Dear Home Ec 101,
If a recipe calls for vegetable oil, is extra virgin olive oil a suitable replacement or is there a specific reason for vegetable oil?
Slick in Slatesville
It depends on the recipe in question. In baking, oils are often specified for their lack of taste, so for baking it depends mostly on the quality of the oil you are using. If your extra virgin olive oil is the generic store brand, it may not be the best oil for the job. High quality extra virgin olive oil should be just fine. There is good news, in late October olive oil will have stricter labeling standards so this should be of less concern.
For marinades, salad dressings, and savory sauces, extra virgin olive oil is a fantastic substitute for vegetable oil and may even be preferable. When it comes to frying and sauteing it depends on the manufacturer and the quality of the oil. The oil listed in fried recipes is often chosen for its smoke point. High quality extra virgin olive oil can have a very high smoke point above 400°F (204°C), but lesser quality versions can be significantly lower in the 220°F (104°C) range, which is much too low to use for frying. Use your judgment when making your decision.
Before anyone flips out about how oils break down at high temperatures becoming <scary hand motions> toxic </scary hand motions> keep in mind that the temperature of the oven or burner is not the actual temperature of the food. Just because the oven says 350°F does not mean the oil inside the cupakes is 350°F degrees. That is the temperature of the air, if your cupcakes reached 350°F degrees, it would be a sad, burnt mess. Those of you with professional grade equipment need to be slightly more concerned than those of us schlumps with standard home grade appliances.
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