Even when I go to the grocery store with a menu in mind and a list in hand, I get confused the moment I reach the shelf of oils—there are so many kinds! And when the time comes to pick between canola oil or vegetable oil, as much as I use both for everyday cooking, I couldn’t specifically tell you the difference between the two. I use them interchangeably as I suspect many home cooks do.
So I chatted with food experts about the difference between the two oils and dug deeper into each. Here’s what I found out.
What Is Canola Oil?
Canola oil is extracted from the seeds of canola plants, widely grown and harvested in Canada. It has a neutral flavor and is affordable, making it a versatile and commonly used cooking oil. It has a smoke point of 400°F, which means you can use it for pretty much any type of cooking without the fear of burning the oil and making everything taste acrid.
What Is Vegetable Oil?
Any oil extracted from seeds or other parts of plants is considered vegetable oil. For example, canola oil, soybean oil, and avocado oil are vegetable oils. When a bottle at the grocery store is labeled “vegetable oil,” it’s most often soybean oil or a blend of a variety of vegetable oils. Jessica Bracco, a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner for Jessica Stanzione, NTP adds that vegetable oil can be a combination of plant-based oils like soy, sunflower, corn, safflower, or palm.
Like canola oil, vegetable oil has a neutral flavor, is affordable, and has a smoke point of 400°F, making it a versatile oil for everyday cooking.
So What’s the Difference?
The big difference between the two oils is that you know exactly what you’re getting with canola oil, while vegetable oil is an ambiguous blend of oils.
Other than that, it comes down to nutrition. Sarah Schlichter of Bucket List Tummy, a registered dietician with a Master’s in Public Health, explains that canola oil has a higher percentage of heart-healthy fats and phytosterols, which helps reduce cholesterol absorption in the body.
Schlichter adds that since vegetable oil is a combination of oils, such as soybean, corn, and palm, the fat content and therefore nutritional value may vary from bottle to bottle. She advises that canola oil has more unsaturated fats than vegetable oil, making it a slightly healthier option. She says, “Canola oil does have a little edge.”
Which Oil To Use for Cooking
Canola and vegetable oils are both all-purpose neutral oils that can be used for deep-frying, sautéing, baking, grilling, and beyond. If you only have one on hand, they can be used interchangeably. Got a little bit of one left and need more? It’s OK to combine the oils.
Schlichter advises that “both can be used for general cooking since they have mild flavors and high smoke points.” Though they do taste slightly different, it won’t be noticeable in the final dish.
Canola oil comes from a single source while vegetable oil is a blend of oils. Both are versatile oils with a mild flavor, high smoke point, and budget-friendly price tags. They can be used interchangeably for cooking whether you are frying, sautéing, or baking. However, when nutrition plays a factor, health experts advise that canola oil is the better option.