Is Olive Oil the Same as Vegetable Oil? Here's What to Know

What is the difference between olive oil and vegetable oil? Is one better than the other? We've got the answers.

Cooking oils such as olive oil and vegetable oil are pantry staples for most households all over the world. For me, I always keep a bottle of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) on the counter for a quick salad dressing or to lightly coat a pan for stir-frying veggies. You've probably heard olive oil is the healthier cooking oil choice (especially if you're following the Mediterranean diet). But with baked goods and other cooking methods (frying, sautéing) calling for vegetable oil, can you use olive oil instead? And if vegetable oil is in fact made from vegetables, wouldn't that be a healthy choice, too? I know, there are so many questions! Don't worry, they will be answered. Read on for your complete guide to all things olive oil vs. vegetable oil.

olive oil drizzled into white baking dish
Andy Lyons

Olive Oil vs. Vegetable Oil

According to the North American Olive Oil Association, olive oil is produced through the natural crushing of olives. Cold-pressed, unrefined olive oil made without heat or harmful substances is known as extra virgin olive oil ($16.49, Target). Bottles labeled "light" or simply "olive oil" contain mostly refined olive oil, but it's always combined with virgin olive oil (aka unrefined) to add flavor, color and some of the micronutrients such as antioxidants and polyphenols.

As for vegetable oil ($4, Target), the term refers to any oil that comes from plant sources. It will depend on the brand, but most vegetable oils on the market are a blend of canola, corn, soybean, safflower, palm, and sunflower oils. All of these plants go through a refining and solvent extraction process, meaning you won't find any "virgin" or "unrefined" labels on the bottle as you would olive oil.

Is Olive Oil Vegetable Oil?

While their pungent, slightly bitter taste often goes the savory route (we're looking at you, charcuterie boards), olives are in fact fruits. Due to the fleshy exterior enclosing a firm seed, they're actually a part of the drupe (aka stone fruit) family along with peaches, cherries, plums, and mangoes. So while you might use olive oil the same way you would vegetable oil, you're technically using fruit oil.

Spicy Oven-Baked Fish and Sweet Potato Fries
Blaine Moats

Is One Oil Healthier Than the Other?

Not only is flavor stripped from the vegetables used to make the oil but also the nutritional value of the plants. So if you've wondered why extra virgin olive oil is the go-to for Mediterranean recipes and other diets, it's essentially a naturally-pressed juice and therefore has the olive's health benefits still intact. This also explains why a bottle of EVOO maintains a price point that is a bit higher than vegetable oil (around $10 vs. $2).

Olive Oil and Vegetable Oil Smoke Points

Fried chicken, french fries, and other fried foods usually call for vegetable oil due to its higher smoke point. This means it can tolerate a high temperature without smoking or breaking down. Vegetable oil's smoke point is around 460ºF while olive oil is around 410ºF. The olive oil association we mentioned before did note, however, that a study by ACTA Scientific Nutritional Health comparing 10 of the most commonly used oils found that extra virgin olive oil is the most stable cooking oil.

Can You Substitute Olive Oil for Vegetable Oil?

If you happen to be mid-recipe and don't have enough olive oil, there are plenty of oil substitutions you can use in a pinch. Yes, vegetable oil is one of them so you can use them interchangeably when needed.

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  1. Gaforio, José J et al. “Virgin Olive Oil and Health: Summary of the III International Conference on Virgin Olive Oil and Health Consensus Report, JAEN (Spain) 2018.” Nutrients vol. 11, no. 9, 2039, 2019, MDPI, doi:10.3390/nu11092039

  2. Guillaume, C. et al. "Evaluation of Chemical and Physical Changes in Different Commercial Oils during Heating." Acta Scientific Nutritional Health, vol. 2, no. 6, 2018, Modern Olives Laboratory Services, pp. 1-10.

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