Your hunger for a chewy, gooey chocolate brownie is overwhelming, and it sends you to the pantry where a box of brownie mix stares you in the face. Being the good cook that you are, you immediately set out to lay out all the ingredients on the counter, only to discover that the vegetable oil the box’s recipe calls for is missing. Canola oil is what’s facing you, and worry sets in. Can you substitute canola oil for vegetable oil without destabilizing your brownies? The simple answer is – yes! In fact, canola oil is a type of vegetable oil with a distinct lineage, while vegetable oil is derived from a variety of sources. But both yield a neutral flavor and can be used interchangeably in baking.
Defining Vegetable Oil
Whether your bottle of vegetable oil comes from corn, soy, sunflowers or safflowers, a combination of the two, or all of the above, the fact is that vegetable oil is usually a mix of vegetable oils. This doesn’t affect its taste or the flavors it imparts, but it can throw off the balance of fats you’re ingesting.
Concerns about saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats figure into the health quotient of vegetable oil. For a heart-healthy diet, you're recommended to eat polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which help improve cholesterol levels, but avoid saturated fats. Not knowing what is in a particular vegetable oil clouds its viability as a “healthy” oil. It’s known in cooking circles as a “generic” oil because of its mixed properties.
Canola – Substitute for Vegetable Oil
In the 1980s, the U.S. food market was introduced to a new cooking oil touted as being low in saturated fat – the so-called "bad" fat. Canola oil, derived from the rapeseed plant, would actually improve your heart health, so said the advertisements, as it’s rich in omega-3 fat. In truth, canola oil does have less saturated fat than vegetable oil, but too much of a good thing may be a bad thing.
Used in moderation, canola oil is preferred over vegetable oil, but, according to Healthline, most canola oil is derived from genetically modified plants. It also contains very low levels of trans fat, the result of deodorization, the final step in refining all vegetable oils, according to Dr. Guy Crosby of the Harvard School of Public Health.
Back to the Brownies
Both vegetable and canola oils are neutral in flavor, unlike olive and nut oils, which have distinct flavors. Both have a fairly high smoke point, meaning they can be heated to a high temperature. This makes them both good candidates for your brownies or any other baking projects, whether they come out of a box or are made from scratch.
Checking for Freshness
Before you add the canola or vegetable oil to your brownies, give the bottle a sniff. Check to be sure the oil hasn’t turned rancid. If your bottle of oil has been stored too close to the heat, the sunshine or even the air, it can go bad. If you can, buy your oil in a bottle that’s tinted. A clear bottle lets light in and increases the chances of spoiling.
Store your oil in a dark pantry and try to avoid buying it in mass quantities. Smaller bottles may be less convenient, but you’ll replace them with fresher oil more often. A bottle of canola oil can be expected to last on the shelf for about one year. And if that “old crayon” smell hits you in the face when you uncap the bottle, toss it. Your brownies deserve the freshest oil you can buy.