There isn’t one kitchen that you can walk through and not find a bottle of oil close to the stove. And, it is really hard to find any processed food in the grocery store that doesn’t list oil as one of its ingredients.
So true, right? So this begs the question, is oil vegan?
The short answer is that not all oils are. And while the most common oil is vegetable oil, there are lots of other kinds of oils that you might not even be aware of! In this blog post you will learn which oils are vegan and which are not.
You will also learn how healthy are all these oils. And how oil can be detrimental if you are trying to lose weight on a vegan diet. So, keep reading…
How Are Oils Made?
Edible oils are fats extracted from animal or plant sources. Therefore, they are considered to be processed!
Aside from cooking, baking, and dressing salads, edible oils can also be found in health supplements.
Before any extraction process, raw materials undergo cleaning and grinding. Afterwards, they pass through magnets to remove trace metals, then hulls or skins are taken off.
Once the raw materials are ready for extraction, they undergo heating and pressing. To further extract more oil, manufacturers use chemical solvents. It is also common for the extracted oil to go through a heavy refinement process to remove impurities.
Most of the solvents used in oil extraction simply evaporates, while the other remaining solvents are removed by condensation. There are also processes that may alter the chemical compositions of oils to give them the longest shelf life possible.
Lighter but flavorful oils are often cold-pressed and minimally processed. However, cold-pressing is only suitable for a few sources like olive, peanuts, sunflowers, and coconuts.
In early times, and I mean ancient times, people would heat up oily plants until they exude oils. Another method is roasting then grinding and boiling plants until oil rises to the top. These methods are still in use today, commonly by small businesses that offer homemade natural oils.
Other Processes in Commercial Oil Refinement
Aside from eliminating impurities, refining removes color, bitterness, and even odour. This involves the use of high heat and alkaline substances. This process creates a soapy residue, which is removed through a centrifuge.
- Degumming – a refinement process that eliminates insoluble substances like phosphorus and fatty acids. This improves the quality and shelf life of cooking oils.
- Bleaching – reduces the color through the use of activated carbon or clay that absorbs the pigments.
- Winterization – this is only done in oils that will be kept in cold storage, such as those for salad dressing use. To stay liquid even when refrigerated, the waxes are separated by rapid chilling then removed through filtration.
- Deodorizing – a distillation method that eliminates volatile tastes and odors by using extreme heat between 440⁰F – 485⁰F.
The amount and method of processing significantly affects not just the quality but also the natural nutritive value of oils. The more refinement it undergoes, the more nutrients are lost. However, some manufacturers replace or add nutrients through fortification.
Common Sources Of Edible Oils
Now that we are clear on how oil is made, let’s find out which oils are vegan and which are not!
1. Vegan Oils
Fruit, Flower, and Grain Oils
Calories per 1 teaspoon
Calories per 1 teaspoon
Calories per 1 teaspoon
Calories per 1 teaspoon
2. Non-vegan oils
Calories per 1 teaspoon
Cooking Oils And Smoke Points
When you use cooking oils for frying, do you notice how some oils smoke, burn, and “evaporate” faster than the others? Well that’s what ‘smoke point’ is, put simply. But that’s not all there is to it.
When you heat oil, its properties change, and some, if not all, of its nutrients may evaporate or oxidize with it. Different cooking oils vary in smoke points, but refining processes typically improve smoke points.
The higher the smoke point is, the more refined an oil is. Oils with more saturated fats oxidize slower.
Higher smoke points also allow you to cook longer before you need more oil. However, overheating edible oils past its smoke point may create free radicals.
This is why oils that are less refined or not refined at all, are not ideal for high heat cooking. With lower smoke points, they are more ideal for cooking with minimal heat only, or just for dressing and seasoning use.
So next time you pick oil from the grocery shelves, consider how you’ll use it according to its smoke point.
Ethical Issues In Oil Production
Have you heard about ethical oils? If you are, to some extent, meticulous with where you food comes from, I’m sure you have.
With the continuous rise in demand for edible oils, a lot of companies have turned to drastic measures. The most popular example is that of the palm oil industry which was revealed to be largely responsible for deforestation.
Palm oil is the most in demand oil all over the world. However, to obtain raw materials, many companies destroy rainforests. Consequently, this results to the loss of homes (habitats) for A LOT of forest animals. Can your conscience bear that?
Before this reality came into light, millions of hectares of rainforests and wild animals, especially orangutans were nearly wiped off. Thanks to the growing advocacies towards environmental preservation, more companies are now switching to more ethical sources.
