When you start cooking any recipe, the first instruction you’ll usually find yourself tasked with is adding oil to a pan. But oils aren’t only good for frying in. They can also be used as a base of a delicious salad dressing or salsa. Some can even be used as a vegan substitute for butter in baking.
We’re all familiar with the most popular oils, such as oil, rapeseed, and sunflower. But there are loads of different types of oils to choose from too, and each is different in color and flavor.
This variety means that you’ll always be able to match an oil perfectly to further enhance the flavor of your ingredients.
However, when you’re following a vegan lifestyle, the flavor of your chosen oil has to be the second most important thing you consider. Your first concern needs to be whether or not the oil is vegan-friendly. That’s right, smoking points, nutritional value, and taste don’t count for a thing if it’s not vegan.
But who has the time to thoroughly research an oil before adding it to their shopping cart?! To help make things easier, we’ll take a look at three of the most popular cooking oils and their vegan credentials below.
So, are olive, sunflower, and vegetable oils vegan? Let’s find out!
Is Olive Oil Vegan?
Let’s start with arguably the most popular oil of all - olive oil. This delicious oil is a staple of all Mediterranean dishes and has been used for hundreds of years in Italy, Spain, Greece, and a plethora of other countries all over the world. Its use in the United States has increased significantly over the last 30 years as well.
However, the million-dollar question remains. Is olive oil vegan?
Yes, olive oil is 100% vegan. Since it is derived solely from olives, it contains no animal products and, therefore, is completely vegan-friendly.
Olive oil is also made from both green and black olives, and one bottle may contain multiple olive varieties. Most commonly these are Arbequina, Koroneiki, Mission, and Arbosana. There are also some unique olive oils that are made from different varieties of olive, but these tend to come with a much larger price tag!
It may also surprise you to learn that an astonishing 90% of the world’s annual olive harvest goes into making olive oil! But, regardless of the price or the grade of the variety you choose, the fact remains that olive oil is totally vegan.
How Is Olive Oil Made?
Although there are centuries of history surrounding olive oil, the way that it is produced has changed very little. The starting point is just after the harvest. If you’ve ever visited a Mediterranean country and seen fields of olive trees with a sea of netting suspended just underneath the branches, this is to catch the olives when they naturally fall and when they are shaken from their trees.
Once the olives have been collected, they are placed in a receptacle and crushed whole. Traditionally this would have been done in a wooden barrel but, as technology has evolved and the demand for olive oil has increased, this is now usually done using machinery.
It doesn’t take very long to squeeze oil out of an olive, as about 30% of its flesh contains pure oil. Once crushed, the olive oil is pushed through a fine sieve or some muslin to separate it from the flesh and the stones, and the final product is born.
Since the production of olive oil doesn’t depend on any animal labor, its vegan credentials go up even more! There are also no animal-based additives or ingredients added to it. Olive oil is exactly what it claims to be - 100% oil extracted from olives.
Is Olive Oil Healthy?
There’s a lot of debate surrounding the question of whether olive oil is healthy or not. To look at this in a little more detail, we first need to understand the concept of ‘good fats’ and ‘bad fats’.
To put things into the simplest terms possible, ‘good fats’ are foods that contain unsaturated fats while ‘bad fats’ contain saturated fat. Take a look at this list of foods that contain both types of fat below:
Good Fats (Unsaturated Fats)
Bad Fats (Saturated Fats)
A good way to tell the difference between the two when it comes to looking at oils is to note that oils that are produced from foods containing unsaturated fats remain liquid at room temperature. This is because they have fewer hydrogen atoms.
Generally speaking, plant-based fats are much healthier than animal-based fats and, since olive oil falls into this category, it is one of the healthiest oils you can cook with or add to any dish. In fact, more than 85% of olive oil’s fat content is unsaturated.
Of course, as with all things, olive oil should be enjoyed and used in moderation, but it certainly cannot be labeled as unhealthy.
The Seven Countries Study
There has been a lot of research behind the health benefits of olive oil too, most notably in the Seven Countries Study. In this study, researchers wanted to know whether “the rate of coronary disease in populations and individuals would vary in relation to their physical characteristics and lifestyle, particularly in fat composition of the diet and serum cholesterol levels.”
This interest stemmed from the fact that people living in Mediterranean countries, Greece, in particular, consumed a diet that would be considered ‘high in fat’, yet there were very few incidents of coronary issues, such as heart disease.
Their research led them to a small Greek Island named “Ikaria”. The total diet of the people living on this island consisted of 6% olive oil which was originally considered to be quite high. Of course, their diets also consisted of fresh vegetables and lean proteins, but the main takeaway was that the olive oil they used to cook with was a clear part of the residents’ good health and increased longevity.
How Is Olive Oil Used?
Not only is it vegan and undeniably healthy, but there are a huge variety of ways you can use olive oil. In fact, it would be fair to say that its versatility is almost unrivaled in the oil world.
