Vegetable oil

For other uses, see Vegetable oil (disambiguation).

A vegetable oil is a triglyceride extracted from a plant.[1] The term "vegetable oil" can be narrowly defined as referring only to plant oils that are liquid at room temperature,[2] or broadly defined without regard to a substance's state of matter at a given temperature.[3] For this reason, vegetable oils that are solid at room temperature are sometimes called vegetable fats. In contrast to these triglycerides, vegetable waxes lack glycerin in their structure. Although many plant parts may yield oil, in commercial practice, oil is extracted primarily from seeds.

On food packaging, the term "vegetable oil" is often used in ingredients lists instead of specifying the exact plant being used, especially when the oil used is less desirable to the consumer or if a mix is used.

Uses of triglyceride vegetable oil

Oils extracted from plants have been used since ancient times and in many cultures. As an example, in a 4,000-year-old kitchen unearthed in Indiana's Charlestown State Park, archaeologist Bob McCullough of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne found evidence that natives used large slabs of rock to crush hickory nuts, then boiled them in water to extract the oil.[4] Archaeological evidence shows that olives were turned into olive oil by 6000 BC[5] and 4500 BC in present-day Israel and Palestine.[6]

Culinary uses

See also: Cooking oil

Many vegetable oils are consumed directly, or indirectly as ingredients in food – a role that they share with some animal fats, including butter, ghee, lard, and Schmaltz. The oils serve a number of purposes in this role:

Secondly, oils can be heated and used to cook other foods. Oils suitable for this objective must have a high flash point. Such oils include the major cooking oils – soybean, rapeseed, canola, sunflower, safflower, peanut, cottonseed, etc. Tropical oils, such as coconut, palm, and rice bran oils, are particularly valued in Asian cultures for high-temperature cooking, because of their unusually high flash points.

Hydrogenated oils

Unsaturated vegetable oils can be transformed through partial or complete "hydrogenation" into oils of higher melting point. The hydrogenation process involves "sparging" the oil at high temperature and pressure with hydrogen in the presence of a catalyst, typically a powdered nickel compound. As each carbon–carbon double-bond is chemically reduced to a single bond, two hydrogen atoms each form single bonds with the two carbon atoms. The elimination of double bonds by adding hydrogen atoms is called saturation; as the degree of saturation increases, the oil progresses toward being fully hydrogenated. An oil may be hydrogenated to increase resistance to rancidity (oxidation) or to change its physical characteristics. As the degree of saturation increases, the oil's viscosity and melting point increase.

The use of hydrogenated oils in foods has never been completely satisfactory. Because the center arm of the triglyceride is shielded somewhat by the end fatty acids, most of the hydrogenation occurs on the end fatty acids, thus making the resulting fat more brittle. A margarine made from naturally more saturated oils will be more plastic (more "spreadable") than a margarine made from hydrogenated soy oil. While full hydrogenation produces largely saturated fatty acids, partial hydrogenation results in the transformation of unsaturated cis fatty acids to unsaturated trans fatty acids in the oil mixture due to the heat used in hydrogenation. Partially hydrogenated oils and their trans fats have been linked to an increased risk of mortality from coronary heart disease,[7] among other increased health risks.

In the US, the Standard of Identity for a product labeled as "vegetable oil margarine" specifies only canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, soybean, or peanut oil may be used.[8] Products not labeled "vegetable oil margarine" do not have that restriction.

Industrial uses

Vegetable oils are used as an ingredient or component in many manufactured products.

