When To Use Vegetable Oil vs Olive Oil in Cooking
Have you ever found yourself wondering why a recipe tells you to use olive oil rather than vegetable oil? Perhaps you’ve been grabbing a bottle of oil from the pantry and wondered whether it matters which oil you use to cook with?
To understand when you should be using vegetable oil and when you should be using olive oil in your cooking, it is helpful to think about why we use oil in the first place. But even before we dive into that let me just caveat that in a lot of cases it won’t actually matter which oil you use! Go with your personal preference – cooking should be a fun and enjoyable experience, not one where you get bogged down in “rules”!
So why do we use oil in cooking? There are three main reasons:
- Lubrication – oil helps to prevent food sticking to our cooking surfaces.
- Heat transfer – especially when frying, the heat from the cookware onto the food is very directional. Coating the food in oil helps to distribute that heat
- Flavour (sometimes!) – some oils have a stronger flavour than others. Sometimes we want that, sometimes we don’t! This will play a role in deciding which oil to go for.
How do these factors help us to choose the right cooking oil for the job?
This is an easy one – it won’t matter! All cooking oils will pretty much do the same thing on this front.
This will sometime play a role. Olive oil tends to have a lower smoke point than vegetable oil (especially extra virgin olive oil). That means that it will start to smoke at a lower temperature, which isn’t what you want (essentially it’s the oil burning). So when you’re cooking at higher temperatures a vegetable oil is usually a better option, and if you are going to use olive oil go for a light one – light olive oil has a higher smoke point than extra virgin.
Vegetable oils tend to be fairly tasteless – often this is what you want as you’re only using the oil for lubrication and hear transfer, and the flavours are coming from your other ingredients! Olive oils, especially extra virgin olive oils, do bring some flavour to the dish. Sometimes this is what you want! However if you want that lovely taste that comes from extra virgin olive oil, you are better off adding it late in the cooking process rather than as your main lubricant. That way it won’t burn off and you get to savour that delicious nutty and slightly spicy note that it brings to the party 😊
Remember, in a lot of cooking it won’t actually matter which oil you use and you should focus on having fun and enjoying the cooking (and eating) process. On the occasion that you do need to make a choice of when to use vegetable oil vs olive oil, the above tips should help!
There are other types of cooking oil not mentioned in this post, but there is one thing they do have in common – don’t use them for oiling your kitchen utensils and chipping boards! For guidance on this, check out our other post here.