What Is The Best Substitute For Olive Oil?

Do you love olive oil’s health properties but hate the flavor? Are you wondering if there is a good substitute for olive oil? If so, look no further! This post discusses several commonly used alternatives and how they compare to olive oil.

This article was written by Neha Benwait, Ryerson University Nutrition Student. Edited and reviewed by Veronica Rouse, MAN, RD, CDE.

What Is The Best Substitute For Olive Oil?

When determining an appropriate replacement for olive oil we will be exploring a few characteristics:

  1. Fatty acid profile
  2. Smoke point
  3. Flavor profile
  4. Accessibility 

Fatty Acid Profile

Oils are made up of different fatty acids: monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and saturated fatty acids. The different compositions of these fatty acids determine the nutritional health benefits the oils may offer.

Recent guidelines from the American Heart Association suggest replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat for better cardiovascular health and a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other causes of death (1).

If you are a visual learner like me, check out this graph that breaks down the different compositions of popular oils.

Smoke Point

Understanding the smoke point of an oil can help you use the right oil for your dish.

A smoke point is a temperature given to oil that once it is reached, the oil will start to smoke.  You may have noticed oil letting off smoke when using very high heat. This is because the oil had exceeded its smoke point.

Ideally, we want to ensure the oil does not reach the smoke point because once it smokes, it may release unwanted flavors which may impact your dish. From a health standpoint, it can break down the oil, destroying its natural nutrients, or causing free radicals to develop contributing to inflammation.

Flavor Profile

The flavor profile is important to consider since it can contribute to the taste of your final dish.    

Accessibility

The cost and availability of oils are important considerations. We will touch on the cost of oils, and their availability in supermarkets. 

What Makes Olive Oil Healthy?

Before we discuss the potential substitutes, let’s touch on why olive oil is healthy.

Fatty Acid Profile Of Olive Oil

The fatty acid composition of olive oil makes it a healthy fat to use. Olive oil is mostly monounsaturated fatty acids with a smaller portion of polyunsaturated and saturated fatty acids (2). Additionally, olive oil contains polyphenols that are antioxidants and reduce inflammation.

You may have read research regarding the Mediterranean dietary pattern, in which olive oil is a major component of this eating plan.  Many benefits from the Mediterranean diet like the prevention of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and some cancers are attributed to the properties of olive oil (3). Olive oil is also listed as one of 39 foods that unclog arteries.

Smoke Point Of Olive Oil

The smoke point of olive oil is high at 350℉. This means you can use olive oil for a variety of dishes such as a no-cook salad dressing, oven-baked vegetables, or a sautéed stir fry.

Flavor Profile Of Olive Oil

Olive oil has a range of flavors but in order to capitalize on its health benefits, you want to purchase an oil that is pungent or herby in flavor.

Olive oils that are lighter in color are also lighter in flavor resulting in a more neutral taste.  However, in order to achieve this light flavor, the oil is processed and heated. As a result, some beneficial nutrients like polyphenols may be lost in the process. Thus, lighter flavor olive oil may not be as healthy as one that is less processed.

Accessibility Of Olive Oil

You can find olive oil at a variety of grocery stores. Cost ranges from affordable to expensive depending on production. Usually, a more expensive bottle doesn’t necessarily mean more health benefits but it may mean a different flavor profile.

Alternatives To Olive Oil

We will be discussing canola oil, vegetable oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, and butter as possible alternatives to olive oil.

Can You Use Canola Oil Instead Of Olive Oil?

Fatty Acid Composition Of Canola Oil

Canola oil is a popular oil. It has a similar fatty acid composition to olive oil. It is mainly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids with very little saturated fat (4).

The difference between the two fatty acid profiles is that canola oil contains a higher level of polyunsaturated fatty acids and is the only oil that has a significant omega-3 fatty acid content. Omega 3 fatty acids can help manage inflammation, obesity, and cancer in the body which offers unique health benefits to using canola oil (5).

Smoke Point Of Canola Oil

Canola has a high heat point of 400℉. You can use it when cooking on the stovetop or in the oven. It is also a fantastic replacement for butter in baking.

Flavor Of Canola Oil

Canola oil has a mild flavor, also known as a neutral taste. This means it won’t add extra taste to a dish.

Accessibility Of Canola Oil

Canola oil is a slightly cheaper price than olive oil. Canola oil is widely available at grocery stores and is more accessible than most types of oils.

Can Vegetable Oil Be Substituted For Olive Oil?

First of all, what is vegetable oil? Vegetable oil is different than olive or canola oil because it is made up of various oils (6).

Fatty Acid Profile Of Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oil composition has different fatty acid amounts, depending on the ingredients used in production.  If you look at the ingredient list of most vegetable oils in the supermarket, they commonly consist of soybean oil, sunflower oil, and corn oil. There is no standardization of the term vegetable oil making it difficult to assess its impact on health.