Many vegetable oils are used to make soaps, skin products, candles, perfumes and other personal care and cosmetic products. Some oils are particularly suitable as drying oils, and are used in making paints and other wood treatment products. Dammar oil (a mixture of linseed oil and dammar resin), for example, is used almost exclusively in treating the hulls of wooden boats. Vegetable oils are increasingly being used in the electrical industry as insulators as vegetable oils are not toxic to the environment, biodegradable if spilled and have high flash and fire points. However, vegetable oils are less stable chemically, so they are generally used in systems where they are not exposed to oxygen, and they are more expensive than crude oil distillate. Synthetic tetraesters, which are similar to vegetable oils but with four fatty acid chains compared to the normal three found in a natural ester, are manufactured by Fischer esterification. Tetraesters generally have high stability to oxidation and have found use as engine lubricants. Vegetable oil is being used to produce biodegradable hydraulic fluid[9] and lubricant.[10]

One limiting factor in industrial uses of vegetable oils is that all such oils are susceptible to rancid. Oils that are more stable, such as ben oil or mineral oil, are thus preferred for industrial uses. Castor oil has numerous industrial uses, owing to the presence of hydroxyl group on the fatty acid. Castor oil is a precursor to Nylon 11.

Pet food additive

Vegetable oil is used in production of some pet foods. AAFCO defines vegetable oil, in this context, as the product of vegetable origin obtained by extracting the oil from seeds or fruits which are processed for edible purposes. In some poorer-grade pet foods, the oil is listed only as "vegetable oil", without specifying the particular oil.[11]


Main article: Vegetable oil fuel

Vegetable oils are also used to make biodiesel, which can be used like conventional diesel. Some vegetable oil blends are used in unmodified vehicles but straight vegetable oil, also known as pure plant oil, needs specially prepared vehicles which have a method of heating the oil to reduce its viscosity. The use of vegetable oils as alternative energy is growing and the availability of biodiesel around the world is increasing.

The NNFCC estimate that the total net greenhouse gas savings when using vegetable oils in place of fossil fuel-based alternatives for fuel production, range from 18 to 100%.[12]


The production process of vegetable oil involves the removal of oil from plant components, typically seeds. This can be done via mechanical extraction using an oil mill or chemical extraction using a solvent. The extracted oil can then be purified and, if required, refined or chemically altered.

Mechanical extraction

Oils can be removed via mechanical extraction, termed "crushing" or "pressing." This method is typically used to produce the more traditional oils (e.g., olive, coconut etc.), and it is preferred by most "health-food" customers in the United States and in Europe. There are several different types of mechanical extraction.[13] Expeller-pressing extraction is common, though the screw press, ram press, and Ghani (powered mortar and pestle) are also used. Oilseed presses are commonly used in developing countries, among people for whom other extraction methods would be prohibitively expensive; the Ghani is primarily used in India.[14] The amount of oil extracted using these methods varies widely, as shown in the following table for extracting mowrah butter in India:[15]

Method Percentage extracted
Ghani[16] 20–30%
Expellers 34–37%
Solvent 40–43%

Solvent extraction

The processing of vegetable oil in commercial applications is commonly done by chemical extraction, using solvent extracts, which produces higher yields and is quicker and less expensive. The most common solvent is petroleum-derived hexane. This technique is used for most of the "newer" industrial oils such as soybean and corn oils.

Supercritical carbon dioxide can be used as a non-toxic alternative to other solvents.[17]


Oils may be partially hydrogenated to produce various ingredient oils. Lightly hydrogenated oils have very similar physical characteristics to regular soy oil, but are more resistant to becoming rancid. Margarine oils need to be mostly solid at 32 °C (90 °F) so that the margarine does not melt in warm rooms, yet it needs to be completely liquid at 37 °C (98 °F), so that it doesn't leave a "lardy" taste in the mouth.

Hardening vegetable oil is done by raising a blend of vegetable oil and a catalyst in near-vacuum to very high temperatures, and introducing hydrogen. This causes the carbon atoms of the oil to break double-bonds with other carbons, each carbon forming a new single-bond with a hydrogen atom. Adding these hydrogen atoms to the oil makes it more solid, raises the smoke point, and makes the oil more stable.

Hydrogenated vegetable oils differ in two major ways from other oils which are equally saturated. During hydrogenation, it is easier for hydrogen to come into contact with the fatty acids on the end of the triglyceride, and less easy for them to come into contact with the center fatty acid. This makes the resulting fat more brittle than a tropical oil; soy margarines are less "spreadable" . The other difference is that trans fatty acids (often called trans fat) are formed in the hydrogenation reactor, and may amount to as much as 40 percent by weight of a partially hydrogenated oil. Hydrogenated oils, especially partially hydrogenated oils with their higher amounts of trans fatty acids are increasingly thought to be unhealthy.


