What’s the Best Substitute for Sesame Oil? We Have 8 Great Ideas

substitute for sesame oil

Just one look at these mouthwatering sticky Asian meatballs with udon noodles and you knew what you wanted for dinner tonight. And as luck would have it, you happened to have all the ingredients at home in order to whip up this feast...except for one key component. But don’t fret because we’ve got good news: Your dish can be saved. We know a substitute for sesame oil (or eight) to help get you out of that bind—and get that sweet and spicy sauce on the table ASAP. 

But first, what is sesame oil anyway?

As you probably guessed, sesame oil is a cooking oil that comes from sesame seeds. It’s recognizable it by its distinctive nutty odor and rich color which ranges from gold to brown (depending on whether the seeds were roasted before the good stuff was extracted). So what makes sesame oil so special? For starters, a tablespoon of the stuff adds palate-pleasing complexity that can truly elevate your cooking.

We often think of cooking oil as a means to an end, but it’s actually a major component that can transform the taste of your meal. Roasted sesame oil, in particular—known for its earthy, toasty character—can have a significant impact on the flavor profile of your food. The lighter variety, on the other hand, is favored for its versatility and neutral taste. Whatever the recipe, there are plenty of great substitutes you can use to dish up something smoky, tasty and delightful. Tip: Try to suss out what sesame oil would have contributed to your cooking (i.e., flavor, mouthfeel, frying liquid or something else) before you pick a stand-in. Here are the best alternatives to sesame oil, plus the scoop on how they stack up to the real thing.

1. Peanut oil

Sesame oil has a nutty taste—and so do actual nuts. Peanut oil is a close match to milder (i.e., lighter) types of sesame oil in terms of sapidity and has the added bonus of being able to handle high heat so you can cook without setting off smoke alarms. 

2. Canola oil

Convenience is key here because you probably have a bottle of canola oil in your cupboard. This substitute lacks the earthiness of roasted sesame oil, but its neutral flavor is similar to lighter, unroasted forms of the golden stuff—and it’s a trusty companion for high-heat cooking of all kinds. Use this substitute when sesame oil is required for cooking, rather than flavor. 

3. DIY sesame oil

If you’ve got some sesame seeds hanging out in your spice rack then your problem is solved. Simply toast them over low heat in your skillet, add a neutral oil (like canola) and you’ve mastered a chef trick that produces a near-flawless imitation of store-bought sesame oil.

4. Avocado oil

Sesame’s nutty character is notably absent here, but avocado oil’s creaminess makes a great swap in terms of richness. (Meaning this one’s ideal for recipes that require sesame oil for cooking and texture, rather than taste.) It also tolerates high temperatures, so it’s a practical choice if you want a sizzling plate of food, pronto.

5. Tahini

This creamy, savory substance is made from sesame seeds that have been soaked and crushed into something glorious and…oily. Unsurprisingly, the earthy and complex character of tahini has a lot in common with pure sesame oil. Just don’t try to deep-fry your dinner with it: This substitute does best when used as a seasoning or dressing.

6. Walnut oil

This is another nut oil that successfully mimics the savory depth of sesame oil. It’s not meant for cooking, though, since it can turn bitter when heated. Walnut oil is also a bit spendy, so we suggest you use it sparingly. Try it as a marinade or drizzled lightly over salads, vegetables and pasta for a flavorful sesame oil substitute.

7. Sesame seeds

If you swapped sesame oil for canola and are lamenting your dish’s lack of depth, it’s not too late to make things right. Save the flavor with a little seasoning: Sprinkle sesame seeds on your plate for a pretty garnish that will satisfy your tastebuds too.

8. Pernilla oil

Pernilla oil comes from seeds that boast the same rich and nutty flavor profile as sesame. This alternative also shares the high smoke point of sesame oil so it works just as well for frying. But this replacement can be tricky to find—check out your local Asian grocery store to see if they have it in stock.

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...