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Which vegetable oil to use?

When vegetable oil is specified in a recipe, which oil do you use? Corn oil, canola oil, soybean oil, peanut oil—does it really matter? Except for peanut oil, which has a distinctive flavor, I find the other three oils are pretty flavorless, so in my mind they are equivalent, though I lean toward using corn oil. I prefer to avoid using soybean oil because I’ve read that it is made from genetically modified soybeans; and in a recent thread posters attributed a fishy flavor to canola oil, so that leaves corn oil?

How do you decide which oil to use when the generic term “vegetable oil” is the ingredient? And if a recipe specifies canola oil, say, is there any reason to not to use whatever vegetable oil is on hand? TIA.

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  1. I usually use grapeseed oil, which I think has a pretty high smoking point and is also flavorless.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MMRuth

      i use grapeseed oil too, canola, various olive oils, Argan oil...that should never be heated, salads only and pumpkin seed oil.

    2. My first and foremost go-to oil is always EVOO. However, if the menu has a decidedly Asian tendency, I'll then use peanut oil.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Gio

        Same here, though I also use peanut oil in recipes that call for vegetable oil or where I think olive oil might be too assertive (basic mayonnaise, for example). I also find standard issue peanut oil to be one of the most neutral tasting oils around. When I want real peanut flavour, I have to make a special trip to Chinatown to pick up Lion and Globe peanut oil.

      2. I watched Alton's show, and he was discussing the good, bad and ugly of oil or fat.

        He asked "what is canola oil"? I had no idea, but he added "there is no such thing as a canola".... hmm. Got me thinking. I use vegetable oil in place of any oil that I don't need flavor, and olive oil for things that do.

        8 Replies
        1. re: mcel215

          My understanding is that canola oil is the Canadian name for rapeseed oil.

          1. re: dkenworthy

            The rapeseed processors didn't think rapeseed oil would sell well so they named it canola for CANadian OiL.

            1. re: Kelli2006

              Yeah, they renamed it way back in the 70's.

              1. re: Kelli2006

                This afternoon I heard a report (on NPR, I think) about genetically modified rapeseed plants and the reporter kept referring to them as canola plants. Kind of shocking, actually.

              1. re: mcel215

                But mcel215, what is "vegetable oil"?

                1. re: janniecooks

                  Jannie, now that I am reading this thread, who really knows?

                  I use so little of it, since my kids are grown and I no longer deep fry anything for myself.

                  I use olive oil a lot, which I buy at Costco, under the Kirkland Brand.

                  And AB, suggested using lard, lol! Funny how times change..
                  Used to use it when I began cooking, way back when, and in the 80's it became a no no....

              2. If I need a neutral oil (for baking or pan frying), I typically use safflower. I used to use canola until I realized that it could be a bit fishy. For asian dishes and making frites I use peanut. And for Italian/French inspired stuff I use olive oil. My pantry is rather crowded.

                1. That's interesting. I usually find that peanut is one of the lightest and most flavorless oils I can use. I use it frequently for stir-fry stuff, particularly Asian recipes. Sesame oil is also good in some Asian recipes, but usually as a condiment and not as a cooking medium.

                  For anything European-ish, I use olive oil (my default oil is the regular golden-colored oil, like Filipo Berio). When I need good olive oil, I use good extra virgin oil.

                  I almost never use any other oil, unless a recipe calls specifically for it (there's a gingerbread recipe I make that calls for corn oil).

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Kagey

                    I am so appreciative of all the responses to my query, however, I'm still trying to get to the bottom of what is vegetable oil. I use sesame oil and/or peanut oil in asian recipes, or wherever I want that flavo(s), and most of the time if I'm following a recipe and sesame or peanut is the appropriate/correct oil, the recipe specifies that. Likewise in most italian recipes, for most salad dressings, and many other recipes, EVOO is specified and/or appropriate. It is usually clear to me when to use sesame oil, EVOO, or peanut oil. But some recipes, like muffins, pancakes, some cakes or sweets, maybe sautes, and even some salads just use the generic term "vegetable oil. No particular recipe springs to mind right now, but having used up all the peanut, corn and canola oils in my pantry, and needing to replenish, I got to thinking: what is vegetable oil, anyway?

                      1. re: janniecooks

                        Technically speaking and according to wikipedia, vegetable oil can be defined by source:

                        "most, but not all vegetable oils are extracted from the fruits or seeds of plants, and the oils may be classified by grouping oils from similar plants, such as "nut oils"

                        A bit confusing, but I take this to mean that there are lots of "vegetable oils" out there, but within that category you can have nut oils, fruit oils, seed oils, oils from melon and gourds, solid oils like cocoa butter, oils from flowers (evening primrose oil), oils from berries (blackcurrant seed oil), things like coriander seed and flax seed oil...

                        The list goes on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_...

                        However, in baking (and sometimes cooking), I usually tend to take "vegetable oil" to mean any of the major large-quantity, easy to find, mass-produced oils like canola, sunflower and corn oils.

                        As you pointed out, if they mean olive oil or sesame oil or something fairly specific, they usually specify. Recipes for specific techniques like frying are usually specific too.

                        As you probably know, oils can definitely be very different from each other- they can have different smoke points, fat contents, fat types, glycerides, etc.

                        1. re: janniecooks

                          I see your point. Never really thought about it though. For me, when I'm looking for an all-purpose flavorless oil, they're pretty much interchangeable. I guess I've always gravitated toward peanut or extra-light olive oil or sometimes corn oil, just because I'm familiar with peanuts, olives, and corn. I never really knew what a canola was. Just lazy, I suppose, but it works for me.

                          1. re: janniecooks

                            There are two basic types of oil, "mineral" oils that include petroleum products, and "vegetable" oils that are drawn from vegetable matter. Not all vegetable oils are edible, but most are. Some taste better than others.

                            Everyone's taste buds are just a little bit different, so it's not a matter of what kind of vegetable oil is "best," it's more a question of what works for your taste buds. I hear many people say that for them canola oil is tastless, for me it tastes like oil drained from canned tuna. I find peanut oil tasteless and transparent, but some don't like the "strong flavor."

                            Then there are "finishing oils," which fall in the vegetable oil family, but they're for flavor. Among these are sesame oil, extra virgin olive oil, flavored and specialty oils. These are not intended for cooking. As I just explained in another thread, if you want to cook with olive oil, use "light." It's been filtered to reduce flavor and color, and that process raises its flash point as well.

                            1. re: janniecooks

                              For vegetable oil in food uses, look at the label. It should specify what 'vegetable' oil(s) is/(are) included. I haven't bought vegetable oil in years but I think it usually means soy bean oil these days. Decades ago it often meant cotton seed oil, as in Wesson oil.

                              Edit: okay, I guess the point I was trying to make wasn't clear. There are products on the store shelves labeled Vegetable Oil.' Look at the label to see what it contains.