Oils and fats are essential ingredients for baking cakes, sautéing veggies, deep-frying donuts—all kinds of recipes! And although each fat or oil has its own characteristics, in many cases there's a viable oil substitute for the one that's missing from your pantry shelf.
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Because they enhance the flavor, tenderness, and juiciness in recipes, fats and oils are key ingredients in cooking. The tricky part, however, is that not all oils are created equal, and there’s no one-size-fits-all oil variety when it comes to meeting your cooking needs. That’s why most every recipe will specify which oil to use for the best results. The good news is that in some cases, there’s a great oil substitute for the one called for in your recipe. Here we take the guesswork out of choosing which oil replacement to use.

Several glass bottles of oil
Credit: Andy Lyons
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Choosing an Oil Substitute for Salad Dressings

Oil plays a major role in salad dressing by carrying the flavor and coating the greens. Neutral-flavored vegetable oil is often called for when the flavors of other ingredients are meant to shine through. In this case, a great substitute for vegetable oil is canola oil, as it also has a neutral flavor. (Of course, the reverse is true: A great canola oil substitute is vegetable oil.) Another substitute for vegetable oil is olive oil, but only if you want the extra flavor olive oil brings.

Key Takeaway: Use vegetable oil, canola oil, or olive oils interchangeably here, knowing that olive oil adds bigger flavor than the others.

Keep in mind that some recipes call for a specific oil, such as sesame oil or hazelnut oil, because of the unique flavor it adds to the finished dish. In such cases, there’s no oil substitute that will exactly replicate the oil’s singular flavor.

However, you can switch in another oil as long as the flavor of the substituted oil will enhance the flavor of the finished dish. Here are a few ideas to get you started: Walnut oil could replace hazelnut oil, as it does in this Pink Grapefruit Stacked Salad. Likewise, for our Truffle Oil Salad, a good truffle oil ($39.95, Williams Sonoma) substitute would be sesame oil or walnut oil.

You can also substitute a neutral-flavor oil for the more flavorful oil, and then add an extra ingredient to the salad to replace what’s missing. For a sesame oil substitute, use canola oil and some toasted sesame seeds. Likewise, for an avocado oil substitute, use canola oil or pure olive oil (which have a mild flavor) but add some avocados to the salad.

Quick Chocolate Cake
Credit: Scott Little

Choosing an Oil Replacement in Baking

What can you substitute for vegetable oil when baking? While it’s true that vegetable and other oils add richness to many baking recipes, if you wish to cut down on calories or fat, you can usually find a healthy oil replacement for at least some of the fat. Try one of these options as a substitute for oil in cakes, muffins, and other baked goods:

  • Applesauce: To substitute applesauce for oil, as a general rule, use half applesauce and half fat. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup oil, use ½ cup applesauce and ½ cup oil.
  • Bananas: As a substitute for vegetable oil or other oil called for in a baking recipe, swap in mashed bananas for half the oil called for.
  • Pureed or baby-food pears: This convenient product also makes a good substitute for oil in baking. Again, swap in the pureed pears for half the oil called for.

Test Kitchen Tip: When using pureed fruit as a substitute for vegetable oil and other oils, you may need to reduce the baking time by 25%. Check the doneness of your baked goods after ¾ of the time has elapsed.

Note that in some cases, you can use olive oil as a substitute for vegetable oil in baking.

frying potatoes in hot oil
Credit: Blaine Moats

Choosing an Oil Substitute for Frying

When deep-frying foods at high temperatures, it’s important to pay attention to the oil’s “smoke point.” This is how hot an oil can get before it starts to smoke; the higher the smoke point, the more heat the oil can stand.

With a smoke point of 450°F, peanut oil is the go-to oil for deep frying. However, if you need a peanut oil substitute, you can use corn oil (which also has a smoke point of 450°F). Of course, the reverse is true too: for frying, a viable corn oil substitute is peanut oil.

Choosing an Oil Substitute for Sautéing and Pan-Frying

With smoke points ranging from 400°F to 450°F, vegetable oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and canola oil are all good choices for sautéing and pan-frying foods. With its mild coconut flavor and high smoke point, refined coconut oil can also be used for sautéing foods. However, if you need a substitute for coconut oil when sautéing or pan-frying, vegetable, sunflower, safflower, or canola will work. Or use pure olive oil; it also has a mild flavor and a similar smoke point.

Also remember smoke points if you want to try substituting butter for oil when sautéing. Butter has a lower smoke point (350°F) than most oils used for sautéing, so you’ll need to turn the heat down to medium. You can also combine butter with cooking oil or olive oil, which allows cooking at a higher heat than butter alone.

In general, the more you cook, the more confident you’ll feel when substituting one ingredient for another. When it comes to swapping one oil for another, once you understand the basics of smoke points and consider the flavors of the oils you’re using, it’s not that hard to get a feel for what will work best in your cooking.


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