The most popular olive oil choice is Extra Virgin (also known as EVOO) and made from pressed olives. It’s this primary squeeze that delivers the most raw goodness of the fruit, so when you can, EVOO is the best choice. Not only is it more robust in flavour, it contains the most antioxidants.
If you prefer a lighter flavour then virgin olive oil is your next best option. It’s the second press of the olive and is usually lighter in colour as well as flavour.
Olive oil is by far the superior oil for cooking due to its versatility – you can cook with it, use it in salad dressings or even just mop it up with some crusty bread. But when olive oil isn’t available, here are the best alternatives.
The Top 8 substitutes for olive oil
- Peanut Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Walnut oil
- Sunflower oil
- Canola oil
- Vegetable Oil
1. Vegetable oil
This is your bog standard, cooking oil that’s available in every supermarket for a couple of dollars. It sounds harmless – it’s made from vegetables, right? Well, no. Vegetable oil is mostly made from soybeans but will include a mix of canola and sunflower. What you should know about vegetable oil is it’s gone through a number of harsh chemical processes to reduce its rancidity (so it can stay on the shelf longer), and is likely to contain trans fatty acids (not good for you).
Best for: Unless this is your only choice, it's best to not substitute extra virgin or any type of olive oil with vegetable oil.
2. Sunflower oil
Made from the pressed seed of the sunflower, this oil is rich in oleic acid as long as you choose one that’s specifically 70% or more. As with olive oil, you get what you pay for. Cheaper supermarket varieties will be harvested and processed in such a way that removes much of the goodness of the original seed.
Melrose Organic Sunflower Oil costs $12.95 and is expeller-pressed to retain all the goodness. Light in flavour, sunflower oil is a great olive oil alternative, provided you choose a premium brand.
Best for: General cooking.
3. Peanut oil
The most popular oil in Asian cooking, peanut oil has very little flavour and is great for cooking at high temperatures. Peanut oil is one of the few oils that contains no cholesterol but as with vegetable oil, it can be highly processed and may contain peanut allergens. As a substitute for olive oil, this one is best for baking or pan frying.
Best for: Stir fries, curries, Asian dressings and marinades.
4. Canola oil
Canola, or rapeseed oil, is made from pressed canola seeds. It’s cheap to grow and therefore readily available, but know this: another form of rapeseed oil is used to make diesel fuel. So, if you’re an olive oil lover and are looking for a healthy alternative, canola is probably not for you. This type of oil is best kept to deep fat frying only.
Best for: deep fat frying.
5. Walnut oil
Like olive oil, walnut oil is a great source of poly and monounsaturated fats – the good kind. Made purely from crushed walnuts, it’s fairly thick and has a light nutty taste. When you heat walnut oil it can become slightly bitter so save it for salad.
Best for: salad dressing.
6. Coconut oil
Currently reigning supreme in the cooking oil department (particularly among vegan chefs), coconut oil has become a new kitchen staple.
It can be used for everything from roasting to frying and is a key ingredient in raw cakes and desserts (not something you can do with olive oil!), however is high in saturated fat.
Coconut oil works well with curry dishes but if you’re cooking something more traditional like a shepherd’s pie, then you’d be better off using butter.
Best for: high temperature frying; cookies, cakes, biscuits.
With a higher smoke point than butter, ghee (clarified butter) is considered a superior cooking oil to butter and is often used in Indian recipes. Much like butter, it melts quickly and adds a creamy butteriness to your food.
Ayurvedic medicine considers ghee to be a health tonic and is often recommended for people with an out of balance Vata dosha; it’s even said to help heal the digestive system. So, Ghee is another great cooking alternative to olive oil.
Best for: pan frying, Indian cooking.
Butter has a slightly lower cooking point to olive oil and burns more easily so it’s not quite as versatile as a cooking oil. However, butter will add a richness to your food and works well in pasta sauces and roasting.
Cooking garlic and tomato in a knob of butter with give your sauce a lovely richness. It’s also high in fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K2 so don’t be afraid to use it as an olive oil replacement.
Best for: baking, roasting, cookies, cakes, pan frying.