The origins of olive oil, coconut oil, and peanut oil are self-evident. That's not necessarily the case with vegetable and canola oils. Even if you use these cooking products every day, you may have questions about them—like, which vegetables are used to make vegetable oil? And what exactly is a canola, anyway? To make matters more confusing, both oils are similar in taste and color. Though you can use them interchangeably in recipes, canola oil and vegetable oil are not the same thing.
According to Allrecipes, canola oil comes from the rapeseed plant. Rapeseed is naturally high in potentially toxic compounds like erucic acid, which made it unsafe to consume until recently. In the 1970s, scientists in Canada crossbred a version of the crop to have lower amounts of erucic acid. This strain was dubbed canola—a portmanteau of Canada, oil, and low acid. Canola oil has a high smoke point, neutral flavor, and high amount of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. A cheap and versatile alternative to other cooking oils, the product quickly became a pantry staple.
Any oil derived from seeds or other parts of fruits is vegetable oil. This means canola oil is technically vegetable oil, but bottles labeled vegetable oil in the grocery store don't contain rapeseed as their main ingredient. Commercial vegetable oil is made from a blend of different oils, such as corn, sunflower, safflower, and soybean oil. It tends to have a higher proportion of saturated fat than canola oil, but because the ingredients used to make vegetable oil vary from brand to brand, their nutritional content varies as well.
Like canola oil, vegetable oil has a neutral taste and high smoke point, making it a good choice for frying and sautéing. It would be hard to distinguish between the two products if you swapped one for the other, but if you want the healthier option, canola oil is your better bet. For more tips on how to make the most of what's in your kitchen, check out these simple cooking hacks.
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