During the height of this controversy, many vegans chose to avoid palm oil products from brands without responsible sourcing. Palm oils are vegan in itself of course. However, its irresponsible production goes against the vegan principle that aims to avoid contributing to animal and environmental harm.
While the palm oil industry is a popular culprit, this ethical issue also happens with other in-demand consumer products. Soybean oil, for example, has also made contributions to rainforest destruction. For this reason alone, many vegans consider oils that are not “deforestation-free” as ethically non-vegan.
Another ethical issue is the exploitation of workers. For example, coconut trade in parts of Southeast Asia use chained monkeys to harvest coconuts. Can you even imagine that? I’ll spare you the disturbing details, don’t worry. Also, in some regions, farmers are overworked and underpaid.
The rise in consumer demand should not be a reason to resort to inhumane measures. Fortunately, there are now more organizations that help to eradicate these practices. It may be quite a long shot, but through the years, it has made a lot of difference already.
This is why for conscious consumers like us vegans, product certifications for responsibility and sustainability are a big deal. Ecolabels like Fairtrade, RSPO, USDA Organic, Food Alliance, and more, all contribute to one or more of these causes.
Oils And Its Fat Contents
Edible oils are fats whether they come from plant or animal sources. While it’s worth noting that not all fats are bad (and we need the good ones!), oils do have both. Take a look at these common fats found in oils.
(no double bonds) – commonly found in animal food sources. They are solid at room temperature, and can increase bad cholesterol levels.
There are contradicting studies about its effects on health until today. However, the American Heart Association recommends that they only make up 5-6% of your total daily calories.
2. Unsaturated Fats
the good fats! Well, mostly. It is liquid at room temperature, and can improve cholesterol levels.
a. Monounsaturated (1 double bond)
b. Polyunsaturated fats (2 or more double bonds)
- Omega 3
- Omega 6
3. Trans fat
the worst kind of fat that often results from hydrogenation during food processing. It is also known as hydrogenated oil.
The Vegan Oil FAQs
Do you still have questions? I’m far from done yet! Here are the most common questions you might still be asking.
1. Is coconut oil vegan?
Coconut or copra oil is vegan. It is one of the most popular oils with immune-boosting properties. However, it is higher in saturated fats than other oils.
Here are some great vegan coconut oil brands (for cooking, baking, and hair/skin care!):
- Viva Naturals – organic, cold-pressed, unrefined, made from fresh, hand-picked coconuts
- Nutiva – organic, cold-pressed, unrefined, non-GMO, non-hydrogenated, Fairtrade-certified
- Vita Coco – ethical, cruelty-free, organic, BPA-free packaging, unrefined
2. Is palm oil vegan?
Strictly speaking, only “deforestation-free” or “ethical” palm oils are vegan. However, palm oil, in itself, which is from the fruits of palm trees, is vegan. Here are eco-friendly, vegan palm oil brands you can try:
- Nutiva Red Palm Oil – USDA organic, Fair For Life, non-GMO, deforestation-free, unrefined
- Grain Brain Organic Palm Oil Shortening (for baking) – organic, RSPO, no trans fat, no cholesterol, no carbs
3. Is sustainable palm oil vegan?
Yes. While they are less common, responsibly-sourced palm oils are vegan. They are the ones made with commitment to environmental consideration.
4. Is olive oil vegan?
Yes! They are made from olive fruits. Light olive oils are more ideal for cooking than the popular extra virgin variety. Most olive oils today have some percentage of EVOO in it. Also, you’ll find that there are so much more EVOOs than regular olive oils.
5. Is extra virgin olive oil vegan?
Yes. The label “extra virgin” only refers to the lack of refining process. Extra virgin olive oils (EVOO) are ideally cold-pressed and does not use any chemicals. However, with a low smoke point, EVOOs are not ideal for cooking and are best for salad dressing use instead.
Be careful when buying olive oils though. As it turns out, majority of olive oils sold in the US (and other countries) are actually fake. Fake olive oils are either olive oils diluted with cheaper oils, or a mixture of cheaper oils flavored with olive. Choose brands with certifications of authenticity.
Some of the best vegan extra virgin olive oil brands you can try today:
- PJ Kabos Greek EVOO – BPA-free, non-GMO, low acidity, award-winning
- Entimio Organic EVOO – award-winning, USDA organic, 100% traceability, low acidity
6. Is vegetable oil vegan?
In itself, yes. However, depending on the manufacturing process, non-vegan ingredients may be present. Ethical sourcing and production must also be put into consideration. Cooking oils with “vegetable oil” labels is often a combination of different vegetable oils.
