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.
Differences between olive oil and vegetable oil
Olive oil and vegetable oil differ in how they’re made, their best culinary uses, flavors, and nutritional composition.
Below are some of the main differences between olive oil and vegetable oil:
Blend of fats from multiple plant sources, like sunflower, corn, canola, soy, and safflower
Salad dressing, sautéing, to dip bread
Vitamin and mineral content
Vitamins K and E, found in higher amounts in extra virgin varieties
Depends on the oil blend, but usually retains minimal trace nutrients after processing
High in antioxidants
No (the least processed form is extra virgin)
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 (1)Trusted Source).
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 (1)Trusted Source, 2)Trusted Source, 3)Trusted Source).
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 (6) Trusted Source, 7) Trusted Source, 8) Trusted Source, 9) Trusted Source, 10) Trusted Source).
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 (11) Trusted Source, 12)Trusted Source).
Vegetable oil is a highly refined blend of neutral oils that’s high in pro-inflammatory fats and lacks micro nutrients. Olive oil is made from pressed olives, with extra virgin versions being the least processed and retaining the most beneficial compounds.
Similarities Between Olive Oil & Vegetable Oil
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 (13).
Just like vegetable oil, some types of olive oil are highly processed, including pomace oil. These types lack micro nutrients, as well as the characteristic flavor that you get from extra virgin olive oil, featuring instead a more neural taste (6Trusted Source).
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 and vegetable oil have similar smoke points. Unlike extra virgin olive oil, highly refined olive oil is similar to vegetable oil in that it offers minimal, if any, micro nutrients.
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 micro nutrients 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.