In the processing of edible oils, the oil is heated under vacuum to near the smoke point, and water is introduced at the bottom of the oil. The water immediately is converted to steam, which bubbles through the oil, carrying with it any chemicals which are water-soluble. The steam sparging removes impurities that can impart unwanted flavors and odors to the oil. Deodorization is key to the manufacture of vegetable oils. Nearly all soybean, corn, and canola oils found on supermarket shelves go through a deodorization stage that removes trace amounts of odors and flavors, and lightens the color of the oil.

Occupational exposure

People can breathe in vegetable oil mist in the workplace. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set the legal limit (Permissible exposure limit) for vegetable oil mist exposure in the workplace as 15 mg/m3 total exposure and 5 mg/m3 respiratory exposure over an 8-hour workday. The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has set a recommended exposure limit (REL) of 10 mg/m3 total exposure and 5 mg/m3 respiratory exposure over an 8-hour workday.[18]


Some typical yields
Crop Yield
Palm oil [19] 4.0
Coconut oil [20] 1.4
Canola oil [21] 1.4
Soybean oil [21] 0.6
Sunflower oil [20] 0.6

Particular oils

For a more comprehensive list, see List of vegetable oils.

The following triglyceride vegetable oils account for almost all worldwide production, by volume. All are used as both cooking oils and as SVO or to make biodiesel. According to the USDA, the total world consumption of major vegetable oils in 2007/08 was:[22]

Oil source World consumption
(million metric tons)
Palm 41.31 The most widely produced tropical oil, also used to make biofuel
Soybean 41.28 Accounts for about half of worldwide edible oil production
Rapeseed 18.24 One of the most widely used cooking oils, canola is a variety (cultivar) of rapeseed
Sunflower seed 9.91 A common cooking oil, also used to make biodiesel
Peanut 4.82 Mild-flavored cooking oil
Cottonseed 4.99 A major food oil, often used in industrial food processing
Palm kernel 4.85 From the seed of the African palm tree
Coconut 3.48 Used in soaps, cosmetics and cooking
Olive 2.84 Used in cooking, cosmetics, soaps and as a fuel for traditional oil lamps

Note that these figures include industrial and animal feed use. The majority of European rapeseed oil production is used to produce biodiesel, or used directly as fuel in diesel cars which may require modification to heat the oil to reduce its higher viscosity. The suitability of the fuel should come as little surprise, as Rudolf Diesel originally designed his engine to run on peanut oil.

Other significant triglyceride oils include:

Jambú oil
Guava oil
Pracachy or Pentaclethra macroloba

Composition of fats

Vegetable oils
Type Processing
fatty acids[24]
fatty acids[24]
Polyunsaturated fatty acids Oleic acid
Smoke point
Total poly[24] linolenic acid
Linoleic acid
Avocado   11.560 70.554 13.486 1 12.5   249 °C (480 °F)[25]
Canola (rapeseed)   7.365 63.276 28.142 10 10   204 °C (400 °F)[26]
Coconut   91.000 6.000 3.000   2 6 177 °C (350 °F)[26]
Corn[27]   12.948 27.576 54.677 1 58 28 232 °C (450 °F)
Cottonseed   25.900 17.800 51.900 1 54 19 216 °C (420 °F)[27]
Flaxseed/Linseed (European)[28]   7.500 15.500 79.000 64 15 11 107 °C (225 °F)
Olive   14.000 72.000 14.000 1.5 15   193 °C (380 °F)[26]
Palm   49.300 37.000 9.300   10 40 235 °C (455 °F)
Peanut   16.900 46.200 32.000   32 48 225 °C (437 °F)[27]
Safflower (>70% linoleic)   8.000 15.000 75.000       210 °C (410 °F)[26]
Safflower (high oleic)   7.541 75.221 12.820       210 °C (410 °F)[26]
Soybean   15.650 22.783 57.740 7 50 24 238 °C (460 °F)[27]
Sunflower (<60% linoleic)   10.100 45.400 40.100 0.2 39.8 45.3 227 °C (440 °F)[27]
Sunflower (>70% oleic)   9.859 83.689 3.798       227 °C (440 °F)[27]
Cottonseed (hydrogenated)[24] Hydrogenated 93.600 1.529 0.587   0.287  
Palm (hydrogenated) Hydrogenated 47.500 40.600 7.500      
Soybean (hydrogenated)[24] Hydrogenated 21.100 73.700 0.400 0.096    
Values as percent (%) by weight of total fat.


