Dear Home Ec 101,
If a recipe calls for vegetable oil, is extra virgin olive oil a good substitute or is there a specific reason for vegetable oil? Should I stick to olive oil or am I safe to swap it out with any kind of oil I have on hand?
Slick in Slatesville
Whether or not extra virgin olive oil will work in your recipe will depend on several factors. What kind of recipe are you using?
Why was the oil chosen for the recipe?
Specific oils are used for recipes for reasons such as: fat content, melting point, flavor, caloric content, and personal preferences like dietary considerations such as allergies, intolerances, and restrictions.
Substituting Vegetable Oil When Baking
In baking, oils are often specified for their lack of taste, so for baking, it depends mostly on the quality of the oil you are using. And unfortunately in the USA extra virgin olive oils can be so hit and miss in the flavor department we cannot just say yes, go ahead. the one you have may actually have a lovely, strong flavor (lucky you!).
Give it a taste, if it has a strong olive flavor give it a pass and see if you have any other vegetable oil in the house.
If you don’t have any of these other vegetable oils:
you may be better off swapping out your oil with butter, coconut oil, shortening, or lard.
Please remember that if you are cooking for others that you do need to be aware of allergies to some of these oils.
With some baked recipes, you can get away with using apple sauce or even mayonnaise to provide the moisture that the vegetable oil would provide. To use mayonnaise, it is a 1:1 swap. This means for every tablespoon or cup of oil, you would use a tablespoon or cup of mayonnaise (an equal amount).
What about using extra virgin olive oil as a substitute for vegetable oil in recipes that aren’t baking?
For marinades, salad dressings, and savory sauces, extra virgin olive oil is a fantastic substitute for vegetable oil and may even be preferable.
High-quality extra virgin olive oil is absolutely lovely on salads with balsamic vinegar, salt pepper and fresh herbs.
And other cooking methods?
When it comes to frying and sauteing it depends on the manufacturer and the quality of the oil. The oil listed in recipes for frying is typically chosen for its smoke point. High quality extra virgin olive oil can have a very high smoke point above 400°F (204°C), but lesser quality versions can be significantly lower, in the 220°F (104°C) range, which is much too low to use for frying.
Don’t waste your expensive extra virgin olive oil for deep frying, please. I know that peanut oil is getting pricey, but it’s not THAT bad, please do the math, you’ll see.
When sauteing, it’s generally recommended to use avocado oil for its high smoke point, if you can stick with that. Avocado oil is generally found in the grocery store lumped in with the fancy oils and not with the rest of the vegetable oils. You may have to look for it, but it’s also ok to just use vegetable oil in this situation if that’s what you have. Just watch the temperature of your pan or skillet. Again, you don’t want to scorch your oil, that doesn’t taste great and it’s really not good for you.
Use your judgment when making your decision and if you see smoke before your oil is up to temperature, throw it out. Your results will be poor.
A note about temperate and smoke points:
Yes, we do say to throw out oil if you burn it. Yes, we do say to choose your vegetable oils based on their smoke points. No, it’s not conflicting to say to put it in a 400ºF oven.
Before anyone flips out about how oils break down at high temperatures becoming <scary hand motions> toxic </scary hand motions> keep in mind that the temperature of the oven or burner is not the actual temperature of the food.
Just because the oven says 400°F does not mean the oil inside the cupcakes is 400°F degrees.
That is the temperature of the air, if your cupcakes reached 350°F degrees, they would be a sad, burnt mess. Those of you with professional grade equipment need to be slightly more concerned than those of us schlumps with standard home grade appliances.
TL;DR In the case of baked goods, unless they are savory, plain light olive oil would be a better choice, in the case of other recipes, your mileage may vary, but save your high quality expensive and extra tasty extra virgin olive oil for recipes where the taste can shine through.
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