Vegetable oil vs. canola oil: Yes, you can use them interchangeably
Many recipes call for canola oil and vegetable oil interchangeably, from deep-frying to stir-frying to cakes. "Typically, both canola oil and vegetable oil have a mild, neutral, and light taste," says Meghan Merideth Trebotich, RDN, LDN, co-founder of Food for Adventures.
The two oils are incredibly similar, but there are some slight differences. "While they can be interchangeable in recipes, canola oil does have additional health benefits," says Angela Pateman, marketing lead for Wesson Oil.
What is vegetable oil?
"Vegetable oil is really a catch-all term for any plant-based oil. Vegetable oils can be just one plant-based oil or it can be a blend of several different plant-based oils which may include soybean, sunflower, canola, corn, cottonseed, and safflower," says Trebotich. However, most commercial vegetable oil is soybean oil.
Soybean oil is produced by cracking soybeans, heating them up, pressing them, and extracting and refining the oil. The resulting oil is "light and neutral, which focuses the taste on the food rather than the oil," says Pateman. Vegetable oil has a medium-high smoke point and can be used for baking, deep-frying, grilling, roasting, searing, and can also be used in salad dressings, sauces, or marinades.
What is canola oil?
Canola oil is made by pressing the seeds of the canola plant, a type of rapeseed and a member of the mustard family. The rapeseed plant can be used to make rapeseed oil, but the oil is high in erucic acid (believed to have adverse health effects) and has a bitter taste. "After years and years of crossbreeding different rapeseed plants, they were able to create plants that were much much lower in these compounds," says Trebotich. This new form of rapeseed was named the canola plant and is what is used to make canola oil.
"The neutral taste and high smoke point make canola the oil of choice for chefs worldwide," says Pateman. Use it the same way you would vegetable oil, from baking to frying to grilling.
Can they be used interchangeably?
Trebotich and Pateman agree that canola and vegetable oil can be used interchangeably thanks to their mild flavor, light color, and similar smoke point. You won't notice a difference between the two in the finished dish.
The smoke point is the temperature at which an oil will begin to produce visible smoke. Oils with high smoke points can be used for high-heat cooking like frying and stir-frying without filling your kitchen with smoke.
Depending on exactly how it is processed, canola oil has a smoke point of 400 degrees Fahrenheit to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on the exact type or blend of oil, vegetable oil has a smoke point of 425 degrees Fahrenheit to 460 degrees Fahrenheit. Their smoke points are above most home cooking temperatures—for example, most deep-frying is done at around 350 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes both oils good candidates for a wide variety of cooking methods.
Canola oil and vegetable oil both have a neutral, smooth flavor. The only differing factor can come from the vegetable oil blend, which can change the flavor slightly. "For instance, if the vegetable oil is blended with corn oil it may have a darker color and richer flavor." Soybean oil, the most common vegetable oil, is mild and light in color, just like canola oil.
Use canola or vegetable oil when you don't want to taste the oil. Their neutral flavor will allow the other ingredients to shine.
"Nutritionally, canola oil and vegetable oil are very similar," says Trebotich. They both provide 120 calories per one tablespoon, and they are both low in trans fat. While both oils are relatively low in saturated fat, canola oil is slightly lower, with just one gram per tablespoon.
"You want to choose oils that are lower in saturated and trans fats and higher in unsaturated fats, since unsaturated fats have been proven to have a much more positive impact on your health including improvements in cell function and overall heart health," says Trebotich. That's why you'll frequently see "heart-healthy" stamped on the front of canola oil bottles.
"Canola oil has the lowest saturated fat and high monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat (good fats) compared to other vegetable oils and is incredibly versatile in the kitchen," says Pateman.
Canola oil and vegetable oil are very similar. Both oils are neutral in flavor and have a medium-high smoke point, making them suitable for a wide range of cooking methods. Canola oil is slightly lower in saturated fat than vegetable oil. You can easily swap one for the other in recipes with no noticeable difference.