Such oils have been part of human culture for millennia. Poppy seed,; rapeseed, linseed, almond oil, sesame seed, safflower, and cotton seed were used since at least the bronze age throughout the Middle East and Central Asia.[1] In 1780, Carl Wilhelm Scheele demonstrated that fats were derived from glycerol. Thirty years later Michel Eugène Chevreul deduced that these fats were esters of fatty acids and glycerol.

In modern times, cottonseed oil was marketed by Procter & Gamble as a creamed shortening in 1911. Ginning mills were happy to have someone haul away the cotton seeds. The extracted oil was refined and partially hydrogenated to give a solid at room temperature and thus mimic natural lard, and can it under nitrogen gas. Compared to the rendered lard Procter & Gamble was already selling to consumers, Crisco was cheaper, easier to stir into a recipe, and could be stored at room temperature for two years without turning rancid.

Soybeans were an exciting new crop from China in the 1930s. Soy was protein-rich, and the medium viscosity oil was high in polyunsaturates. Henry Ford established a soybean research laboratory, developed soybean plastics and a soy-based synthetic wool, and built a car "almost entirely" out of soybeans.[29] Roger Drackett had a successful new product with Windex, but he invested heavily in soybean research, seeing it as a smart investment.[30] By the 1950s and 1960s, soybean oil had become the most popular vegetable oil in the US.

In the mid-1970s, Canadian researchers developed a low-erucic-acid rapeseed cultivar. Because the word "rape" was not considered optimal for marketing, they coined the name "canola" (from "Canada Oil low acid"). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved use of the canola name in January 1985,[31] and U.S. farmers started planting large areas that spring. Canola oil is lower in saturated fats, and higher in monounsaturates and is a better source of omega-3 fats than other popular oils. Canola is very thin (unlike corn oil) and flavorless (unlike olive oil), so it largely succeeds by displacing soy oil, just as soy oil largely succeeded by displacing cottonseed oil.

Used oil

A large quantity of used vegetable oil is produced and recycled, mainly from industrial deep fryers in potato processing plants, snack food factories and fast food restaurants.

Recycled oil has numerous uses, including use as a direct fuel, as well as in the production of biodiesel, soap, animal feed, pet food, detergent, and cosmetics. It's traded as the commodity, yellow grease.

Since 2002, an increasing number of European Union countries have prohibited the inclusion of recycled vegetable oil from catering in animal feed. Used cooking oils from food manufacturing, however, as well as fresh or unused cooking oil, continue to be used in animal feed.[32]

Negative health effects

Hydrogenated oils have been shown to cause what is commonly termed the "double deadly effect", raising the level of LDLs and decreasing the level of HDLs in the blood, increasing the risk of blood clotting inside blood vessels.[33]

A high consumption of oxidized polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which are found in most types of vegetable oil (e.g. soybean oil, corn oil – the most consumed in USA, sunflower oil, etc.) may increase the likelihood that postmenopausal women will develop breast cancer.[34] A similar effect was observed on prostate cancer[35] and skin cancer[36] in mice.

Due to their susceptibility to oxidation from the exposure to oxygen, heat and light, resulting in the formation of oxidation products such as inflammatory lipid peroxides and hydroperoxides,[37][38] plant oils rich in polyunsatured fatty acids have a limited shelf-life and regular consumption of rancid oils (from prolonged storage or overheating) may have negative health consequences.

