Thanks to its neutral flavor and high smoke point, vegetable oil is a must-have for many recipes, whether you're cooking or baking. If you're fresh out of the pantry staple, though, don't panic. There are plenty of substitutes for vegetable oil that might even be in your kitchen right now. But before you rush to your cabinet to take a peek, let's review exactly when — and how — to replace this type of oil.
Vegetable oil boasts a high smoke point — approximately 450°F — which means it has to reach this temp before it will start pumping out smoke like a tiny chimney. If you let any cooking fat simmer at a high heat for too long, the oil (and any food cooked in it) will taste bitter and unpleasant. Since vegetable oil can withstand higher temps without smoking, it's ideal for deep frying everything from crispy chicken to Cinnamon Churros. It's a star in baked goods, too, since it has a mild flavor and contributes moisture even better than butter. Here's the difference: Butter solidifies at room temp while vegetable oil stays liquid both at room temp and if refrigerated, maintaining the moisture of baked goods for days.
Sounds like a one-of-a-kind ingredient, right? Not entirely. Vegetable oil can be substituted for another neutral oil like canola, sunflower, peanut or grapeseed oil in a pinch. In certain circumstances, you can also use coconut oil, olive oil or even applesauce! It's all about knowing when to use each substitute. So whether you're frying up chicken wings or whisking together a cake recipe, these simple alternatives will not only work ... but make your meal taste amazing.
Canola oil (also known as rapeseed oil) is a type of vegetable oil along with other plant-derived picks like corn, soybean, peanut (do not use if you have or are cooking for anyone with a peanut allergy), grapeseed and sunflower oil. This group practically looks and tastes identical and can be used in any recipe that calls for vegetable oil, including frying and baking recipes.
Avocado oil is extracted from the pulp of the fruit and is full of heart-healthy fats. It has a remarkably high smoke point (about 520°F!) and a neutral flavor similar to the avocado itself. Use it to replace vegetable oil but note that it tends to be pricier, so you may only want to swap it into recipes where not much oil is used.
Note: Unrefined avocado oil has a green hue and buttery flavor that, while delicious, isn't a close substitute for vegetable oil.
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Unlike the greenish hue and peppery flavor of pricey extra-virgin olive oil, regular olive oil (often labeled 'light') has a lighter color, more mild flavor and higher smoke point — just like vegetable oil.
Ghee is a type of clarified butter made by simmering regular butter until it caramelizes, then straining it to remove all the water. The result is a jar of toasty, buttery milk solids that is shelf-stable and has a high smoke point. The deeply nutty flavor is nothing like the neutral taste of vegetable oil, but we'd argue that it just makes everything taste better.
With its relatively high smoke point, refined coconut oil is great for just about any recipe in the kitchen, though you'll first need to melt the oil as it's naturally solid at room temperature. Try unrefined coconut oil in baking, but take note: It has a more pronounced, somewhat sweet coconut flavor.
If you're looking for a simple ingredient you probably already have in your kitchen, melted butter is an effective substitute for vegetable oil — especially in baked goods. Use it to add richness and flavor to cakes, cookies and muffins, but skip it for high heat cooking, since it will likely burn.
Believe it or not, unsweetened applesauce can make a great substitute for vegetable oil in your baked goods if you're looking to reduce the overall fat content of a recipe. We suggest experimenting with this a bit — try substituting applesauce for half of the vegetable oil to get familiar with how it affects the taste and texture of your favorite recipes.
If you're baking, you can also substitute vegetable oil with yogurt, which can add richness, moisture and a slightly tangy taste. Plus, you can use flavored yogurt like vanilla for added interest. Try this technique in our crowd-pleasing Greek Yogurt Pancakes.