Olive oil and vegetable oil are among the most commonly used oils in culinary arts and cosmetics. But while their uses and health benefits are generally well-known, the difference between the two types of oil isn’t always clear, and some people struggle to tell them apart. Some think that olive oil is the same as vegetable oil, while others mistake it for one of the many types of vegetable oil.
Olive oil isn’t the same as vegetable oil. While they do have similarities in the form of the calorie count and storage guidelines, the two oils are different in terms of how they affect your health, fat composition, source, types, smoke point, and uses.
In the rest of this article, we’ll discuss in detail the above differences and similarities between vegetable oil and olive oil to help you make an informed choice when buying the next bottle. Let’s dive right in!
Olive Oil vs. Vegetable Oil: The Differences
To help you understand the difference between olive oil and vegetable oil, let’s compare both types on the following merits:
Olive oil contains 14% of saturated fat and 73% of monounsaturated fat and is considered the healthiest of all cooking oils. Different vegetable oils have different percentages of saturated and monounsaturated fats, with coconut oil having the highest saturated fat content of 92%.
Canola and sunflower oil have the least amounts of saturated fat of 6% and 9%, respectively. They also have high unsaturated contents of fat of 62% and 82%, respectively, and are second only to olive oil.
Perhaps the most significant merit of comparing olive oil and vegetable oil is how healthy both oil types are. While things like minerals and vitamins are important, the effect a particular oil will have on heart health and weight loss is what most people consider when choosing any type of cooking oil.
When assessing how healthy any oil is, the proportions of unsaturated (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) saturated and trans fatty acids are usually the most important numbers to pay attention to.
According to a report by the American Heart Association, consuming unsaturated fatty acids instead of trans and saturated fats may help reduce the risk of heart disease, one of the world’s leading causes of death.
On the other hand, research has associated saturated fatty acids with increasing Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Dubbed the “bad cholesterol” in the medical community, LDL is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease.
Now that you know how each type of fatty acids may affect your health, let’s compare their amounts in vegetable and olive oils to determine which oil is healthier.
For that, we’ll use the following table from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It compares the nutritional value of the commonly used oils in the US per one tablespoon, but we’ll focus on virgin olive oil and vegetable oil because that’s what this discussion is about.
|Extra virgin olive oil, 1 tbsp||Organic virgin coconut oil, 1 tbsp||100% pure canola oil, 1 tbsp||100% pure vegetable oil, 1 tbsp|
|Total fat||14 g||14 g||14 g||14 g|
|Saturated fatty acids||2 g||13 g||1 g||2 g|
|Monounsaturated fatty acids||10 g||1 g||8 g||3 g|
|Polyunsaturated fatty acids||1.5 g||0 g||4 g||8 g|
Extra virgin olive oil has a higher monounsaturated fatty acids content than vegetable oil. On the other hand, vegetable oil is higher on polyunsaturated fatty acids, and both oil types have similar amounts of saturated fatty acids.
So, does this mean that olive oil and vegetable oils are equal in terms of how they affect your health?
Not necessarily. You see, this table doesn’t capture another type of fatty acids that are critical to your health: trans fats. Vegetable oils (especially hydrogenated types) contain trans fats, which research has found to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by raising LDL cholesterol levels.
Other research has also linked trans fats to lowering levels of High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (AKA, the “good” cholesterol), which further increases the risk of coronary heart disease. Olive oil doesn’t have trans fats, making it a healthier option than vegetable oil.
Another difference between olive oil and vegetable oil is where both oils are extracted. Olive oil is produced by cold pressing ripe olive fruit and collecting its juices. No chemicals are used in its extraction, which is one reason it’s rich in vitamins and minerals.
On the other hand, the source of the different vegetable oils varies depending on the type of crop or oil, and sources may include fruits, seeds, or nuts. Volatile hydrocarbons (often hexane) are used to extract vegetable oil, which is one reason it contains trans fatty acids.
Another way to differentiate olive oil from vegetable oil by looking at the types of both oils. Olive oil comes in three types, namely, extra virgin, virgin, and pure olive oil.
Extra virgin oil is obtained from the first cold press. It’s the least acidic (less than 1%) and most expensive of the three types of olive oil and comes with a perfect balance of aroma and taste. Due to this excellent combination, it’s mostly used in dressings or served with bread.
Like extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil is also extracted from the first cold press. However, it’s more acidic (up to 3.3%) than extra virgin olive oil. Pure olive oil refers to a mixture of refined olive oil and virgin olive oil. Since it’s blended, this type of olive oil is cheaper and ideal for cooking at high temperatures.
The various types of vegetable oils include soya bean oil, pumpkin seed oil, palm oil, canola oil, sesame oil, corn oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, grape seed oil, argan oil, rice bran oil, among others. These types can be classified according to the part of the plant they’re extracted from. Popular examples include nut oils such as cashew oil and hazelnut oil and seed oils such as sunflower seed oil.
The smoke point of any given oil is the temperature at which it begins to burn and is another way to tell the difference between olive and vegetable oils.
Olive oil’s smoke point is lower than the standard vegetable oil and ranges from 215°C (419°F) to 242°C (467.6°F). On the other hand, the smoke point of vegetable oils varies and is higher for oils used for frying such as canola oil (smoke point 242°C or 467.6°F ) and safflower oil (smoke point 265°C or 509°F).
Olive oil and vegetable oil also have different uses. Olive oil is more versatile than vegetable oil, and uses may include cooking and skin nourishing. It also has specific medical applications, such as being used as a laxative or preparing other medicines. Additionally, certain religions, such as Christianity and Judaism, use olive oil as a healing tool.
While vegetable oils are primarily used for cooking, it may also be used as fuel and in cosmetics (e.g., for skin and hair conditioning).
Olive Oil vs. Vegetable Oil: The Similarities
Despite the above differences, olive oil and vegetable oil share some similarities, and this is perhaps why some people struggle to tell the difference between the two.
Apart from the famous phrase, “store in a cool, dry place” you often see on oil bottles, olive and vegetable oils have other similar practical storage guidelines. Regardless of the oil type, the storage guidelines include:
Always Store Oils Away From Direct Sunlight, Ideally in a Dark Location
Direct sunlight and UV rays are particularly harmful to both types of oil. Research has found constant exposure to light to cause deterioration of olive oil through oxidation.
In the case of vegetable oils, short term exposure to sunlight may negatively compromise their quality by changing the levels of viscosity, peroxide, free fatty acids, relative density, refractive index, and iodine.
That means you should always store both oil types away from direct sunlight. It also helps to place the containers in a position that’s not exposed to other light sources, particularly if you’re storing olive oil because it’s also affected by white light.
Always Keep Bottle Caps Airtight to Maintain the Integrity of Your Oils
Oxygen is the enemy of oils in general, and you should protect both olive and vegetable oils from it by keeping the caps of your storage bottle airtight.
Also, avoid compromising the integrity of your oils with unsterilized items such as your fingers, cotton balls, or dirty utensils. Instead, always use a clean container to extract the precise amount you need for a particular application and avoid pouring back into the storage bottle oil that’s been exposed to dirt or weather elements.
Last on the list of similarities is the number of calories in equal amounts of vegetable and olive oils. In one tablespoon of either oil, there are about 120 calories.
In case it’s still not clear where we landed regarding whether olive oil is the same as vegetable oil, the short answer is No.
While the two types of oil share similarities in terms of the number of calories and storage guidelines, they’re different in terms of how they affect your health, source, types, smoke point, uses, and fat composition.
Hopefully, you’ll be able to use this information to make more informed decisions next time you’re shopping. Best of luck!