Product labeling

There is increasing concern that the product labeling that includes "vegetable fat" or "vegetable oil" in its list of ingredients masks the identity of the fats or oils present. This has been made more pressing as concerns have been raised over the social and environmental impact of palm oil in particular, especially given the predominance of palm oil.[39]

In Canada, palm oil is one of five vegetable oils, along with palm kernel oil, coconut oil, peanut oil and cocoa butter, which must be specifically named in the list of ingredients for a food product.[40] Also, oils in Canadian food products which have been modified or hydrogenated must contain the word "modified" or "hydrogenated" when listed as an ingredient.[41] A mix of oils other than the aforementioned exceptions may simply be listed as "vegetable oil" in Canada; however, if the food product is a cooking oil, salad oil or table oil, the type of oil must be specified and listing "vegetable oil" as an ingredient is not acceptable.[40]

From 13 December 2014 all food products produced in the European Union will be legally required to indicate the specific vegetable oil used in their manufacture, following the introduction of the Food Information to Consumers Regulation [42]

See also

Notes and references

  1. 1 2 Alfred Thomas (2002). "Fats and Fatty Oils". Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH. doi:10.1002/14356007.a10_173.
  2. Parwez Saroj. The Pearson Guide to the B.Sc. (Nursing) Entrance Examination. Pearson Education India. p. 109. ISBN 81-317-1338-5.
  3. Robin Dand (1999). The International Cocoa Trade. Woodhead Publishing. p. 169. ISBN 1-85573-434-6.
  4. "4,000-year-old 'kitchen' unearthed in Indiana". Archaeo News. January 26, 2006. Retrieved 2006-07-31.
  5. Ruth Schuster (December 17, 2014). "8,000-year old olive oil found in Galilee, earliest known in world", Haaretz. Retrieved December 17, 2014.
  6. Ehud Galili et al., "Evidence for Earliest Olive-Oil Production in Submerged Settlements off the Carmel Coast, Israel", Journal of Archaeological Science 24:1141–1150 (1997); Pagnol, p. 19, says the 6th millennium in Jericho, but cites no source.
  7. Trans Fat Task Force (June 2006). "TRANSforming the Food Supply (Appendix 9iii)". Archived from the original on February 25, 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-09. (Consultation on the health implications of alternatives to trans fatty acids: Summary of Responses from Experts)
  8. "Margarine". Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, Chapter I, Subchapter B, Part 166. US Food and Drug Administration. April 1, 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-01.
  9. Linda McGraw (April 19, 2000). "Biodegradable Hydraulic Fluid Nears Market". USDA. Retrieved 2006-09-29.
  10. "Cass Scenic Railroad, West Virginia". GWWCA. Retrieved 2011-11-01.
  11. "Ingredients to avoid". The Dog Food Project. Retrieved 2007-06-26.
  12. National Non-Food Crops Centre. GHG Benefits from Use of Vegetable Oils for Electricity, Heat, Transport and Industrial Purposes, NNFCC 10-016
  13. Hossain, Amjad (2012). "Kalu". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
  14. Janet Bachmann. "Oilseed Processing for Small-Scale Producers". Retrieved 2006-07-31.
  15. B.L. Axtell from research by R.M. Fairman (1992). "Illipe". Minor oil crops. FAO. Retrieved 2006-11-12.
  16. Aziz, KMA (2012). "Ghani". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. A ghani is a traditional Indian oil press, driven by a horse or ox.
  17. Eisenmenger, Michael; Dunford, Nurhan T.; Eller, Fred; Taylor, Scott; Martinez, Jose (2006). "Pilot-scale supercritical carbon dioxide extraction and fractionation of wheat germ oil". Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society. 83 (10): 863–868. doi:10.1007/s11746-006-5038-6.
  18. "CDC - NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards - Vegetable oil mist". Retrieved 2015-11-27.
