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I was reading my local Chinese take-out's menu that somehow ended up stuck to my fridge door and I noticed under their logo a marketing bullet-point advertising:

  • We use 100% Vegetable Oil

That sounded unusual to me - and it's unhelpfully vague too: doesn't that include olive oil, avocado oil, peanut oil (-ish?), canola oil, etc.

I searched for the phrase on Google, but but a broken search result page, so I used Bing and saw that over 48,000+ web-pages use this stock phrase.


enter image description here

So what is "vegetable oil", exactly, and why do so many North American-Chinese restaurants advertise it so frequently? If a restaurant does not use vegetable oil what does that imply about the restaurant?

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  • Strangely, I seemed to remember that we had a question asking exactly "what is vegetable oil made of", but cannot find it. Here a related question where the answer addresses the "what is it" part: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/57533/…
    – rumtscho
    Apr 25 at 8:01
  • n.b. Google doesn't like the % sign for reasons that are not entirely clear to me - likely something to do with special symbol substitution happening behind the scenes. You can try "100 vegetable oil" and it will give you your results.
    – undercat
    Apr 26 at 0:15
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    I cleared up the comments on the question and the answers. Please note that it is OK to clear up what they mean by using vegetable oil (and by extension, which fats they are not using), but it is out of our scope to go into detail on why some people might not want to eat some kinds of fat.
    – rumtscho
    Apr 26 at 18:19
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    FWIW as someone allergic to peanuts, if I see "vegetable oil", "peanut oil" does not enter my mind.
    – DKNguyen
    Apr 27 at 0:16
  • @DKNguyen it definitely should enter your mind. Please always get authoritative answers about any allergens that might be used in your food. Apr 27 at 13:49

2 Answers 2

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Odds are that anything sold in the US as ‘vegetable oil’ is soybean oil, but it might mean something different to a restaurant.

The issue is that it used to be fairly common for restaurants to uses rendered animal fats such as lard for cooking, as it imparted a lot of flavor to the food.

Some restaurants make a point of mentioning it (eg, ‘duck fat french fries’), while others may prefer to cater to vegetarians or people who avoid certain types of animals (eg, pork).

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  • 10
    And if you want more of the back history on this whole thing— read up on the issue of McDonalds french fries not being vegetarian
    – Joe
    Apr 24 at 23:48
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    FWIW, lard is a very common fat for stir-frying for home Chinese cooks.
    – FuzzyChef
    Apr 25 at 2:37
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    I'd love to find a Chinese restaurant that proudly declared they used 100% rendered animal fats. I love chinese food, but vegetable oils make me ill in all but the tiniest of quantities, so any chinese-esque food I make at has gose fat.
    – Spagirl
    Apr 25 at 13:09
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    Or prepared fryolator oils which are full of trans fats.
    – Beanluc
    Apr 25 at 16:45
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    My local fish & chip shop in the UK advertises that they fry in nothing but beef dripping. No vegetarian options here!
    – FLHerne
    Apr 26 at 16:30
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There is, as someone said, the business decision to cater to vegetarians/vegans preferences.

Another reason could also be to advertise that they do not use hydrogenated oils.

Also, in Asia (not a generalization or stereotyping), Ive seen it is not very uncommon for oil to a. be adulterated by either the supplier or the the restaurant itself or b. For them to mix with cheaper hydrogenated oil in the fryer or c. Reuse older oil. So the 100% vegetable oil messaging perhaps refers to the quality control in their sourcing, and an assurance that they are using pure 100% vegetable oil without mixing with other fats.

Which oil it is depends. But vegetable oil is an umbrella term and could mean any non animal based oils, including but not limited to palm, canola, peanut, sunflower, rice bran. Olive oil would generally not be used in a wok because it burns at a lower temperature and could spoil the dish.

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  • 18
    Hydrogenated vegetable oil is still vegetable oil.
    – MTA
    Apr 25 at 12:19
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    Partially hydrogenated oils contain trans-fats but fully hydrogenated oils do not. This is an important distinction.
    – J...
    Apr 25 at 13:04
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    True, @J... but fully hydrogenated "oils" aren't what we're talking about here. Restaurants might use a commercial fryer oil product which is very very transfatty.
    – Beanluc
    Apr 25 at 16:46
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    @rumtscho A legal requirement not to use the unmodified term "vegetable oil" if it is a hydrogenated vegetable oil certainly applies to an ingredient list on food packaging in the USA under CFR Title 21 Part 101A Sect 101.4(A)14. Canada has a similar rule under "Labeling Requirements for Fats and Oils" dated 2015. No such regulations apply to a restaurant sign such as mentioned by the OP. Since the defining character of vegetable oil is that it comes from non-animal sources, there is nothing fraudulent in using "vegetable oil" for hydrogenated vegetable oil on a restaurant sign.
    – MTA
    Apr 26 at 19:03
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    @MTA I don't know if these regulations apply to restaurant signs or not. But, in common language usage, if you say "I used vegetable oil" and you used hydrogenated oil, people would consider that a lie. So I would expect the restaurants to not be doing it.
    – rumtscho
    Apr 26 at 19:26

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