Difference between: vegetable oil and vegetable shortening

Please note: this Difference Between is somewhat of an extension of two others – difference between olive oil and vegetable oil, and the difference between lard and shortening.

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Vegetable oil is derived from leaves, fruits, or the seeds of plants. Olive oil, soybean oil, canola oil, etc, all full under the category of vegetable oils. Vegetable oil is plain and flavorless, making it ideal for cooking when you do not want to overshadow the taste of the dish.

When people refer to shortening they are typically talking about vegetable shortening, such as the common brand Crisco. Shortening is essentially hydrogenated oil. It has a high fat content, and a similar pliability to room temperature butter. Like vegetable oil, shortening has no flavor. 

This is one of the longer Differences Betweens, so if you want the short answer before reading further here it is:

The main difference between vegetable oil and vegetable shortening is the solidity factor.  Shortening becomes solid at room temperature, while oil does not. Most of the time, vegetable oil and melted vegetable shortening can be substituted for one another in recipes.

When looking at vegetable oil and shortening we must examine these fats with regard to baking specifically. As with other Difference Betweens, we ask the question, can one be used for another in recipes? Many sources I came across pointed to yes.

In researching the answer, most of what I found was from people commenting on forums, which I typically do not like to use as a source of reliable information – who knows who the heck these people are? 

However, I will rely on forums if they’re from a reputable site, such as Food52.com, particularly if owners of the site are responding to inquires.

There, I found that generally you can substitute vegetable oil for shortening. When subbing shortening in for vegetable oil,  it must be measured after the shortening has melted.

Interestingly, in the Food Substitutions Bible, they listed the possible substitutions for vegetable shortening as lard, unsalted butter, margarine, or bacon fat; vegetable oil was not named. There was also nothing specified as a substitute for vegetable oil; they only delved into subbing different oils for one another.

I would recommend taking a conservative approach when substituting shortening for vegetable oil or vice versa. It is wise to look at the specific recipe before assuming that the blanket answer of “it will probably be fine” applies to your dish. Clearly, if you are using vegetable oil in a salad dressing, then substituting shortening in is not possible (again, why we’re focusing on baking).

A couple of exceptions I found to the swapping of oil and shortening: According to LiveStrong.com, you cannot substitute oil for shortening in doughnuts. And according to Betty Crocker, you cannot substitute shortening for oil in brownies (although you can use butter).  

In conclusion, vegetable oil and vegetable shortening are basically the same flavorless product, only one is liquid and one solid. Oil and melted shortening most often can be exchanged in recipes. For people like me, who are more into cooking than baking, play it safe by doing a little research before making a substitution.

16 thoughts on “Difference between: vegetable oil and vegetable shortening

  1. Hello

    there should be a mention about the health risk factor associated with the trans fatty acid formation during the hydrogenation of shortenings. these trans fats reputably increase the prevalence of LDL in our blood circulation. that’s probably the main rationale behind utilisation of vegetable oils at the expense of shortenings despite the latter’s other advantages.

    another common drawback of shortenings will be its incompatibility with the chill chain. products prepared with shortenings will tend to be unaesthetically pleasant with white crystal formation on the outer aspects.

    Ravish Musruck
    dip App Sc&Tech, BSc (Hons.) Agric, MSc Food Tech (QA) and MBA (GEN)

    1. You did great job of explaining thD difference between interchanging healthier vegetable oils like canola, safflower or corn oil , or even extra virgin olive oil or peanut oils, which are not polyunsaturated but monosaturated. There are numerous health benefits from eating a diet rich in polyunsaturated and mono saturated type fats and avoiding the saturated variety. Perhaps on future articles you could touch on that aspect?
      All in all, I enjoyed it and will share it on my cooking site:

      http://www.CookingUpaStormWithMissPolly.com

      Paulette Motzko

  2. Hi… I have my grandmother’s recipe for cookies, and the recipe includes Crisco (3 tablespoons). I don’t use solid shortenings anymore for health reasons, and am wondering if I can substitute oil. The recipe is for a batter that is chilled for a bit, and then rolled. Will NOT using a solid shortening change the texture and therefore not allow the cookies to be rolled? Thanks!

    1. Hi Cindy – If the recipe calls for the shortening to be melted, you would probably be better off substituting with butter.

      If the shortening is not being melted, then vegetable oil should be fine (substituting the same amount – in this case three tablespoons).

      If you’re able to, let me know how it turns out!

  3. Health issues aside (I know, I know), the biggest difference between using liquid versus solid fats in terms of the actual quality of the finished product is going to be its texture. A good rule of thumb is to use liquid fats for dense items like brownies or cornbread, and to use solid fats for things that need to be light, fluffy, or flakey, like biscuits or pie crust. It has to do with the way the ingredients melt and then rise. And butter and shortening will be different…butter tends to make things crispier, harder, and drier than shortening. Of course there’s also the issue of taste when it comes to different oils and butter vs. shortening as well.

  4. Thanks for the sharing. I would like to read more about the differences between vegetable oil and butter. However, I am looking forward to reading about difference types of fats used to make cookies or bread. The fats that I figured out were Pastry Fat, Butter, Unsalted Butter, Margerine, Shortening, Olein and Vegetable Oil. What were the differences of the products if they were added as baking ingredients? . Hope to read more soon. Thanks.

  5. Circling back to share my results. I used canola oil instead of Crisco for my cookies. They eventually came out wonderful…. but I definitely need needed (perhaps it should have been intuitive) to use more flour. The dough, even after chilling was way too sticky, and I made a colossal mess! It took a few tries to get it right. The cookies were wonderful…. but a challenge initially.

  6. I am making banana nut bread. The recipe calls for 1/2 Crisco., 3 bananas, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup of buttermilk, along with the flour, b. powder and soda. I’m using Canola oil for most cooking these days )healthier and easier!). Will the oil make the bread too moist and dense?

  7. I an an avid baker, and used to use Crisco shortening almost exclusively–with considerable success, I’ve been told. I have been substituting 7/8th cup of canola oil for one cup of Crisco, although most recently I met a problem with the dough texture forming the cookies. Please pas on your suggestion. Thank you so much for your attention and input.

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