Need to know the best alternative for cooking with vegetable oil? Be it sunflower, olive or canola oil, there are plenty of alternatives you may already have on hand – but not all of them will suit your needs. Some oils have more robust flavours than others, which can alter the taste of food. Others have low smoke points and can’t be used for high heat cooking (e.g. when baking cakes, muffins and brownies.)
Here, we’ve put together 6 replacements for vegetable oil so you’re covered for every occasion.
What is vegetable oil?
Vegetable oil is a liquid fat that’s used to add flavour, assist with texture and cook food at high temperatures, including deep frying and roasting. It’s neutral in taste, which also makes it suitable for salad dressings and chilled dishes.
What is vegetable oil made of?
Vegetable oil is a term used to describe all oils derived from plants, such as canola, sunflower and olive oil. However, you’ll also find bottles of ‘vegetable oil’ on the shelves of your local supermarket. This product is generally a blend of multiple oils, for example; corn, soybean and palm oil.
That said, experts advise that vegetable oil is fine to consume in moderation as it is a good source of monounsaturated and omega-3 fats:
“Vegetable oil is safe to use in cooking and salads and won’t do you any harm in small quantities. However, if you have olive oil at home, I’d recommend using that instead because of it has many more health benefits,” practising accredited dietician Natalie Von Bertouch tells New Idea Food. “It’s also important to watch your portion size as oils are still a fat and are therefore high in calories.”
Canola oil comes from the canola (or rapeseed plant). It’s virtually flavourless, so is often called for as a moisturising agent in baked goods. It contains a decent amount of monounsaturated fatty acids and omega-3 fats and has the lowest level of saturated fat among all cooking oils (7%).
Canola oil has a moderately-high smoke point (204°C), is relatively affordable and can be used in a variety of ways – be it baking or grilling.
Best for: brownies and barbecuing.
Sunflower oil is a neutral-tasting oil that’s derived from the pressed seeds of sunflowers, and in comparison, to many other oils on the market, it is very nutrient-dense. It boasts phytochemicals such as choline and phenolic acid, high levels of vitamin E and is free from trans fats. Plus, research shows that sunflower oil can effectively lower our ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels.
Sunflower oil can withstand high heat (it has a smoke point of 230°C) and is mostly used in deep-frying, shallow-frying, baking and roasting.
Best for: steaks, frying fish.
3. Olive oil
Olive oil is arguably one of the most versatile of all the cooking oils and is high in good fats and antioxidants. You may have seen two varieties: Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), which comes from the first press of the olives and has a fruity aroma and more robust flavour. And Virgin Olive Oil, which is lighter on the palette and comes from the second press.
Due to its smoke point of 210 °and distinct taste, both types of olive oil are best used when cooking on a low to medium heat and are not suitable for baking.
Best for: salad dressings, roasting vegetables.
4. Coconut oil
Coconut oil has a subtle tropical taste and is commonly used as a vegan alternative to butter. It’s low in calories and comes in two varieties: refined (which has a smoke point of 177°) and unrefined or Virgin Coconut Oil (which has a smoke point of 200°C.) While the refined version is great for sautéing and baking, the refined coconut oil is much more suitable for frying.
At just 117 calories per tablespoon, coconut oil is a great low-calorie alternative to many other oils you may have on hand. It is rich in antioxidants and is often used as an alternative to butter for vegans and vegetarians as it works perfectly in cold desserts.
Butter contains lots of healthy saturated fats and is high in vitamins A, E and K.
It has a rich, creamy texture and is known to enhance the flavour of any food you cook in it. It makes a great substitute for vegetable oil in baked goods or anytime you need to add complexity to a dish. Similarly, shortening will do the same job, although it is higher in calories (115cals per tbsp to butter’s 110) and doesn’t contain the same nutrient profile.
Butter has a smoke point of 177°C and does tend to burn easily when heated.
Best for: cookies, muffins, cakes.
6. Avocado oil
Avocado oil is pressed from the fruit of the avocado tree and is characterised by its mild grassy flavour and silky texture.
It is unrefined, high in healthy fats and vitamin E and has a smoke point of 271°C, making it an excellent choice for frying, roasting and grilling.
Lottie DalzielLottie Dalziel is a 4AM riser and coffee-addict who lives and breathes the Better Homes and Gardens brand. When she isn't reading up on the latest trends in sustainability or discovering ways to upcycle almost anything, you can find her by the beach, cooking up a storm or adding to her abundant (some would say out of control) plant collection.