Vegetable oil is a very common ingredient called for in baking recipes. It appears on ingredient lists for everything from pancakes to layer cakes, and can make for a very moist and tender cake. Many recipes don’t specify what kind of vegetable oil to use when baking, however. In the grocery store, you will see generic “vegetable oil” for sale, but you’ll also see a wide variety of other vegetable oils – from peanut oil to olive oil – and many people wonder what kind of oil they should be using in baking recipes that just call for vegetable oil.
The answer is that you can actually use any kind of vegetable oil. They are all liquid fats with about the same consistency, and will all give you a similar texture in your finished product. The difference between them, when it comes to baking, is all about flavor (in cooking, the difference is all about the smoke point). You want to bake with an oil that has a very neutral flavor – as close to no flavor as possible – so that the flavor of the oil doesn’t overwhelm what you’re baking. For instance, a vanilla cake has a subtle flavor that a strong oil might cover up. Canola oil generally has a pleasant, neutral flavor and is my go-to oil for baking. I would recommend it for all baking purposes.
Vegetable oils that have a more distinct flavor, such as olive oil or nut oils, can be great for baking, but you need to choose your recipes carefully so that the flavor of the oil complements the rest of the dessert.