7. Is sunflower oil vegan?
Yes. They are made from sunflower seeds. It’s a versatile oil that can be used for cooking and skin care. Try these eco-friendly, vegan sunflower oil brands:
- Flora Organic Sunflower Oil – USDA organic, non-GMO, cold-pressed, unrefined, comes in a light-resistant glass bottle
- Mikho Papa Sunflower Oil – unrefined, organic, comes in a BPA-free, eco-friendly bottle
8. Is canola oil vegan?
Yes it is. Canola oil is from the seeds of a modified rapeseed plant that was first bred in Canada. Hence its name that came from “Canadian oil”. In contrast with rapeseed oil, canola oils have less than 30 micromoles of glucosinates and less than 2% erucic acid.
Vegan canola oil brands:
- 365 Everyday Value Organic Canola Oil – expeller-pressed, non-GMO, organic
- Simple Truth Organic Canola Oil – expeller-pressed, USDA organic, non-GMO
9. Is sesame oil vegan?
Yes, they are from sesame seeds. It is more stable and is known to be high in Vitamin K. Its nutty flavor makes it more ideal for seasoning than cooking.
Some vegan sesame oil brands you can check out:
- Napa Valley Naturals Organic Sesame Oil – cold-pressed, unrefined
- Spectrum Organic Sesame Oil – USDA organic, non-GMO, expeller-pressed
10. Is rapeseed oil vegan?
Extracted from the seeds of the rape plant, yes it is vegan. Rapeseed is high in erucic acid and glucosinates, but new varieties have been bred to reduce this significantly. Here are some vegan rapeseed oil brands:
- Mr. Organic Rapeseed Oil – cold-pressed, organic
- Clearspring Organic Rapeseed Oil – unrefined, cold-pressed
11. Is fish oil vegan?
No. Obviously, they are derived from fish, but are more commonly used in nutritional supplements and not for cooking.
12. Is soybean oil vegan?
Yes. However, if you’re a strict vegan, you might want to look at ethical brands. The soybean industry is known to contribute to deforestation as well, so choose eco-friendly vegan soybean oil brands like this:
- Healthy Harvest Organic Gourmet Cooking Oil – all-natural, non-GMO, sustainable, made from responsible farming, no chemicals, no hydrogenation process
13. Is corn oil vegan?
Yes, it is made from the germ of corns. Also known as maize oil, it has a high smoke point which makes it ideal for frying. Do note though that corns are often a victim of genetic modification, so choose non-GMO vegan corn oil brands only. Here’s one:
- Life Oil Non-GMO Corn Oil – expeller-pressed, all-natural, no chemicals
14. Is cottonseed oil vegan?
Yes. Made from the seeds of the cotton plant, it’s also a versatile oil which is high in unsaturated fats. However, its use for cooking is not as popular as it is in Africa. This means finding a good brand available in the US will be tough.
15. Is peanut oil vegan?
Yes it is. Peanut oil also has antioxidant properties. It also comes by the name groundnut oil (peanut is a type of groundnut). Check out these vegan peanut oil brands:
- Spectrum Organic Peanut Oil – USDA organic, expeller-pressed, no hydrogenated fat, refined for high heat
- Farm Naturelle Groundnut Oil – cold-pressed, extra virgin, organic, 100% natural
16. Is Olba’s oil vegan?
Which Oils Are Not Vegan?
This question may sound silly but if you think about it, it’s actually a valid question. For one, with the way food processing goes these days, including the cryptic names of food additives, it can be hard to tell what really goes in that food package.
This is the case with some edible oils, because a lot has to be done to make it what it is. In the strictest form of veganism, these are the things that can make any oil non-vegan:
1. Unethical sourcing
The good thing is, sustainable brands are now easier to spot because it’s something they can boast on their labels. The RSPO (Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil) certification for example, is your green light for ethical palm oils.
Otherwise, you’d be left in doubt if that package of oil killed orangutans, elephants, rhinos and whatnot on its way to you.
2. Non-vegan ingredients
The more refined a cooking oil is, the more you can bet there are other stuff in it. Commonly, cooking oils that don’t include the name of its primary source (or even its ingredients!) are made up of different oils, and can be a mixture of both vegetable and animal oils. Opt for oils with 100% traceability as much as possible.
