Ingredient Intelligence

The Best Olive Oil Substitutes — And When to Use Them

published Jul 7, 2022
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Someone dipping bread into olive oil.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

The flavor of olive oil is truly unique. With flavors ranging from buttery and sweet to grassy or spicy and bold, it’s no wonder so many chefs and home cooks keep olive oil stocked in their pantries. Not to mention, olive oil is heart-healthy due to its high percentage of monounsaturated fatty acids.

But what if you run out of olive oil? The best olive oil substitutes depend on what you want to cook. The replacement you need will vary based on whether you’re whisking together a salad dressing, dipping crusty bread, or sautéing. Here are the best olive oil substitutions — and when to use them.

The Best Olive Oil Substitutions for Drizzling and Dipping

Here, we’ll talk about substitutions for extra-virgin olive oil. Extra-virgin olive oil, or EVOO, is an unrefined product with a low smoke point (meaning it burns quickly and tastes best unheated). Typically, if you’re looking for an EVOO swap, it’s for dipping bread, or drizzling — over soups, salads, grain bowls, ice cream, grilled meat, and more. 

Substituting nut oil (like hazelnut oil or walnut oil) for olive oil

Like extra-virgin olive oil, nut oils like hazelnut oil and walnut oil have an assertive flavor that should be enjoyed without heating. These are excellent choices for dipping bread or drizzling over bruschetta. Try using nut oils in pestos for a spin on the classic basil + EVOO combo. You may even find yourself reaching for these bottles long after you’ve replaced the extra-virgin olive oil; hazelnut oil in particular is versatile and surprisingly good in sweet recipes, like fruit salads.

Substituting unrefined seed oils (like pumpkin seed and butternut squash seed) for olive oil

Look for words like “toasted” on the label to signify that these have maximum flavor. Pumpkin seed oil is a great choice for drizzling and dipping — especially in the fall and winter months. Its dark green hue adds a pop of color to whatever you’re serving. 

The Best Olive Oil Substitutions for Salad Dressings, Marinades, and Sauces

Extra-virgin olive oil is a popular choice for salad dressings and uncooked sauces, thanks to its strong flavor profile. But an oil with too much flavor can be a detractor to the other ingredients; that’s why some chefs choose to make vinaigrettes and sauces with other oils.

Follow this rule of thumb: If you want the oil to add texture and body to a dressing, go for neutral-tasting oils like grapeseed. If you want the oil to be the star of the show, choose a strong and/or toasted oil (such a peanut, or even one of the seed oils listed above).

Substituting grapeseed oil for olive oil

Grapeseed oil is tasteless and odorless and affordable, which makes it a darling in restaurant kitchens. Use it for just about everything from big batches of salad dressings and marinades to cooking methods like shallow frying and sautéeing. The only place it doesn’t excel is as a dip or finishing oil.

Substituting peanut oil for olive oil

Peanut oil has an assertive scent and distinctive flavor. While it won’t fool anyone into thinking it’s EVOO, this nutty-tasting oil is superior in sauces and marinades with bold flavor profiles. It also has a high smoke point of 450°F, making it a smart choice for stir-fries and deep-frying. 

The Best Olive Oil Substitutions for Cooking

While it’s not recommended to sear with EVOO (it’s that 350°F smoke point), pure or regular olive oil has a lighter flavor and slightly higher heat tolerance. If you need an olive oil swap for cooking, consider the heat level before choosing one of these following ingredients.

Substituting avocado oil for olive oil

With a truly impressive smoke point of 520°F, refined avocado oil is made from the pits of avocados. Like olive oil, it is high in those friendly monounsaturated fats — and it’s shelf-stable, meaning you can store it right in the pantry once it’s been opened. Additionally, avocado oil has a buttery and rich taste, which makes it one of the best all-around substitutions for olive oil.

Substituting vegetable oil for olive oil

A bottle of oil simply labeled as “vegetable oil” may be a blend of refined seeds or other agricultural products, such as soybeans. These oils are tasteless, inexpensive, and available at just about every grocery store. Their smoke point lands in the low 400s, which makes them good for sautéing and roasting. Like all oils, vegetable oil will spoil over time; this process is sped up if left in a hot place, such as next to the stove. If your bottle of veg oil has been kicking around for years, give it a sniff before using. If it smells rancid, toss it and choose another substitute.

Substituting coconut oil for olive oil

Want to add rich, fruity flavor to your stir-fry, curry, or sauté? Try coconut oil. Confused about all of the options on your grocery shelves? Remember this: Unrefined coconut oil has a stronger coconutty flavor and lower smoke point. Refined coconut oil is milder and can be heated more aggressively. Unlike olive oil, this fat is solid at room temperature. Skip this option if you’re hoping for a Mediterranean flavor — coconut is best suited for recipes of African, Southeast Asian, and Pacific origin. It’s nice in baked goods, too.

Substituting butter for olive oil

Butter burns at high temperatures, but when heated gently, it adds a similarly rich, sweet flavor to roasted veggies or cooked grains. Of course, it’s pretty great in the first category — as a condiment for bread — too.