Avocado oil is not just for guac! And olive oil is for more than pasta. Learn about the similarities and differences between these two oils.
As you stroll down the cooking oil aisle at your local grocery store, you are confronted with a virtually limitless selection of varieties, brands, and packaging.
Pause near the healthier oils, and you observe that two oil varieties take up the majority of the space on the shelves: olive oil and avocado oil. Both of these oils are described as heart-healthy cooking oils rich in oleic acid—an omega-9 fatty acid that can help fight cholesterol and reduce inflammation.
For the grocery shopper who wants to be informed (as most of us are these days), this leads to a long list of questions: Which of these oils to use? Can avocado oil and olive oil be used interchangeably? What to look for, or are all oils more or less the same?
For the answers to these questions, as well as the ones you didn’t know you had to ask, read on below.
What Is Olive Oil?
Olive oil is the edible oil from the noble olive, the fruit of the Olea europaea tree. It has a grassy, slightly fruity aroma and a rich, buttery flavor, with or without a piquant aftertaste depending on the variety, harvest, and blend.
The purest form of olive oil is extra virgin olive oil. Also called cold-pressed or first-pressed olive oil, extra virgin olive oil is the juice that comes from the first press or spin of the olive pulp after the fruit is harvested, washed, and ground up.
After extra virgin olive oil come virgin olive oil, light olive oil, and pomace oil, all of which contain oil extracted to varying degrees by high heat and chemical solvents. Avoid them; none of these have the aroma and flavor profile of the original—and they don’t retain the olives’ nutrients, too.
Extra virgin olive oil has a low smoke point, so it breaks down and burns at high temperatures. It’s suitable for dressing salads and for sprinkling on roasted meats and vegetables, but not necessarily for cooking at high heat.
If you like to cook with extra virgin olive oil, be sure to use only low to medium heat. If it burns, the oil will impart your food with an acrid and unpleasant taste, ruining an otherwise perfectly cooked dish.
What Is Avocado Oil?
Avocado oil is the edible oil from the fruit of the avocado tree, the fleshy and creamy avocado. It has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point, making it suitable not only for dressing salads but also for cooking over high heat.
The most important thing you need to know about avocado oil as a consumer is that the terms on the labels are not as trustworthy as they are for olive oil. In other words, manufacturers can say anything… so you need to know how to read everything.
Although the words on the labels may vary from brand to brand, there are generally two types of avocado oil: unrefined and refined.
Unrefined avocado oil is the oil pressed from the fruit without the use of high temperatures or chemical solvents; it is literally the juice of the fruit of the avocado tree. Refined avocado oil is the oil extracted from the fruit after the unrefined oil, typically with the help of heat and chemicals.
When in doubt, opt for unrefined avocado oil; it’s said to be more natural and nutritional because it hasn’t been exposed to the elements the way that refined avocado oil has.
Olive Oil vs. Avocado Oil
Both olive oil and avocado oil are expensive and have touted nutritional properties compared to other supermarket cooking oils.
So how should you choose? Consider the following.
The Flavor Profile
Avocado oil has a neutral aroma and flavor that’s slightly grassy and somewhat sweet, like the fruit it comes from. Olive oil, in contrast, is aromatic and flavorful. It’s fruity, buttery, and, depending on a number of factors, slightly peppery.
So if you want a healthy cooking oil without a strong aroma or overpowering flavor, opt for avocado oil. If you want your oil to have as much flavor as the ingredients you dress with it, go for olive oil.
The Heat of Cooking
The smoke point of olive oil is 375°F (190°C), and it breaks down and burns when heated to higher temperatures. Use olive oil as a dressing oil or oil for cooking over moderate heat.
The smoke point of avocado oil is between 480°F and 520°F (249°C and 271°C). It remains very stable even at high heat, making it ideal for grilling, frying, searing, and sautéing, and pretty much every time you need to crank up the stove.
As versatile as avocado oil is, it just doesn’t lend itself to a good pasta aglio e olio (pasta with garlic and olive oil). Certain cuisines and recipes require a high-quality extra virgin olive oil that no other can replace.
The opposite is also true. Sometimes you want certain ingredients to stand out in a dish—and it doesn’t help to overpower them with an aromatic and fragrant oil like extra virgin olive oil. In such a case, avocado oil has an undisputed advantage.
|Olive Oil||Avocado oil|
|Flavor profile||Fruity, buttery, and piquant to various degrees||Grassy and slightly sweet|
|Smoke point||375°F (190°C)||480-520°F (249-271°C)|
|How to buy||Extra virgin olive oil with the most recent harvest date||Unrefined avocado oil from a reputable brand with good reviews|
|Usage||Dressing salads, baking breads, roasting meats and vegetables, pan-frying over medium heat, sprinkling over cooked dishes||Dressing salads, grilling, broiling, and roasting meats and vegetables, deep-frying, pan-frying over high heat|
|Storage||Away from sources of heat and direct sunlight, in a dark glass bottle with a cap||Away from sources of heat and direct sunlight, in a dark glass bottle with a cap|
Every self-respecting supermarket carries at least a brand or two of olive oil and avocado oil. But the truth is that these two oils are not created equal, and they can’t always be used interchangeably.