Canola oil and olive oil are both popular oils, for very different reasons. Olive oil is seen as the healthier of the two, offering plenty of healthy fats and antioxidants, while canola oil isn’t as healthy, but is cheaper and easier to work with. Is that it for canola oil vs olive oil though?
In practice, there’s more to think about with both these oils. Did you know that there’s even expeller pressed canola oil, which is less processed than regular canola oil and has fewer risks? Or that olive oil is often counterfeited and may not match the claims on the bottle at all?
Such areas are why it’s so important to closely compare canola oil and olive oil. This way, you know exactly what to expect.
And, when you’re ready for some excellent olive oil, why not try and olive oil of the month club? These send delicious high quality olive oil out to you every month, often with tasting notes and other useful information. The clubs focus on quality too, so you know you’re getting the real deal.
Alternatively, you can buy Moroccan olive oil online. This is a particularly good type of olive oil that tastes amazing.
How Do Canola Oil And Olive Oil Compare?
Where They Come From
First, we need to talk about how the oil is produced. Olive oil comes from olives and canola oil comes from the canola plant, which is a variety of rapeseed. But, there’s more to it than that.
Let’s begin with olive oil. While we often assume that the oil is pressed straight from fresh olives, there are other steps along the way, including sorting and grinding.
Most modern olive oil isn’t even pressed. It tends to be centrifuged instead. Because of this, many oils that claim to be cold pressed are actually just cold extracted.
The centrifugation approach makes olive oil more processed than you might expect, but it’s still a pretty natural product. The same can’t be said for canola oil.
To make canola oil, the plant components first need to be crushed. It then goes through chemical extraction, often using a harsh solvent called hexane. This is followed by other refining steps that aim to create a clear oil with minimal aroma.
The Amount Of Processing
As you can see, canola oil goes through more processing and refinement than olive oil. This approach is concerning in many ways.
For one thing, the processing strips away many natural properties of canola oil. This includes decreasing the nutrient and antioxidant content.
Some of the chemicals used, including hexane, can leave residues in the oil. There’s little evidence that these residues actually impact human health, but it’s easy to see how they could.
The processing even plays with the structure and the stability of the oil. Here too, while there’s little proof that the approaches cause harm, the potential is there.
Let’s be realistic here.
Nutrition research is complicated. It’s tough to find the link between specific foods and health problems, as there are so many factors at play. This means that if canola oil does cause serious issues, it may take decades to figure this out.
Isn’t it better to be on the safe side and stick to more natural products? After all, there are plenty of less processed alternatives to canola oil.
Fat Content And Composition
Like most cooking oils, canola and olive oil contain around 120 calories per tablespoon and 14 grams of fat. This isn’t surprising, as they’re both almost pure fat.
The big difference is the fatty acid composition. Olive oil contains around 73% monounsaturated fats, 11% polyunsaturated fats, and 14% saturated fats. Canola oil is higher in polyunsaturated fat, while also containing less monounsaturated and less saturated fat.
So, what impact do these differences have?
Olive oil and canola oil are both low in saturated fat. This is important, as saturated fat is thought to raise heart disease risk. This is why we’re often told to replace saturated fat with monounsaturated fat rich foods.
Canola oil is the winner here, so it might be the oil of choice if you want to keep saturated fat intake as low as possible. Even so, while olive oil is higher in saturated fat, it is considered a heart healthy oil and could decreases heart disease risk.
Then there are the monounsaturated fats. This is where olive oil shines, as more than 70% of its fats are monounsaturated.
Oleic acid is the most famous of these fats. There’s a lot of it in olive oil and the fat may be responsible for many benefits, including decreased inflammation and lower cholesterol levels.
Canola oil comes in at around 64% monounsaturated fats instead. This is still pretty good, although the oil contains less oleic acid.
Then there’s the polyunsaturated fat. Olive oil only contains around 11% polyunsaturated fat, while canola oil gets up to 28%.
Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids both fall into the polyunsaturated category. Canola oil does offer a decent amount of omega 3, in the form of alpha linolenic acid (ALA). ALA isn’t as powerful as the omega 3s found in animal products, but it still has some benefits and is crucial for vegetarians.
Canola oil is also high in omega 6, which is less appealing.
While omega 6 itself is a healthy fat. It’s also problematic because modern diets tend to include too much omega 6 and not enough omega 3. Having a high ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 may increase inflammation, which then raises the risk of many health problems.
Canola oil contains roughly twice as much omega 6 as omega 3, which is actually a good ratio. However, because canola oil is used so often and omega 3 intake is usually low, canola oil can easily raise omega 6 levels too high.
Nutrients And Antioxidants
Canola oil does contain some nutrients, including vitamin K and vitamin E, along with antioxidants. However, the refining processes strip away many of these healthy compounds, leaving you with a largely featureless oil.
In contrast, olive oil retains most of its nutrients and plant-based compounds, including antioxidants. This makes it much more powerful for health.
The antioxidants and monounsaturated fats mean that olive oil could easily decrease inflammation and promote health. In contrast, the omega 6 content of canola oil could lead to increased inflammation instead.
