Can You Use Olive Oil Instead of Vegetable Oil?

Olive oil and vegetable oil are not exact substitutes for each other, so it is important to know their similarities and differences before switching olive oil for vegetable oil. We have an entire in-depth guide dedicated to olive oil vs. vegetable oil, but we will give you the quick highlights here and then explain when to choose olive oil instead of vegetable oil.

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What to Know About Choosing Olive Oil Instead of Vegetable Oil

The most immediate difference between olive oil and vegetable oil is the flavor. Extra virgin olive oil varies depending on the variety of olives used, but in general, it has a very grassy, peppery, bitter taste that is very distinct from other oils. On the other hand, “vegetable oil” is usually made up of a blend of various oils, most commonly canola, palm oil and corn oil. These oils are highly refined before being blended together, which gives the resulting vegetable oil a very bland, neutral taste that sets it apart from olive oil.

These refining processes (or lack thereof) also have a big impact on the nutritional benefits of these oils. Olive oil is very high in antioxidants and other beneficial compounds, and extra virgin olive oil — which has not been heated or processed — has very high levels of these compounds and thus a lot of nutritional benefits. On the other hand, the plants that make up vegetable oils are usually not very nutritious to begin with, and then they are further refined which removes any trace nutritional compounds they might have had. So if you are choosing an oil for the health benefits, extra virgin olive oil is a more solid bet.

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When to Choose Olive Oil Instead of Vegetable Oil

Now that you know the basics of olive oil vs. vegetable oil, it is time to discuss specific cooking situations where you might want to reach for one or the other. Here are five situations and what to do in each of them:

  1. Salad dressings: Olive oil is the go-to choice for cold salad dressing, thanks to its delicious flavor. Because of its neutral flavor profile, vegetable oil will not really add any flavor to your dressing, which kind of defeats the whole point of making a salad dressing in the first place. 
  2. Marinades: Similar to salad dressings, marinades are the perfect situation to incorporate olive oil. The strong taste of olive oil will complement the robust taste of whatever meat you have chosen and make the homemade marinade even more flavorful. Unfortunately, a vegetable oil will not add much to your homemade marinade in terms of either nutrition or flavor.
  3. Sautéeing and stir frying: Olive oil is also an excellent choice for sautéeing and stir frying (a.k.a. pan frying) food on the stove top. Due to the lower heat of the stove top, it rarely raises the temperature above the smoke point for olive oil. Olive oil is also one of the healthier and tastier oils to cook with, which is why many home cooks reach for it without question when sautéeing meats and vegetables.
  4. Deep frying: If you like to deep fry at home, then you can probably use either olive oil or vegetable oil. Fresh extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point of about 400 degrees Fahrenheit, which is plenty high enough for most home deep frying situations. If you do not want to impart the taste of olive oil to whatever food you are frying, then vegetable oil might be a better choice.
  5. Baking: Which oil to choose when baking really depends on the recipe. Some recipes, such as olive oil cake, are specially designed to showcase the unique taste of olive oil. However, if the recipe calls for a neutral flavored oil like vegetable oil, then substituting with olive oil will throw off the final flavor of the bake.
a bowl of dough that has been brushed with olive oil

Whenever you are choosing an olive oil, keep in mind that it will impart its flavor to whatever dish or beverage you are making. That is why Brightland offers an olive oil set of two extra virgin olive oils so you will have a flavor profile appropriate for every occasion. We also offer  infused olive oils for home chefs looking to add even more flavor to their dishes. Shop our entire olive oil collection!