Fried chicken, brownies from a box and stir-fried veggies—very different foods that, nevertheless, share a common ingredient: vegetable oil. Its omnipresence might suggest otherwise, but don’t be fooled: You can definitely get by without vegetable oil. Whether you made a conscious decision to eliminate this cooking ingredient for dietary reasons or simply ran out of the stuff, here are nine excellent solutions for when you need a substitute for vegetable oil.
But First, What Is Vegetable Oil?
As its name suggests, vegetable oil is any oil that is derived from a vegetable. This definition means that technically, cooking go-tos like olive oil and coconut oil fit the bill. But if your recipe calls for vegetable oil, it’s typically asking for a blend of different types of oils (more on that below) that all go into one bottle simply labeled “vegetable oil.”
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “The top four vegetable oils consumed in the United States are soybean, canola, palm, and corn oil [all of which] are referred to as refined, bleached, deodorized oils – or RBD for short – because this describes the process by which they are manufactured.” When it comes to that bottle of vegetable oil on the grocery store shelf, it’s usually a mystery mix of the big four.
Vegetable oil boasts a neutral flavor and a high smoke point (approximately 400 to 450°F, according to culinary scientist Jessica Gavin), which makes it an excellent option in a variety of recipes.
Is Vegetable Oil Healthy?
Vegetable oil is often touted as a heart-healthy alternative to animal fat because it contains less saturated fat than, say, butter or lard. “An overwhelming amount of data supports using vegetable oil in place of animal fat,” Alice H. Lichtenstein, director and senior scientist of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University told CNN. And per the American Heart Association, vegetable oils rich in polyunsaturated fat are still a preferred cooking ingredient for those who have high cholesterol or are at risk for heart disease.
However, there has been some concern in the health community that certain vegetable oils (like soybean, corn, cottonseed, sunflower and peanut) deliver an excessive amount of omega-6 fatty acids. While more research is needed, some experts have suggested that eating too much omega-6 (and not enough omega-3 fatty acids) can cause inflammation in the body and possibly contribute to disease.
So, what’s the takeaway? Vegetable oil is safe to consume in moderate quantities, say experts. Just don’t consume excessive amounts of the stuff (in the same way that you shouldn’t consume excessive amounts of butter). When looking at the label, choose oils with less than 4 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, and no partially hydrogenated oils or trans fats, says the American Heart Association. Finally, avoid overheating and burning vegetable oil—this will help ensure that the taste and health benefits stay intact.
9 Substitutes for Vegetable Oil
So you're about to whip up a batch of brownies and missing a key ingredient. Don’t fret—swap in one of these alternatives and your recipe will be just as tasty (or even better).
It might sound strange, but applesauce makes a great substitute for canola or vegetable oil when used for baking. The high moisture content, creamy texture and hint of sweetness in the fruit purée compliments baked goods well, and it has far fewer calories than the oily stuff. For a healthier product that tastes every bit as indulgent, use applesauce as a 1-to-1 substitute for vegetable oil in baking recipes.
Butter may not be the healthiest substitute on this list due to its high saturated fat content, but it’s a kitchen staple that can easily stand in for vegetable oil in both savory and sweet recipes. Bonus: Butter will also lend delicious flavor and richness to your recipe (especially for baked goods). As an alternative to vegetable oil, butter can be melted and then used in equal measure—just keep in mind that this substitution does not work for frying, due to its low smoke point.
Another weird swap for vegetable oil that really works—at least when it comes to baking cakes. Mayonnaise is one of the best-kept secrets of the baking world: When added to baked goods in place of vegetable oil (and in equal amounts), mayonnaise makes for incredibly moist and decadent treats that retain their texture for longer.
4. Greek yogurt
Like mayonnaise, this vegetable oil alternative is best used for baking endeavors (and not to sauté your broccoli). Replace vegetable oil with an equal amount of Greek yogurt for super moist baked goods with a subtle, palate-pleasing tang.
5. Coconut oil
Coconut oil is a kitchen workhorse that can do basically anything vegetable oil can because it has a similarly neutral flavor and high smoke point. Swap coconut oil in for canola or vegetable oil in equal measure when baking, frying, or sauteing.
6. Avocado oil
Avocado oil has an even higher smoke point (a whopping 520 degrees Fahrenheit) than vegetable oil, making it an excellent choice for frying and other high heat cooking—and its rich, buttery flavor works well in everything from salad dressings to sweet treats. This cooking oil also boasts high levels of oleic acid—one of the healthiest fats around. Use a 1-to-1 ratio to substitute with avocado oil whenever vegetable oil is called for.
7. Grapeseed oil
Grapeseed oil has a high smoke point and is basically flavorless—making it a great substitute for vegetable oil. It also contains high amounts of polyunsaturated fats and vitamin E. The only catch? This stuff can be pretty pricey, so while it works well as an equal measure substitute for vegetable oil in just about everything, you probably won’t want to use it for deep-frying unless you want to spend a fortune.
8. Sunflower oil
The mild, unobtrusive flavor and high smoke point of sunflower oil makes it a solid 1-to-1 vegetable oil stand-in for most recipes. That said, not all sunflower oil is created equal: The lower grade stuff has a not-so-great ratio of polyunsaturated to monounsaturated fats. When shopping for sunflower oil, look for the high-grade stuff, which will be labeled as high oleic (not linoleic) and you’ll be golden.
9. Peanut oil
In terms of health benefits, this one is a mixed bag: While peanut oil is an excellent source of omega-9 fats as well as vitamin E, it also has a disproportionately high amount of omega-6 fats. Still, in moderation, peanut oil makes a good alternative to vegetable oil when used in equal measure. In fact, the high smoking point of peanut oil makes it a go-to oil for deep frying, and since its flavor is neutral, you can use it for just about everything else too.