The Flavor Profile
Olive oil can have a fairly strong flavor, especially if you choose extra virgin olive oil. While many people love the taste, it does make the oil a little less versatile, especially in recipes with nuanced flavors.
Some products are much milder. These are often marketed as light taste, extra light taste, or mellow. However, the decrease in flavor is normally because the oil has been refined or because it has been mixed with other types of oil.
Canola oil is quite different. It’s always flavorless, which makes it incredibly versatile. The mild flavor is also why canola is such a popular cooking oil.
Cooking With The Oils
The smoke point of a cooking oil is literally the temperature where it starts smoking. You don’t want this to happen, as it can produce some harmful compounds, mess with the flavor of your meal, and smoke up your kitchen.
Despite popular assumptions, the smoke point of olive oil isn’t that low. Even extra virgin olive oil falls somewhere between 350°F and 410°F, while refined olive oil often has a smoke point of more than 450°F. Canola oil is often around 400°F, sometimes up to 450°F. This means that you can easily fry with olive oil and canola oil.
So, canola oil does have a better smoke point than extra virgin olive oil, but the difference isn’t really that dramatic.
The slightly high smoke point seems to make canola oil a much better choice for high heat cooking. However, we need to talk about oxidation as well.
Regardless of whether they reach their smoke point or not, fats can start to oxidize while they cook. This oxidation may be dangerous. Canola oil is particularly concerning here, as it’s often used for deep frying, yet the oil oxidizes easily.
Olive oil follows a different pattern. It has a lower smoke point, yet it is resistant to oxidation. The oxidative stability actually makes olive oil one of the safest oils to cook with.
Storage And Shelf Life
An unopened bottle of canola oil should last around 12 to 24 months. Even an opened bottle can last around a year if kept in the pantry.
Unopened olive oil has a similar shelf life, although this is counted from when it’s bottled, not from when you buy it. Some products may last longer, perhaps even three to four years.
Once opened, olive oil should be used within six months. However, it’s best to use it within the first month or two, as this is when it will taste the best.
In both cases, the oil is best stored in a cool dark place. Olive oil is often sold in dark glass bottles to help retain the flavor and quality. You can get similar benefits by transferring canola oil into bottles like this.
Potential Genetic Modification
Canola oil faces one issue that doesn’t affect olive oil at all – the potential for genetic modification. The vast majority of canola grown in the United States is genetically modified. So, canola oil will often rely on genetically modified ingredients.
The impacts of genetic modification are heavily debated. While researchers haven’t proven any serious negative effects, many people choose to avoid genetically modified foods anyway. This may be a prudent move, as any issues may take years or even decades to identify.
Seriously, there are plenty of non genetically modified foods. Why bother with foods that have been messed with like this?
It’s often assumed that canola oil is always genetically modified, as it is produced from a specific variety of rapeseed plants. However, this rapeseed variety wasn’t produced through genetic engineering. It was created using traditional selective breeding approaches instead.
Which Oil Is Better?
If you want a versatile oil for cooking, the minimal flavor and high smoke point makes canola oil the clear winner. It’s also much more affordable than olive oil.
But, that’s as far as it goes. Despite the low saturated fat content, canola oil isn’t that healthy at all. Not only is the oil highly refined, but it also goes through hexane extraction and often relies on genetically engineered canola. The omega 6 content of the oil can be a problem as well, especially if you’re consuming a large amount regularly.
These differences make olive oil the clear winner of the two.
Should You Avoid Canola Oil?
Ultimately this is up to you. Many people choose to steer clear of refined vegetable oils and focus on natural products instead. After all, there’s so much we don’t know about how chemical processing impacts our health. Relying on natural products instead feels like a much safer approach.
However, there isn’t much proof that canola oil causes health problems. Even if it does, most issues will be linked to very high levels of consumption. If you’re only using canola oil occasionally, it’s not likely to cause any negative effects at all.
Video: Top 10 cooking Oils: The Good, Bad, & Toxic
What About Expeller Pressed Canola Oil?
Expeller pressed canola oil is rare and more expensive than regular canola oil. As the name suggests, this is produced using physical methods, rather than harsh chemicals. The approach gives you a more natural oil that avoids some of the issues that we talked about earlier.
Most companies that make this type of oil are strongly focused on creating a natural product. Because of this, expeller pressed canola oil will often be GMO free and even organic.
The main issue that remains is the omega 6 content. This can be a problem if you’re consuming large amounts of omega 6 and not much omega 3. However, if your diet is more balanced, the omega 6 content isn’t a big deal.
There’s a lot going on with olive oil and canola oil.
The bottom line is that both types of oil have their place. Olive oil is clearly the winner for health, but it’s also much more expensive and the flavor doesn’t work well in all situations.
If finances are tight, you could buy olive oil for dishes where it shines, including salad dressings and for serving with bread, but use canola oil for high heat cooking.
Don’t forget that these are only two options. There are plenty of other cooking oils out there, including coconut oil, avocado oil, and plain old butter. These have some similarities to olive and canola oil, along with plenty of differences.