3. Contamination during manufacture
Or more specifically, contact with non-vegan ingredients during production, whether intentional or not. The most common giveaway you’ll see is when packages say something along the lines of “made in a facility that also produces dairy, meat (and other non-vegan stuff)”.
This is quite uncommon with edible oils though, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
Do Edible Oils Have Health Benefits?
Vegetables, nuts, and seeds can easily make anyone think that anything that comes from it is healthy. This is probably why a lot of people think using oil is healthy.
Depending on the source material and processing done, oils may have potential health benefits.
For example, cold-pressing preserves some of the natural nutrients in oil sources. Conventional refining, on the other hand, strips off these naturally-occurring nutrients.
Here are some of the popular oils and their natural nutrients:
Canola – contains Omega 3 and 6, plant sterols, and vitamin E
Coconut – high in MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) and contains lauric acid, which has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties
Corn – it has linoleic acid, vitamin E, and plant sterols
Olive – rich in antioxidants, contains oleic acid, and some E and K vitamins
Palm – contains some vitamin E, carotenoids, palmitic acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid, and stearic acid
Peanut – contains vitamin E and phytosterols
Sesame – has Omega 3 and 6, and some vitamins E and K
Soybean – has linoleic acid, plant sterols, vitamins E and K
Keep in mind, however, that some of these nutrients are often insignificant in amount. They may also change during processing and heating.
The Health Effects Of Oil Consumption
While edible oils are very much widely used, it is recommended to keep consumption to a minimum.
Sure, it makes a lot of food taste so much better, but do you know what oils do to your body when you enjoy it regularly? Although usually made from ‘vegetables’, they are not as healthy as it sounds.
Here are some of the negative effects of oils in general:
- Can slow down blood flow
- May increase risk of obesity
- Exposure to toxic chemicals during heating
- Excessive Omega 6 contributes to chronic inflammation
- Too much polyunsaturated fats can make your body more sensitive to oxidation
- High trans fats make you prone to chronic illnesses
Oils may have additional health benefits, which I’m sure are being pointed out to you in the packaging labels.
However, these benefits that brands claim are often insignificant, and you’d have to consume so much oil to even really see any benefit. By the time you do, you’ll have more fats and calories than whatever benefits you got are worth.
In short, it’s NOT worth it. So just use oils sparingly.
If you regularly consume packaged food products or eat in restaurants, you should include this when counting your oil consumption.
Oil is a regular ingredient in fast food and processed foods. What’s worse is packaged food products often contain hydrogenated oils too, the bad one! Yikes!
BONUS: To learn more about the effects of these oils in your health, check out the video below!
Oil Substitutes: What’s Better Than Oil?
It is true that we need good fats for better health, but obtaining these good fats from whole foods is the way to go.
Think avocadoes, nuts, and seeds. Edible oils are processed foods that must only be consumed in moderation, or better yet, not at all. If you think you’ve been consuming too much oils, you can replace them with these:
For baking, you can substitute half or all of the oil with any of the following (consider the taste combination):
- Mashed bananas
- Fruit purée
- Cornstarch (with water)
If you must cook in high heat, choose oils with higher smoke points such as:
- Avocado oil
- Corn oil
Smoke points are often written in the package labels. If not, look for it in the product’s website.
Only use your cooking oils up to their given smoke point. This will prevent too much oxidation that can expose you to free radicals and other toxic chemicals.
What To Look For If You Must Choose Oils
Now I know most of us will still have to do some cooking during most days. If you find it difficult to completely avoid oil, you can still use a bit of it every now and then. Here are the things you should look for when buying oil:
- Minimally processed, or if possible, not processed at all
- Cold-pressed or expeller-pressed
- No trans fats
- Ethically and responsibly sourced
- Eco-friendly (look for ecolabels)
- Not packed in plastic (choose bottles or other eco-friendly packages)
Most edible oils are vegan, but still, must only be used minimally or not at all.
Edible oils are still fats no matter what vegetable, nut, or seed they come from. Although most oils contain nutrients, their fat content is significantly high. Also, most oils are unstable in high heat and may release toxic chemicals during oxidation.
With no clear health benefits and heavy processing, oils definitely lean more towards the unhealthy side. Not too mention, they stay around your waist too! So if you are trying to lose weight on a vegan diet, oils are a no-no.
Are you aware of any other health impact that oil consumption may have on your body? What are you currently doing to reduce your oil intake, if at all? Let me know on the comment section below. And don’t forget to share this article in your favorite social media platform.