Plant oils are a common pantry staple often used for cooking practices like sautéing or frying vegetables, making sauces, drizzling onto pizzas, and preventing pasta from sticking together.
Olive oil and vegetable oils are some of the most popular plant oils used around the world, each displaying unique characteristics.
This article looks at the differences between olive oil and vegetable oil, including their best uses, taste, nutrition, and potential health benefits.
Olive oil and vegetable oil differ in how they’re made, their best culinary uses, flavors, and nutritional composition.
Processing and flavor
Once plant oils have been extracted, they’re typically cleaned with chemicals and heated to remove impurities and prolong their shelf life. The more processing an oil undergoes, the fewer nutrients and less flavor it maintains.
This is apparent when comparing minimally processed extra virgin olive oil, which boasts a distinct olive taste, with vegetable oil, which tends to offer a generic, neutral flavor.
Olive oil is extracted from only pressed olives, with extra virgin olive oil being the least processed version.
In contrast, vegetable oil is made by mixing oils from different sources, such as canola, cottonseed, sunflower, soybean, corn, and safflower. Thus, more processing is required to remove impurities and create a neutral-flavored blend.
The degree of processing that an oil undergoes not only affects its flavor but also its nutritional composition.
While both olive and vegetable oils contain unsaturated fatty acids, olive oil contains higher amounts of monounsaturated fats like oleic acid, linoleic acid, and palmitic acid. Vegetable oil contains mostly omega-6 polyunsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated fats have been found to have anti-inflammatory and heart-health benefits, whereas omega-6 polyunsaturated fats can be pro-inflammatory and harm heart health if eaten in excess.
It’s also worth noting that the more refining an oil undergoes, the fewer micronutrients and healthy compounds it retains.
Extra virgin olive oil — the least processed type of olive oil — is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds like tocopherols, carotenoids, and polyphenols. Minimally refined olive oil also maintains some micronutrients, such as vitamins E and K.
On the other hand, the refining process used to make vegetable oil destroys micronutrients, antioxidants, and beneficial plant compounds, including tocopherols, phytosterols, polyphenols, and coenzyme Q .
Olive oil and vegetable oil blends tend to have similar smoke points, sitting around 400°F (205°C). The smoke point of an oil is the temperature to which it can be heated before its fat begins to break down into glycerol and free fatty acids.
Just like vegetable oil, some types of olive oil are highly processed, including pomace oil. These types lack micronutrients, as well as the characteristic flavor that you get from extra virgin olive oil, featuring instead a more neural taste.
Refined olive oils don’t include “virgin” or “extra virgin” on the label, indicating their higher degree of processing. Thus, an easy way to make sure you grab a flavor-packed oil from the shelves that also retains some nutrients is to look for these phrases.
Olive oil, especially extra virgin, is among the least processed cooking oils on the shelves. This means it retains the most antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
For example, the antioxidant and polyphenolic compounds in olive oil have been extensively researched for their heart health benefits.
Vegetable oil, on the other hand, undergoes a lot of processing to neutralize its flavor and blend several types of plant oils. This means it has minimal beneficial nutrients, leaving just empty calories.
Swapping vegetable oil for olive oil may also benefit brain health.
One study found that replacing vegetable oil with extra virgin olive oil improved cognitive function in older adults.
If you choose to consume oils, extra virgin olive oil tends to be a much healthier choice than most vegetable oils and vegetable oil blends.
Vegetable oil and olive oil are both widely used in cooking.
While olive oil is derived from olives and tends to be less processed, vegetable oil is usually a blend of several plant oils and highly processed into a neutral-tasting product.
The processing of vegetable oil leaves it lacking in many of the healthy micronutrients and plant compounds that may otherwise be found in the plants used to make it. It’s also high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can contribute to inflammation.
Extra virgin olive oil, on the other hand, retains several trace vitamins and minerals and is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fatty acids that may benefit heart and brain health.
If you choose to include plant oils in your diet, minimally processed extra virgin olive oil is the healthier choice when compared with vegetable oil.