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I have a cake recipe which calls for 1 1/3 cup of vegetable oil. What are the essential properties of vegetable oil in baking? What changes would be expected if I were to substitute peanut or canola oil for the vegetable oil?

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Peanut and canola are vegetable oils. Vegetable oil is a catch-all term, it's not asking for a product labelled "vegetable oil" although you can buy it in the store. Oils labelled vegetable oil are blends and can be any proportion of things like canola (rapeseed), peanut, corn, sunflower, etc. Just don't use Olive oil, it is a vegetable oil but it won't be good for cakes!

Different vegetable oils will give different properties although most will give you about the same result. Canola is flavorless and relatively light while peanut is a bit richer and, well, peanut-y. The differences in your cake will be subtle, however.

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Subtle might be an overstatement - I'm not sure most people would even be able to tell the difference between peanut oil and canola oil in a cake. –  Jefromi Oct 31 '12 at 16:28
    
Why would olive oil be bad for cakes? –  KatieK Oct 31 '12 at 16:29
    
What they hey, infinitesimal is too hard to spell. –  GdD Oct 31 '12 at 16:29
    
@KatieK, because it tastes of olives. Just think, chocolate cake with an olive tinge - yech! –  GdD Oct 31 '12 at 16:31
    
Not all olive oil have strong olive taste. Although olive oils sold in non Mediterranean countries are somehow luxurious, and therefore stronger tasting. –  J.A.I.L. Nov 9 '12 at 11:34
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