I recently ventured a bit outside my usual European cooking and started making recipes from a "westernized" Japanese cookbook I was gifted.

Some recipes for salads call for "vegetable oil" in the dressing. I usually make salad dressings with olive oil and didn't have canola or sunflower seed oil at the time, but I wondered: would Japanese cuisine clash with olive oil? Most dressings in the book use soy sauce and sesame oil, which are very aromatic ingredients anyway, so would olive oil be "masked" by those anyway, or do Japanese sauces/dressings nnecessarily need a more neutral oil?

3 Answers 3


Olive oil is not native to Japan and is never used in traditional Japanese cooking. (Yes, olives are now grown in Japan and olive oil is readily available, but so are burgers and pizza.)

Your recipe's "vegetable oil" is almost certainly a translation of the Japanese サラダ油 sarada abura, literally "salad oil", meaning any of a number of mildly flavored, neutral oils like canola oil (probably the most common) or sunflower oil. According to the relevant JAS standard, olive oil is explicitly not a type of "salad oil".

That's the theory, but in practice, for things like salads you probably can use olive oil without significantly changing the flavor. Salads are also not traditional Japanese food, so there's more room for experimentation anyway. Stick to mild olive oils though, avoid funky extra virgin and the like, and definitely do use a "salad oil" if the recipe involves frying etc.


There are olive oils that are produced in Japan and used in Japanese cuisine. It just depends on the flavors you are trying to achieve in a recipe. Sesame oil has a very strong, distinctive flavor. Olive oil can as well, but it is clearly different. It is certainly possible that flavors would be masked or changed, but if that is all you have...

This comes down to your goal. Are you trying to reproduce a recipe or cuisine authentically, are you experimenting, or are you just trying to make something that you enjoy eating for dinner? Did you use the olive oil? How was it?

  • 1
    I definitely enjoyed it, and I don't necessarily stick to every ingredient religiously (especially because I can't get some stuff here in Europe (small town with very few Japanese)). The dressing was made on a basis of a raw carrot, half a white onion, soy sauce, sesame and olive oil that were blended together, adding the oil at the end. I could look up the exact ingredients and amounts if you are interested.
    – John Doe
    Jul 1, 2019 at 10:51

Welcome! If your recipe is calling for vegetable oil, you would probably want something with a pretty neutral flavor.

If you have a light or extra light olive oil it would likely work well. However, many people use an extra virgin olive oil for salad dressings, dipping, etc., and the flavor may not pair as well with the other ingredients.

You can try it with the olive oil you have and see how you like it. I would definitely be interested to know the result. And a comparison would be awesome!

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