It is most commonly used for softening ingredients, such as onions and garlic, right at the beginning of a recipe. But the unique flavor of olive oil also makes it a great base for creating zingy salad dressings, and it’s equally as delicious when used as a dip for bread alongside balsamic vinegar.
The flavor of olive can differ depending on the variety of olives used in its creation, but the most notable flavors across the board include grass, herbs, pepper, and tropical fruits.
It is worth noting, however, that olive oil has quite a low smoking point. This means it isn’t the best choice for frying, but if you’re trying to keep things as healthy as possible you’re unlikely to be frying food anyway!
If there’s one downside to olive oil, it’s that it is potentially one of the most expensive oils available. This is especially true when you look at the price of virgin and extra virgin olive oils. But, for its vegan-friendliness and health benefits, it’s certainly a price worth paying.
Is Sunflower Oil Vegan?
Aside from the fact sunflower oil is created from seeds rather than fruits, there isn’t much that separates it from olive oil in terms of its creation. And, with that in mind, we can definitely say that sunflower oil is vegan.
This doesn’t only mean that it's suitable for cooking with if you’re following a vegan diet, but also makes it easier to determine which snakes are vegan, too. Potato chips, for example, are often fried in sunflower oil which, depending on the rest of their ingredients, makes them a vegan-friendly choice!
The production of sunflower oil is much newer than olive oil, and this is mainly because sunflowers didn’t really come into fashion until the 16th century. However, as more and more people grew sunflower, more sunflower seeds became available and sunflower oil was soon created.
How Is Sunflower Oil Made?
Unlike olive oil, sunflower oil is made from the seeds of the flower rather than the fruit produced. Oils that are created from seeds are far more common than those produced from fruits, however, sunflower seeds are one of the highest oil-producing seeds on the planet.
To give you a better idea of a sunflower seed’s oil levels, take a look at this comparison chart below:
As you can see, almost half of a sunflower seed’s mass contains oil, which makes extracting it much easier than most other seeds. The way it’s extracted is usually done in one of two different ways; heat-pressed and cold-pressed.
Let’s take a look at heat-pressed sunflower oil, first of all. During this process, the sunflower seeds are subjected to solvents and high temperatures of around 302ºF which draw the oil out of the seed. This is the quickest way to produce sunflower oil and is also the most commonly used method, however, there is some argument that it affects the taste and nutritional value of the oil.
Cold pressing is a more traditional method for extracting oil from sunflower seeds and, as its name suggests, does not require any high temperatures. Instead, a special piece of manually-operated machinery squeezes the oil from the seed using heat produced by friction pressure.
This heat has a much lower temperature than that used in heat-pressed sunflower oil and, as a result, the flavor and nutritional value are better retained.
But what nutritional value does sunflower oil have? Well, to start with, it’s a great source of Vitamin E. It also has multiple B Vitamins, Iron, and is an excellent source of protein for anybody following a vegan lifestyle. It’s also unrefined, so it’s a super healthy option and is a good alternative to olive oil when you’re frying foods as it has a higher smoking point,
How Is Sunflower Oil Used
Perhaps unsurprisingly, sunflowers are now one of the most farmed plants in the world. This is because of the huge demand for sunflower oil, and it is used in almost every country in some way. Cooking and frying are the obvious uses, but how else is sunflower oil used?
It can be used as an alternative to olive oil when you’re creating a salad dressing. It may even be a better option in some cases, and it has much more of a neutral flavor, so it will allow the other ingredients in your dressing and in the salad itself to shine through.
Sunflower can also be used as a fantastic way to add some extra vitamins and protein to a vegan smoothie. It can even be used as a natural, vegan-friendly beauty product and will restore moisture to your skin and hair.
Whatever you decide to use sunflower oil for, the fact remains that it is totally vegan and should definitely be a part of any vegan diet.
Is Vegetable Oil Vegan?
Vegetable oil is notorious for causing a little confusion over whether or not it is vegan since it is so generically named. What vegetables do vegetable oil actually contain? And are any animal products or animal labor used in its production?
Allow us to answer the most common question that everybody wants the answer to; Is vegetable oil vegan? Yes, it is. While the formulation of vegetable oil can come from different sources, it is always made from vegetables and, therefore, it’s vegan.
How Is Vegetable Oil Made?
Before we get into the full details of how vegetable oil is made, let’s clear up any concerns about animal labor used in its production. Since the oils are extracted directly from the source, there is no need for animal-labor. Instead, machinery is used to produce vegetable oil, adding to its vegan-friendliness.
Expeller-pressing is the most commonly used extraction method for creating vegetable oils, which essentially crushes the oils out of the vegetables. This is the same method used for making olive oil, coconut oil, and other fruit or plant-based oils.
Different Vegetable Oils And Their Vegan Credentials
As we’ve mentioned above, vegetable oil is created using different types of vegetables. This is why it’s so generically named in comparison to olive oil or sunflower oil. However, there are two ingredients that are most commonly used to produce vegetable oil; soybeans and canola.
