As someone with allergies, reading ingredients is part of my daily routine. However, one ingredient that's always stood out to me in these lengthy lists is vegetable oil. I typically see vegetable oil listed along with something like, "Contains one or more of the following," inserted in a set of parentheses. Yet, if this is a man-made food, why is this ingredient not clearly labeled? Something about this gray area in my diet did not sit well with me, which led me to question, what is vegetable oil? After a frenzied online search, I finally figured it out. 

How Vegetable Oil Is Made

To create vegetable oil, soybeans and other ingredients such as corn, sunflower, and cottonseed are used. These ingredients are then masked with the umbrella term of "vegetable," which is why we see the phrase "contains one or more of the following" in the ingredient lists. These "vegetables" are first crushed, flattened, or toasted. Then, heat and a chemical called hexane are added to the mixture to create the formula that allows for oil extraction.

What Is Hexane?

Hexane is a colorless liquid derived from petroleum and is a chemical useful not only in the extraction of vegetable oils, but also in our daily lives. It is used to clean our shoes, furniture and textile manufacturing equipment. Additionally, hexane inhalation may cause nausea, headaches, and vomiting, and long-term hexane inhalation may even cause muscle deterioration.

Don't freak out, though. The amount of hexane that remains in your vegetable oil likely isn't enough to harm your body. However, it should be noted that the exact amount of hexane that remains in food products is unclear because the FDA doesn't monitor the amount of hexane in food

Consuming vegetable oil poses minimal risk to the average human. Hexane is ultimately distilled from the oil. The resulting product is refined, bleached, and deodorized before being distributed for our personal use. 

#SpoonTip: If you want to avoid the possibility of ingesting hexane, choose oils that are labeled as "100% organic."  

Substitutes for Vegetable Oil

Claire Waggoner

The following are natural replacements for the vegetable oil on your kitchen shelf:

Coconut Oil: Coconut oil's rich flavor makes it a tasty alternative to vegetable oil for baking.

Olive Oil: Olive oil can replace vegetable oil in dressings, marinades, or recipes that only require low heat. Olive oil has a low smoke point and a strong taste that makes it not ideal for baking.

Unsweetened Applesauce: For a more natural ingredient, swap your vegetable oil for applesauce. Surprisingly, these two ingredients can be swapped in a 1:1 ratio when baking.

Avocado Oil: Avocado oil can be used when cooking at high temperatures. This healthy alternative provides an easy way to stock up on Vitamin E and antioxidants.

Flaxseed Oil: Flaxseed oil should only be used for dressings and marinades, as it's not stable when heated. Flaxseed oil is also a good source of soluble fiber, which may have a laxative effect.

While there is no need to completely cut out vegetable oil from your diet, hopefully it's now evident why you shouldn't consume too much of the stuff. The next time your recipe calls for vegetable oil, try using one of its healthier substitutes instead.