Olive oil has a reputation for being the "healthy oil" since it's rich in monounsaturated fats and some antioxidants. Good olive oils also have a pleasant flavor and aroma that compliment many dishes.
However, olive oil has a relatively low smoke point, making it less ideal for cooking methods requiring high heat like pan-searing and high-heat stir fries. There are also times when you may not want want the assertive flavor of olive oil in your dish or when its cost makes it less than ideal to use in cooking.
For these times, there's vegetable oil. This is really a general category of oil that encompasses canola oil, grapeseed oil, and peanut oil, among others. Most vegetable oils have a higher smoke point and are better for high-temperature cooking. Canola and grapeseed also have less assertive flavors and are good to use for things like searing meat, making mayonnaise, and even popping popcorn.
In summary, use olive oil when you want its flavor in a dish and for moderate-heat cooking. Choose a vegetable oil when you want a cleaner flavor and for high-heat cooking.
If you find yourself out of the oil called for in your recipe, we've found these oils can be used interchangeably the majority of the time. For safety reasons, just pay attention to your heat when cooking with olive oil.
Do you find that you usually use one oil or the other when cooking?
(Image: Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)