Below, we’ll look at each of these and explore their vegan credentials in a little more detail.
Soybeans are plants and, therefore, soybean oil is 100% vegan. The oil itself comes from soybeans seeds and it is produced by cracking the seeds and heating them to 190ºF. These cracked, heated seeds are then rolled and the oil is chemically extracted.
Soybean oil is the most common oil labeled as ‘vegetable oil’, and it is also used as an additive in many foods. However, the main thing you need to know is that soybean oil (and, therefore vegetable oil) is completely vegan.
Canola is a member of the cabbage family, and it produces a bright yellow flower. It’s from this flower that canola oil is produced and, as such, it is also 100% vegan.
The production of canola oil follows the same cracking and heating process as soybean oil, and this means that there is no animal labor involved in producing it.
One of the best things about canola oil, and certainly one of the reasons why it’s used as vegetable oil, is that it is totally flavorless. This makes it an ideal choice for all cooking situations as it won’t affect the natural flavor of the rest of your ingredients.
There is one exception to the universal vegan-friendliness of vegetable oil, and this is any vegetable oil that has been made using palm oil. While it is technically vegan because it comes from the fruit produced by the palm tree, there are some ethical issues surrounding palm oil.
The biggest of these is deforestation. Thousands of acres of rainforest have been cleared to make way for palm oil farms and, as such, the natural habitat of many species has been destroyed. This has most famously affected the Bornean orangutan.
With this in mind, vegetable oil made from on containing palm oil should be avoided by anybody following a vegan lifestyle.
Palm oil is also incredibly unhealthy and half the mass of a palm fruit contains a huge 50% of saturated fat. This is another reason to avoid it, even if you’re not strictly vegan.
Is Rapeseed Oil Vegan?
Another oil you may notice as you trawl the aisles of your grocery store is rapeseed oil. As its name suggests, rapeseed oil comes from the rape plant (otherwise known as Brassica napus) and it belongs to the same family as canola oil.
Since this oil comes from the seed, rapeseed oil can also be considered vegan. It’s also one of the oldest oils in the world and predates sunflower oil by about 6,000 years!
Is Rapeseed Oil Healthy?
There has been a steady increase in demand for rapeseed oil over the past few years, and the main reason for this is the health benefits associated with it. To begin with, it has the lowest levels of saturated fats in any cooking oil as well as incredibly high numbers of monounsaturated fats.
This makes it an obvious choice for anybody following a healthy lifestyle as well as anybody on a vegan diet.
It’s also a highly versatile cooking oil that can be used for softening onions, emulsifying dressings, or even as a substitute for certain ingredients when you want to embark on a vegan baking adventure!
Rapeseed oil also has a very high smoking point which makes it really great for frying. However, unlike other oils with a high smoking point, you’re able to fry food in a healthier way using rapeseed oil thanks to its reduced levels of saturated fats.
So, to summarize, rapeseed oil is one of the healthiest cooking oils you can go for. It’s also 100% vegan, and its neutral flavor makes it a good choice for using as a base for dressings without sacrificing any of the flavors coming from your chosen ingredients.
Large Scale Production & Pesticides
One thing that we need to think about when buying any type of cooking oil is the large-scale production used to farm the fruits, seeds, or vegetables needed to make it. Palm oil is the most demonized here and this is arguably fair since palm oil is used in so many ways. However, the more we rely on certain cooking oils, the more space there is needed to meet customer demand.
And, as with palm oil, the more space that gets cleared for large scale production, the more risk there is of taking away the habitat that so many animal species depend on.
Large scale production of cooking oils runs a little deeper in terms of conservation, too. The more trees and plants that are relied on to produce oil-bearing seeds and fruits, the higher the chance there is of having to use pesticides to keep them free from pests.
This results in serious damage to the planet’s delicate ecosystem and has the potential to kill thousands of bees. One thing that has been brought to the forefront of environmentalism in recent years is how important bees are and, if we see those numbers decline through the use of pesticides, it won’t be long before we’re faced with some serious issues surrounding all food production.
It may not be too surprising to learn that all cooking oils are vegan since they are extracted from seeds, fruits, and vegetables. There’s a lifehack you can take away with you here as well - anything that is labeled as ‘cooking oil’ will most likely be vegan, as ‘cooking fats’ will be derived from animal products.
Olive oil, sunflower oil, and vegetable oils don’t use any animal labor, nor do they contain any non-vegan additions in the same way wine does, for example.
It’s also important to remember that many of these cooking oils, olive oil, in particular, have been around for centuries and the extraction process has changed very little since they were first created. Their long history also means that they are highly unlikely to have been tested on animals.
These oils are all a much healthier alternative to cooking fats too, so not only are they vegan, but they’re packed full of certain nutrients and protein that you would traditionally have to rely on animal products for.
So, next time you do your grocery shopping, make sure you add both olive oil and sunflower oil to your cart. Vegetable oil is a good vegan choice too, however, you’ll need to pay extra attention to its source and make sure it doesn’t contain any palm oil.