  19. Malaysian Palm Oil Industry,
  20. 1 2 Oil Staple Crops Compared,
  21. 1 2 Global oil yields: Have we got it seriously wrong?, Denis J. Murphy, August 2009,
  22. January 2009 (PDF). Oilseeds: World Market and Trade. FOP 1-09. USDA. 2009-01-12., Table 03: Major Vegetable Oils: World Supply and Distribution at Oilseeds: World Markets and Trade Monthly Circular
  23. Corn Refiners Association. Corn Oil 5th Edition. 2006
  24. 1 2 3 4 5 "Nutrient database, Release 24". United States Department of Agriculture. All values in this column are from the USDA Nutrient database unless otherwise cited.
  25. What is unrefined, extra virgin cold-pressed avocado oil?, The American Oil Chemists’ Society
  26. 1 2 3 4 5 Katragadda, H. R.; Fullana, A. S.; Sidhu, S.; Carbonell-Barrachina, Á. A. (2010). "Emissions of volatile aldehydes from heated cooking oils". Food Chemistry. 120: 59. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2009.09.070.
  27. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Wolke, Robert L. (May 16, 2007). "Where There's Smoke, There's a Fryer". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
  28. Fatty acid composition of important plant and animal fats and oils (German) 21 December 2011, Hans-Jochen Fiebig, Münster
  29. "Soybean Car". Popular Research Topics. Benson Ford Research Center. Retrieved 2006-10-23.
  30. Horstman, Barry M. (1999-05-21). "Philip W. Drackett: Earned profits, plaudits". The Cincinnati Post. E. W. Scripps Company. Archived from the original on 2005-12-05. Retrieved 2006-10-22.
  31. "Canola oil". Archived from the original on 2006-06-17. Retrieved 2006-07-31.
  32. "Waste cooking oil from catering premises". Retrieved 2006-07-31.
  33. "Vegetable Oil – Everything You Need To Know About Vegetable Oils".
  34. Sonestedt, Emily; Ericson, Ulrika; Gullberg, Bo; Skog, Kerstin; Olsson, Håkan; Wirfält, Elisabet (2008). "Do both heterocyclic amines and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids contribute to the incidence of breast cancer in postmenopausal women of the Malmö diet and cancer cohort?". International Journal of Cancer. UICC International Union Against Cancer. 123 (7): 1637–1643. doi:10.1002/ijc.23394. PMID 18636564.
  35. Berquin IM, Min Y, Wu R, et al. (July 2007). "Modulation of prostate cancer genetic risk by omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids". The Journal of Clinical Investigation. 117 (7): 1866–75. doi:10.1172/JCI31494. PMC 1890998Freely accessible. PMID 17607361.
  36. Vivienne E. Reeve; Melissa Matheson; Gavin E. Greenoak; Paul J. Canfield; Christa Boehm-Wilcox; Clifford H. Gallagher (November 1988). "Effect of dietary lipid on UV light carcinogenesis in the hairless mouse". Photochemistry and Photobiology. 48 (5): 689–696. doi:10.1111/j.1751-1097.1988.tb02882.x. PMID 3241840.
  37. H. Ramachandra Prabhu (2000). "Lipid peroxidation in culinary oils subjected to thermal stress". Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry. 15 (1): 1–5. doi:10.1007/BF02873539.
  38. Nataliya V. Rohr-Udilova, Klaus Stolze2, Sandra Sagmeister1, Hans Nohl2, Rolf Schulte-Hermann1, Bettina Grasl-Kraupp1 (March 2008). "Lipid hydroperoxides from processed dietary oils enhance growth of hepatocarcinoma cells". Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. 52 (3): 352–359. doi:10.1002/mnfr.200700149. PMID 18293301.
  39. An issue highlighted in documentaries such as Dying for a Biscuit on BBC Panorama
  40. 1 2 "Basic Labelling Requirements", Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, retrieved 2015-04-08
  41. "Common Name - Fats and Oils", Labelling Requirements for Fats and Oils (PDF), Canadian Food Inspection Agency, retrieved 2015-04-08
  42. "Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council", Official Journal of the European Union, 2011-11-21

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