Is Canola Oil The Same As Vegetable Oil?

I have been using canola oil in my cooking for quite some time, interchangeably with a few different vegetable oils, convinced that it makes no difference.

After all it’s just another vegetable, and my cooking was as delicious as ever to my boys, so it couldn’t really matter all that much, right?

Well, I only found out that there might be a significant difference between the two when a friend of mine came by the other week to try some of my delicious fried rice.

The first thing she asked, before even tasting the food, was “What kind of oil did you use?” – and I honestly couldn’t tell her until I looked at the bottle I grabbed from the shelf. Turns out it was canola oil this time, so she refused to eat.

At the time, she told me about how canola is not even a natural plant but a man-made one, which might cause all sorts of issues.

She had to go pretty soon though, but that left me concerned so I decided to dig deeper by myself, and ask some different people about the subject. After a few weeks, I think I have the answers to some of the more common questions concerning this…

What Are Canola Oil And Vegetable Oil Made From?

You could pour a bottle of canola oil into a bottle with a vegetable oil label, and no one would be able to notice it, at first glance. However, what those two oils are made from is actually quite different.

Vegetable oil is usually made from a variety of plants. Here in the States, it’s mostly made from soybean or palm plants, but there is also some cottonseed or sunflower oil out there. There are plenty of other plants that vegetable oil can be made from, but those are the most common, and vegetable oil is usually a mix of a few of them.

Canola oil, on the other hand is made from canola, of course. You might think “well, it’s just another vegetable”, but it’s not that simple. When compared to the other plants I mentioned, there are some significant nutritional differences – but I’ll get into that a bit later.

Moreover, canola is not a naturally occurring plant – it’s a hybrid of rapeseed plants, made artificially in Canada, and often genetically modified.

What does this mean? Well, for starters, it means the plants are more vulnerable to disease and insects and are treated with more chemicals than most other crops. Because of that canola oil might cause problems for some of the more sensitive people.

There are other possible drawbacks that come with all products made from GMO, but that’s a completely different kettle of fish.

Which One Is Better For Cooking?

This is a difficult question, as both are pretty much odorless and tasteless, and work great for either frying, oven-cooking or baking.

You can use them while making a juicy meatloaf, or frying an omelette, it doesn’t matter.

They can even be used in salads, as they’re light in taste and texture so they feel very smooth in the mouth.

However, there are things canola oil can be used for that other vegetable oils cannot. The secret is in the smoke point.

The Smoke Point

What is the smoke point, you might ask?

Well, that’s rather simple – it’s the temperature at which oil (and lard or butter, for that matter) stops simmering and starts to smoke. This is important not only because you don’t want your kitchen to be full of smoke – there are nutritional implications as well.

See, when oil reaches the smoke point the fats in it start to degrade and release free radicals and acrolein, as well as turning its saturated fats into harmful trans fats. In addition to that it also ruins the taste, especially when it cools down.

Most Canola oils have a smoke point of around 400 degrees, up to 450. Compare that to the smoke point of around 320 degrees that most other vegetable oils have, and the winner is clear.

In that way, canola oil is simply more versatile. Since it has a higher smoke point it can be used in more dishes which require higher temperatures to make, without any risk of it smoking. For example, it can be used for stir-frying, while most other vegetable oils cannot.

Of course, there are oils with an even higher smoke point than canola oil, as well as lower, and you should be vary of that when you use them for cooking.

Which One Is Healthier – Canola Oil, or Vegetable Oil?

There are a few things you need to consider here. For starters, the nutritional values:

Canola Oil (1 tablespoon)

  • Calories – 124
  • Fat – 1 gram
  • Vitamin E – 2.4 milligrams
  • Vitamin K – 10 micrograms
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids – 1279 milligrams
  • Omega-6 Fatty Acids – 2610 milligrams

Vegetable Oil (1 tablespoon)

  • Calories – 119
  • Fat – 13.5 gram
  • Vitamin E – 1.1 milligrams
  • Vitamin K – 24.8 micrograms
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids – 949 milligrams
  • Omega-6 Fatty Acids – 6790 milligrams

Both oils are good for getting vitamins E and K and have no carbs or proteins – but the real difference is in the fat.

Not only does canola oil have far less saturated fat than vegetable oil, it also has a better distribution of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. While both of those are actually good for you, taking too many Omega-6 compared to Omega-3 can be harmful.

The ideal ratio is around 2:1, which is present in the canola oil. Additionally, a lot of the Omega-6 acids in vegetable oil are refined, and most of the benefit is lost in the process.

So, on the surface, canola oil seems healthier for you.

But it’s not all good - there are also some concerns about the way canola oil is made. Namely, different chemicals are used to extract the oil from the seeds, since it’s more efficient just squeezing them. Some of these toxic chemicals may remain in the final product, in different amounts.

Moreover, heat is involved in the process which tends to lead to the good fats in the oil turning into trans fats in the process. After that, more chemicals are used to remove its odor through a process known as ‘deodorizing’.

There is more, but I can’t fit everything into this article, so you can read more about it here if you wish.

This process might be necessary, but I find it a bit disquieting.

However, there are canola oils that have gone through a different process, involving cold-pressing, and are usually labeled as such. Canola oil that is non-GMO has also been labeled as “organic”, so you could just buy those variants if you have some concerns about all of this.

Conclusion

I’ve learned a lot by researching this topic.

First of all, now I know that canola oil is definitely not the same as vegetable oil. Not only is canola oil fuller of health benefits, but it’s also usable in a wider variety of dishes than regular vegetable oil. Overall, it just seems better.

However, I’ve also stumbled across some concerning information about the possible harmful effects of canola oil which I’m not certain about. That’s something you might have to look into by yourself as well, and there’s plenty of good information on the subject out there.

Still, I think I’ll keep using canola oil, but not like before. I’ll be more selective – not just with using, but with buying as well.

If you’re concerned, I think that’s the right thing to do. So I’ll just buy canola oil labeled as organic and cold-pressed and it should probably be fine.

More importantly, all of this taught me to be more careful when picking my ingredients in the future. I hope you will find all of this pretty useful when picking your oils and ingredients, so you don’t end up being as careless as I was.

Good luck in your future cooking!

Barbara Whitney
 

For the last 20 years, I’ve been cooking, preparing, researching, and gathering recipes, tools, and knowledge about food and the way we prepare it. Raising two lively boys and spoiling one great husband later, it’s safe to say that I’ve optimized my kitchen to deliver the best possible meal, no matter the occasion.

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