Soybean Oil Versus Canola Oil

In the cooking oil section of a typical grocery store, two of the most common products are canola oil and soybean oil (typically labeled as “vegetable oil”). If you’re looking for an all purpose cooking oil, it can be difficult to choose between the two. To help you out, here is how these two popular cooking oils compare to each other.

Soybean Oil

Soybean oil is extracted from the seeds of the soybean plant. This process involves cleaning, drying, de-hulling, and cracking the seeds (beans). They are then heated, rolled into flakes, and subjected to a solvent, usually hexane, to extract the oil. The oil is purified, blended for various applications and often hydrogenated to increase its stability and thickness. Unfortunately, the hydrogenation also increases the saturated and trans fat content of the oil.

Soybean oil is perhaps the most widely used cooking oil. It is used in margarine, mayonnaise, salad dressing, sauces, and a wide variety of baked and processed foods. Most cooking oils that are simply labeled “vegetable oil” are made from soybean oil. Soybean oil is also used as animal feed, as a base for printing inks, and for oil paints. Soybean oil has a relatively high smoke point of 440°F to 475°F, depending on level of refinement, making it a popular oil for frying.

Canola Oil

Canola oil is made from rapeseed, an oilseed plant that has been cultivated since ancient times as a fuel source. In the 1970’s, Canadian plant scientists came out with a genetically modified version of rapeseed that produces an oil with a different nutritional profile and much less erucic acid than oil derived from the naturally occurring plant. The resulting oil was dubbed “Canola” which stands for “Canadian oil, low acid”.

Canola oil is commonly used in frying, with a smoke point that ranges from 425°F to 475°F depending on level of refinement. It is also used for marinades, salad dressings, margarine, in recipes that call for vegetable oil, and to grease cake pans and cookie sheets. Non-food uses for canola oil include animal feed, industrial lubricants, biofuels, candles, lipsticks, and newspaper inks.

Taste Differences

Both canola oil and soybean oil have a bland flavor which makes it easy to incorporate them into a number of dishes without greatly altering the taste. However, canola oil has a tendency to produce a disagreeable fishy odor when used for frying at high temperatures.

Health Considerations

Soybean oil has a higher saturated fat content (15%) and lower monounsaturated fat content (25%) than canola oil, making it slightly less heart healthy. Canola oil is considered one of the healthiest of the cooking oils due to its low saturated fat content (7%), high monounsaturated fat content (63%) and beneficial omega-3 fatty acid profile. When selecting soybean oil, be wary of the partially hydrogenated varieties as they typically contain unhealthy trans fat.

Shelf Life

Canola oil and soybean oil both have a shelf life of about one year. Optimally, they should be stored in a dry and dark location away from heat.