The types of oil found in vegetable oils are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, like omega 6 fatty acids. Western countries consume this type of fat in adequate, if not excessive, amounts. Polyunsaturated fatty acids have not been linked to health benefits like the management of heart disease (1)

When shopping at the supermarket be sure to read the ingredient list to determine the actual oil used to make up vegetable oil to determine its fatty acid profile. 

Smoke Point Of Vegetable Oil

The smoke point is unknown due to the factors listed above. Generally, oils like soybean and corn oil have higher smoke points around 450℉.

Flavor Of Vegetable Oil

Again depending on the ingredients in vegetable oils, the flavor may change.  However, most vegetable oils have a mild flavor or neutral taste like canola oil.

Accessibility Of Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oil is economical and the most common oil found in supermarkets.

Can You Use Avocado Oil As A Substitute For Olive Oil?

Fatty Acid Profile Of Avocado Oil

The fatty acid composition of avocado oil is very similar to olive oil’s fatty acid composition (7). The majority of avocado oil is made up of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids and is low in saturated fats (7).  

Smoke Point Of Avocado Oil

Avocado has the highest smoke point at 480℉ and is suitable for any type of cooking.

Flavor Of Avocado Oil

Avocado oil is not completely neutral like canola oil but has a subtle avocado taste.

Accessibility Of Avocado Oil

Avocado oil is more expensive than olive oil and is not as widely available at grocery stores.

Can I Substitute Coconut Oil For Olive Oil?

Fatty Acid Profile Of Coconut Oil

The fatty acid composition of coconut oil is quite different than olive oil, as it is high in saturated fatty acids (8). You can visually identify that its fatty acid profile is different than olive oil because it is solid at room temperature, indicating it is higher in saturated fat.

As mentioned earlier in this post, saturated fatty acids are not beneficial to health. The American Heart Association suggests replacing saturated fats with liquid plant oils to achieve a healthy dietary pattern (1).

Over the past several years, the use of coconut oil has become increasingly prevalent despite its high saturated fat content. These oils raise LDL cholesterol, with little evidence of positive health benefits (9).

Smoke Point Of Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has a similar smoke point to olive oil at 350℉.

Flavor Of Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is made from the meat of the coconut, which brings out a mild coconut flavor in the oil. It has a creamier consistency than olive oil.

Accessibility Of Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is found at many grocery stores but is more expensive than olive oil.

Can I Use Butter Instead Of Olive Oil?

Fatty Acid Profile Of Butter

Butter is low in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, and higher in saturated fat, compared to olive oil (10). 

Smoke Point Of Butter

Butter has a similar smoke point to olive oil at 350℉.

Flavor Of Butter                                              

Hard to describe butter without using the term buttery flavor. It also has a creamier consistency. 

Accessibility Of Butter

Butter is widely accessible at supermarkets, with a similar price point to olive oil. Unlike olive oil, butter needs to be refrigerated.

What Is A Good Substitute For Olive Oil In Cooking?

Now that we’ve talked about different alternatives, you might be wondering what is a good olive oil replacement.

Avocado oil and canola oil are good alternatives to use instead of olive oil. As previously mentioned, canola oil and avocado oil have comparable fatty acid composition to olive oil, which may provide similar health benefits.

Additionally, canola oil is mild in flavor making it an easy substitute when cooking and baking. 

Canola and avocado oil have a higher smoke point than olive oil. This makes it a good replacement for olive oil during cooking.

In terms of accessibility, canola oil is more economical and available at grocery stores compared to avocado oil. 

What Is A Good Substitute For Olive Oil In Baking?

As mentioned above, canola oil is a healthy replacement for olive oil not only in cooking but in baking too.

It’s high heat point makes it ideal to use in baking instead of olive oil.

Canola oil is flavorless, another benefit for baking. Its neutral taste will not influence the flavor of the final dish.

Finally, canola oil is relatively inexpensive compared to olive oil.

What Is A Good Substitute For Olive Oil In Salad Dressing?

Avocado oil or canola oil are healthy alternatives for olive oil in salad dressing.

The fatty acid composition of both oils are a healthy choice to prevent chronic illness like heart disease.

No need to consider the smoke point since salad dressing isn’t heated.

The downside to avocado oil may be the price point, as it is typically more expensive and therefore may not be the best olive oil replacement.

Final Thoughts

Out of the oils discussed in this post, canola oil and avocado oil are healthy substitutes for olive oil in cooking or as a salad dressing.

Canola oil is a good replacement for olive oil in baking, due to its neutral taste profile.

Butter or coconut oil can be incorporated into a healthy dietary pattern in moderation. In my opinion, sautéing mushrooms cannot be done without butter! That being said, they are still significant sources of saturated fat, a nutrient that we want to eat less of when living with heart disease.

The same goes for vegetable oil. Its lack of standardization, and commonly used soybean and corn oil makes it a less desired replacement for favorable health benefits. Thus, you should not substitute vegetable oil for olive oil.

Try them for yourself and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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