You can use canola or vegetable oil in baking and you probably won't notice any difference in the taste or texture of baked goods. Canola oil is made from rapeseed, a member of the mustard family and a relative of cabbages and Brussels sprouts. Vegetable oil may include a blend of several types of oil, but most vegetables oils are soybean oil. Both oils have a mild, neutral flavor and smell, and both add moisture and texture to quick breads and cakes.
Canola oil has a neutral, pleasant flavor that is rarely discernible in baked goods. Vegetable oil has a similarly light, mild taste that you probably won't notice either. The type of vegetable oil you use can make a difference. Corn oil has a darker color and richer flavor than other types of vegetable oil. Olive oil -- classified as a vegetable oil -- adds a nutty sweetness to baked goods, especially if you use a virgin or extra virgin type. In most cases, though, you won't notice any difference between canola oil and other types of vegetable oils. Discard any vegetable or canola oil that has a sharp, bitter odor or flavor, which indicates the oil is rancid.
Regardless of which oil you use, choose a refined one. Refining makes oils more stable and also gives them a neutral flavor -- ideal components for baking. Refined oils usually cost less than natural, unrefined oils, which makes sense when you're choosing an oil for baking.
Baking With Oil
Vegetable oil and canola oil work best in dense, moist cakes and quick breads. They don't perform as well in cookies or light cakes because you can't cream them with sugar. Creaming creates tiny pockets of air in the batter. During baking, these pockets fill with steam, lightening and lifting the baked good. The result is fluffy, tender cakes with a fine crumb, and cookies that are crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. Cookies, in particular, are flat, moist and soft when made with vegetable or canola oil.
Switch It Up
Use vegetable oil or canola oil interchangeably in any recipe that calls for oil. If you use them in a recipe that calls for a solid fat, such as butter, replace each 1/4 cup of butter or shortening with 3 tablespoons of oil. Avoid using virgin and extra-virgin olive oils in baking unless you want a pronounced olive flavor. Stick with regular olive oil instead.
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