which is later refined to remove any color, taste and aroma. That makes it golden in color and neutral in flavor.
Can I Use Olive Oil Instead of Vegetable Oil?
Salad Dressings: Yes
Olive oil is ideal for most salad dressings, especially if you’re using flavor-forward extra virgin olive oil. It’s the best base for an easy vinaigrette because it’s naturally flavorful. If your recipe calls for vegetable oil, you should be able to swap in equal parts of olive oil without any problem.
Oil is one of three essential ingredients in a great marinade, adding moisture to lean meats and helping the other marinade ingredients stick to the food’s surface. If your marinade calls for vegetable oil, feel free to use olive oil instead. Olive oil will impart an extra flavor to the dish, but not in a bad way!
Sauteing & Stir-Fries: Yes
We love using olive oil for sauteing and stir-fries because it’s one of the healthier oils to use for cooking. Pan frying rarely heats the oil above 350°F, which is well within olive oil’s smoke point (more on that later). And because these cooking methods rarely use more than a few tablespoons of oil, olive oil’s bold flavor isn’t really a factor.
You can use any olive oil for cooking, but we recommend avoiding extra virgin olive oil. This unrefined oil is more expensive than regular olive oil, so cooking with it is a waste of its enhanced flavor.
In general, we don’t recommend using olive oil in baking recipes that call for vegetable oil. Olive oil is perfect for strongly flavored desserts like olive oil cake, but vegetable oil’s neutral flavor makes it ideal for providing baked goods with the fat they need without affecting the recipe’s flavor.
That said, if you’re in a pinch, olive oil will work in baked goods. We recommend using a mild-flavored olive oil (like light olive oil) or mixing a 50/50 combination of olive oil and a neutral oil like canola or vegetable oil if you’re running short on the latter.
When deep-frying, we prefer to use a neutral-flavored oil (like vegetable oil or canola oil). Olive oil has too strong a flavor to be ideal for deep-fried food. Not only that, but vegetable oil generally has a higher smoke point than olive oil. Refined or light olive oils can be heated up to 465ºF before smoking, but extra virgin olive oil has a low smoke point of 325ºF. Vegetable oil, on the other hand, has a smoke point of 450ºF, so it won’t burn when heated to deep-frying temperatures.
Finally, olive oil is significantly more expensive than vegetable oil. Deep-frying requires heating up several cups of oil, so we prefer to use inexpensive, neutral oils for this cooking method.