Here's what you need to know about these common cooking oils' ingredients, smoke points, substitutions, and storage.

Canola Oil vs. Vegetable Oil

Most kitchen pantries are stocked with both canola and vegetable oils. Both are generally inexpensive and great for baking and cooking because of their neutral flavor and high smoke point.

So what sets these two staples apart? The main difference between the two comes down to fat composition.

If you're wondering which oil is healthier or better for specific recipes, keep reading to learn more about the difference between canola and vegetable oils.

Young man in supermarket comparing bottles of oil, rear view, close-up
Credit: Noel Hendrickson / Getty Images

What Is Canola Oil?

Canola oil is derived from a variety of rapeseed created through plant crossbreeding. It was developed by Canadian scientists in the 1970s as an edible version of the rapeseed plant, which contains toxic components called erucic acid and glucosinolates. 

Pure rapeseed oil has 43 percent erucic acid, whereas canola oil has to be under 2 percent, which is safe for human consumption. The name "canola" comes from "can" from Canada, and "ola" for "oil, low acid."

Canola oil is a neutral cooking oil, meaning it has a mild flavor. It's great to use when you don't want to add extra taste to a dish or you want to cook something on high heat. It is low in saturated fat, free of trans fats, and is a good source of monounsaturated fat (which can be good for your heart) compared to many vegetable oils.

What Is Vegetable Oil?

Vegetable oil is technically any oil extracted from seeds or other parts of fruits. For example, canola, soybean, grapeseed, olive oil, and avocado oil all fall under the "vegetable oil" category.

Vegetable oil is also a neutral oil with a light flavor and high smoke point. The nutritional benefits vary based on the ingredients the vegetable oil contains. For example, most of the vegetable oils at the grocery store are made from corn oil, soybean oil, or a mix. Soybean-based vegetable oils like Crisco are usually low in saturated fats and free of trans fats, but canola oil has the least saturated fats among vegetable oils.

Is There a Difference in Their Smoke Point?

The smoke point also referred to as the burning point, is the temperature at which an oil starts to break down and degrade. When oil is heated past its smoke point, it may result in an unpleasant-smelling kitchen and can add an acrid, burnt taste to food.

Both vegetable oil and canola oil have a relatively high smoke point. Canola oil has a smoke point of 400 degrees F, and vegetable oil (when made from corn or soybeans) can reach 450 degrees F. This means that you can use vegetable and canola oil for just about anything in the kitchen: deep-frying, searing, sautéing, frying, and more.

Can You Substitute Canola Oil and Vegetable Oil?

Yes! You can use vegetable oil when it calls for canola oil and vice versa. Although they have slightly different tastes, the result will be the same when you cook with either, whether you're frying, sautéing, baking, etc. If saturated fat is a concern, you may prefer to go with canola oil. Otherwise, you can use them interchangeably.

How to Properly Store Your Cooking Oil

No matter what oil you're using, you need to store your bottles properly. If possible, store your oil in a dark, cool place. If you don't regularly use a lot of vegetable or canola oil, buy smaller bottles so nothing goes to waste. When stored for too long, oil can oxidize and go rancid, so if your oil smells bad (and you'll be able to tell), don't use it.

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