Vegetable oil used to be one of the most common ingredients in cooking recipes thanks to the fact that it's almost flavorless, has a high smoke point and is one of the most affordable types of oil you can get.
These days though it’s a bit more common to see oils like olive oil and canola oil in recipes, while vegetable oil is recommended as a substitute.
If you’re looking to replace the vegetable oil in your kitchen, or are running low and want to know what you can substitute instead, we’ve got you covered. In this article we’ll discuss some of the best substitutes for vegetable oil, why you might want to substitute the vegetable oil in your favorite recipes for something else, and which oils are best for which kinds of cooking.
What Is Vegetable Oil?
One of the first things you need to know to know why some people prefer to use other kinds of oil instead of vegetable oil is what vegetable oil actually is. The name of the oil almost makes it sound like a healthy alternative. After all, aren’t vegetables supposed to be good for you?
Vegetable oil is usually made from a mix of different vegetables and fruits, often from discarded parts of the plants that can’t be directly sold, or that are leftover from making other products.
When a vegetable oil is made from a single type of plant it’s usually sold under that name, like sunflower oil and corn oil. However, when it’s sold as vegetable oil it’s usually a mix of different plants and their oils, which are blended to create a specific texture as well as certain cooking characteristics.
The result is usually a thin, low-flavor, high-smoke point oil that is good in almost all situations.
However, like all oils, consuming too much can be bad for your health. It’s also hard to say what nutritional content is in vegetable oil because they’re often a mix of oils, and there are usually several additives in vegetable oil that help keep it shelf-stable and thoroughly mixed.
Some vegetable oils are just as nutritionally dense as the individual oils, but many lack nutrition, which is why so many people are choosing to substitute vegetable oil for other oils in their cooking. Another good reason to make the switch is taste. Vegetable oil can give food a greasy feeling, without really giving it any flavor. Alternatives like olive oil or sesame oil feel less greasy and have wonderful flavors of their own.
Good Vegetable Oil Substitutes
There are a lot of good substitutes for vegetable oil. Just remember that relatively few oils have as little flavor as vegetable oil, so you might slightly change the taste of your foods when you switch to a different oil.
Peanut oil is one of the best substitutes for vegetable oil for a lot of different reasons. It's got a high smoke point and is widely considered one of the most flavorless oils out there. It's also commonly used for deep frying or pan frying foods, and the oil is relatively shelf-stable and lasts a long time.
However, for people who have peanut and nut allergies, this oil is highly likely to cause an allergic reaction, so you should stick to an alternative.
Canola oil is another high-quality substitution. It has low flavor, actually a common ingredient in vegetable oils, and also has a high smoke point and a similar texture.
However, like vegetable oils, canola oil can give your food a greasy texture, even when you don’t use very much of it in your cooking.
Sunflower oil is one of the better options if you’re looking for a healthier upgrade to your vegetable oil. It does have a little more flavor, but it pairs well with most cooking, and it is subtle enough to go undetected unless you’re using a lot of it.
Sunflower oil is also one of the preferred oils for making your own salad dressings at home. Speaking of which, if you’re looking for more salad ideas, here are 21 meal-prep salad recipes you can easily make at home.
Soybean oil is one of the most common ingredients in most vegetable oils, which makes it a good substitute if you’re just looking to upgrade to a single oil type instead of a blend. It’s got a high smoke point, minimal flavor, and tends to be a little on the thin side.
However, if you are allergic to soy, you’re allergic to soybean oil.
It's a little rare to see plain corn oil on the shelves since it's often used as an additive to vegetable oil, or not made depending on how much corn is harvested year to year. Since corn also often gets used in ethanol and animal feed, oil is slightly less common.
However, if you can find it, corn oil tends to have a pleasantly sweet taste, and pairs well with most foods.
Olive oil is probably the # 1 substitute for vegetable oil in most cooking, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best. This oil has the advantage of being made of healthy fats, and Extra Virgin Olive oil is nutritionally dense enough to be good for you.
However, olive oil also has a rich, distinct flavor. It’s great for making salad dressings, drizzling over bread, or serving with Italian meals, but it can significantly change the flavor of fried or baked foods.
Olive oil also tends to have a lower smoke point, which makes it unsuitable for frying, or other high-heat cooking.
Grapeseed oil is a good option for people who are looking for a thinner, easy-to-spread oil that doesn't have too much flavor, without being flavorless. It's also relatively heat tolerant, so it works well in a wok or a hot sauté pan.
Grapeseed oil is relatively shelf-stable but can get increasingly bitter even before it goes stale.
Sesame oil, especially toasted sesame oil, is one of the most popular oils in Asian cooking and brings a delicious umami flavor to anything it's cooked in. Highly heat tolerant, sesame oil generally has too much flavor to be good for frying, but is delicious in stir-fry, some salad dressings, and marinades.
Like grapeseed oil, sesame oil can turn slightly bitter before it goes stale and has a significant sour taste when it is stale.
Avocado oil is a great heart-healthy substitute for vegetable oil. It’s almost 70% oleic acid, which is great for your circulatory system. It’s got a distinct flavor, but it’s subtle enough to be a good addition in most cooking. However, avocado oil has fewer other nutrients, and lower density of those nutrients as a result.
But, if you’re looking for a healthy oil that also has a high smoke point and great heat tolerance, Avocado oil is a good choice.
Want to learn more about avocado oil and its substitutes as well? We can help with that.
Coconut oil is noted for its high-fat content, slightly sweet taste, and the fact that it's a solid at room temperature, not a liquid.
This is a popular oil for desserts, can work well for thicker salad dressings, and adds a hint of sweetness to most things, while still having a milder taste than olive oil.
However, coconut oil has a low smoke point, so it isn't suitable for high-heat cooking.
Butter is a good substitute for vegetable oil in most cooking, but not as good for baking. Butter tends to have a rich savory flavor, but since it’s solid at room temperature you shouldn’t use it as a replacement for liquid oils in baking.
That said, for recipes that call for butter, it's the best option.
Butter has a lower smoke point than a lot of oils though, and using too much can have negative consequences for your health.
When it comes to cooking you might be surprised to see applesauce on a list of vegetable oil replacements, but in baking, this is a great health-conscious way to cut some calories out of your bake, without sacrificing flavor or moisture.
This replacement works best in quick breads, brownies, and cakes, but can be a little too heavy for other baking.
Greek Yogurt is another baking-only replacement for oils, and it can be a good option if you want to add savory flavors, or extra protein to your bake, without sacrificing moisture. Unlike applesauce Greek yogurt can be a good addition to breads as well as quick breads, but it might add too much savory flavor and protein to make a good cake.
Ghee, which is a clarified butter common in Southeast Asian cuisines, is a good alternative to butter if you want a cleaner, slightly sweeter, slightly more intense butter taste. Ghee has had most of the milk solids that are left in butter removed, making it a more potent version of the same ingredient.
Like butter, ghee works better as a vegetable oil substitute in cooking than in baking.
Crisco is a kind of solidified vegetable oil, making it one of the easiest substitutions to make. It’s actually got an even higher smoke point, which makes it perfect for deep frying, and it’s near flavorless, so you can add it to a wide variety of dishes without impacting the flavor.
Better yet, Crisco also works well in baking and makes for great pie crusts.
Lard is a less popular replacement for vegetable oil, in part because the lard itself can smell a bit as it heats, and in part because it’s not a vegetarian ingredient. Unlike every other substitute on this list, lard is made from animal fats, while butter and ghee are made from milk and animal by-products.
There you have it, some of the best replacements for vegetable oil you can get. Hopefully, this makes your future cooking and recipe customization a little easier!