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Which vegetable oil to use?

janniecooks May 29, 2008 05:46 AM

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.

  1. MMRuth May 29, 2008 05:50 AM

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

    1 Reply
    1. re: MMRuth
      Candy May 29, 2008 06:27 AM

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

    2. Gio May 29, 2008 05:53 AM

      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
        carswell May 29, 2008 05:20 PM

        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. mcel215 May 29, 2008 05:55 AM

        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
          dkenworthy May 29, 2008 06:15 AM

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

          1. re: dkenworthy
            Kelli2006 May 29, 2008 04:55 PM

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

            1. re: Kelli2006
              sarah galvin May 29, 2008 05:09 PM

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

              1. re: Kelli2006
                carswell May 29, 2008 05:15 PM

                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: carswell
                  sarah galvin May 29, 2008 06:56 PM

                  Probably misinformed.

            2. re: mcel215
              MMRuth May 29, 2008 06:15 AM

              Canola is made with rapeseed.

              1. re: mcel215
                janniecooks May 29, 2008 07:11 AM

                But mcel215, what is "vegetable oil"?

                1. re: janniecooks
                  mcel215 May 29, 2008 09:11 AM

                  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. ms. clicquot May 29, 2008 06:37 AM

                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. k
                  Kagey May 29, 2008 07:20 AM

                  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
                    janniecooks May 29, 2008 08:25 AM

                    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
                      MMRuth May 29, 2008 08:40 AM

                      This might be helpful:


                      When I think of vegetable oil, I think of Crisco.


                      1. re: janniecooks
                        sfumato May 29, 2008 08:47 AM

                        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
                          Kagey May 30, 2008 02:25 AM

                          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
                            Caroline1 May 30, 2008 11:02 AM

                            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
                              dexmat Aug 19, 2008 03:34 PM

                              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.

                          2. hannaone May 29, 2008 07:20 AM

                            Soy/Sesame blend
                            Corn oil
                            Pure Roasted Sesame oil (Korean/Asian cooking)

                            1. alkapal May 29, 2008 08:05 AM

                              any brand recommendations?

                              1. k
                                kwe730 May 29, 2008 09:02 AM

                                Last year I had the interesting experience of meeting someone who had graduated from the CIA and worked for Thomas Keller at the French Laundry for two years. Given those credentials I decided to seize the moment and quiz him on as many things as possible. He told me that canola is almost always his "go to" oil because of it's high smoke point.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: kwe730
                                  Caroline1 May 30, 2008 11:11 AM

                                  I'm pretty sure the flashpoint of peanut oil is higher than canola. Peanut=632, canola=600. Because the flashpoint of peanut oil is so high, there is relatively little flashpoint information on it while there is a lot more on canola because of its recent arrival on the market.

                                  Here's a research paper on the flashpoint of peanut oil and cottonsee oil. I do not use cottonseed oil because cotton is not raised as a food product.

                                2. Gio May 29, 2008 09:10 AM

                                  It has always been my understanding that when a baking (cakes, pies, etc). recipe calls for Vegetable Oil it refers to corn oil. I recall a fabulously simple light and flaky pie crust recipe in the NYT years ago that specified Mazola corn oil as the vegetable oil of choice.

                                  Edit: Just found this pretty good reference:

                                  1. c
                                    chompy May 29, 2008 01:54 PM

                                    Actually, if you're trying to avoid genetically modified ingredients, corn, soybean or canola oil might all be genetically modified unless you use an organic brand.

                                    1. sarah galvin May 29, 2008 02:23 PM

                                      I think it depends on the recipe. Generally, I would use olive oil. But it has a low smoke point. It is also more expensive. My next pick would be corn oil. I like the flavour of corn oil better than canola oil (yes, it is rapeseed oil). Canola is the healthiest, equal to olive oil. I use canola for deep frying. Peanut oil has a high smoke point, as does grapeseed oil. I usually economize - so on hand, I have corn, canola and olive. Also, sesame but that's another story.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: sarah galvin
                                        Kagey May 30, 2008 02:29 AM

                                        Just curious, not trying to be obnoxious, but where do you get the info that canola is healthiest?

                                      2. l
                                        lgss May 30, 2008 05:29 AM

                                        Safflower oil is our standard.

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