When a recipe calls for olive oil, you can’t automatically substitute grapeseed oil. Although both have relatively high smoke points, olive oil has a distinct flavor, while grapeseed oil is a little more neutral in flavor. Olive oil gets lots of positive health press, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for all cooking applications.

One of the primary differences between the oils is their fruit of origin and processing.

  • Extra-virgin olive oil: Olive oil is pressed from olive fruit. Extra virgin oil is a result of the first press. These oils often have very distinct flavors prized by chefs and connoisseurs. 
  • Refined olive oil: Olive oil labeled without any distinction, such as extra-virgin or virgin, is most likely refined. This means it was subjected to a process of bleaching, filtering or high temperatures to extract extra compounds to create a more neutral-flavored oil that can last on the shelf without going rancid too quickly. 
  • Grapeseed oil: Vintners make grapeseed oil from the seeds of grapes left over from wine making. Grapeseed oil, most often, is refined. 

Grapeseed oil has almost no distinct flavor, making it a natural to blend into homemade mayonnaise, salad dressings and marinades in which you want the thickening and greasing power of oil, without any flavor. Some chefs intend to include the buttery notes of olive oil, though, to flavor their dishes.

  • Extra-virgin olive oil makes a tasty dip for crusty Italian bread, a drizzle over homemade pizza or pasta, a swirl over hummus or a topping for roasted vegetables. 
  • Grapeseed oil provides a good option for sauteing and pan searing meats, tofu and vegetables. 
  • Refined olive oil can also be used to saute and pan fry

Tips

Refined olive oil doesn’t have much flavor as extra-virgin varieties so avoid using it for drizzles, dressings and bread dip.

Every type of cooking fat has a point at which it smokes and burns — known as its smoke point. Cooking in an oil when it passes its smoke point can result in burned tasting foods and may increase the amount of harmful chemicals it produces. Smoke points of these oils:

  • refined olive oil, 465 F
  • grapeseed oil, 390 F
  • and extra-virgin olive oil,

    325 to 375 F. 

If you want a smoking hot pan to sear filet mignon or breaded chicken cutlets, refined olive oil or grapeseed is a better choice. Extra-virgin olive oil is appropriate for a light saute of vegetables — but it can’t get hot enough to produce a satisfying crust on meats.

Although some chefs claim that neither olive oil or grapeseed oil is appropriate for deep-fat frying, which is best done with oils that can tolerate at least 50 degrees F more than your recipe calls for, noted chef Mark Bittman claims otherwise. Refined or pure — not extra-virgin — olive oil works for most recipes that call for frying at 350 degrees F and below. Grapeseed oil can also tolerate these temperatures.

Tips

For stir fries, in which you want a sizzlingly hot pan, safflower or peanut oil — not grapeseed or any type of olive oil — work best.