Ingredient Intelligence

What’s the Difference Between Corn Oil, Canola Oil, and Vegetable Oil?

published Sep 1, 2022
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Someone holding a bottle of vegetable oil.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

Corn oil, canola oil, and vegetable oil all not only look very similar, but they’re also used in quite similar ways, too. So it can be difficult to know what makes them different. Additionally, all of these oils are considered “neutral oils,” which means they have little to no noticeable flavor.

“Almost every culture has a neutral-tasting seed or nut oil, because cooks don’t always want fat to flavor a dish,” writes Samin Nosrat in her book, Salt Fat Acid Heat. Other neutral-by-design oils used across the globe include avocado, safflower, and peanut oils.

To navigate the differences between corn, canola, vegetable oils, first consider their base ingredients. Corn oil, as you might have guessed, is sourced from corn kernels, canola oil comes from the rapeseed plant, and vegetable oils can contain an array of plant-based components. 

How we extract oil from these ingredients affects the characteristics of and best uses for corn, canola, and vegetable oils.

What Is Corn Oil?

Golden corn oil is extracted from the germ, or innermost portion, of a corn kernel. It has a mild and roasty flavor, thanks to its titular ingredient. It’s an excellent frying and grilling oil because it has a high smoke point of 450°F. (The smoke point is the amount of heat a cooking oil can withstand before it starts to smoke and decompose.)

How to Cook with Corn Oil

Corn oil is slightly more flavorful than canola and vegetable oils, and has a higher smoke point. Use corn oil when preparing fried foods, homemade condiments, or baked goods where subtle notes of corn are welcome, such as the following recipes:

What Is Canola Oil?

Mild-tasting canola oil comes from the rapeseed plant, a member of the same family as mustard, turnips, and kale. Created by Canadian scientists, its name is a combination of “Canada” and a derivation of “oleum,” the Latin word for oil. Canola oil has a smoke point of 400°F, which is lower than corn oil but still suitable for frying. By means of comparison, extra-virgin olive oil has a smoke point of 325°F. 

How to Cook with Canola Oil

With its high smoke point and neutral flavor, canola oil is a great candidate for baked goods and fried foods. You can use canola oil interchangeably with corn and vegetable oil in most recipes.

What Is Vegetable Oil?

Vegetable oil can be made from one or a blend of different plant-based oils, including safflower, corn, and canola, but most commercially available vegetable oils contain at least some soybean oil. (Soybean is the most consumed edible oil in the U.S. — by a large margin.)

Vegetable oil has the same smoke point as canola oil, 400°F, and can be used interchangeably in many of the same recipes, including baked goods and deep- or stir-fried dishes.

How to Cook with Vegetable Oil

Feel free to swap vegetable oil for corn and canola oils in most recipes, including the following: