• What is the Difference between Crude Oil and Vegetable Oil?

Fuel for Thought

What is the Difference between Crude Oil and Vegetable Oil?

Apr 08 2015

Crude oil and vegetable oil are both natural oils, but share very different properties and uses. As a general rule, crude oil refers to oil extracted from the earth, whereas vegetable oil is classed as a food ingredient, used for cooking.

What is crude oil?

Crude oil is made up of hydrocarbons and is found buried in the upper strata of the Earth’s sedimentary crust. Crude oil is known as a fossil fuel, as it was formed millions of years ago from dead marine creatures. Any fossil fuel is a finite resource. These fuels took millions of years to form and as such, cannot be replaced. Crude oil does not spoil.

How is crude oil formed?

Millions of years ago, enormous numbers of marine creatures died and their bodies fell to the bottom of the sea. After a while, layers of sediment covered these bodies, and as the pressure increased, so did the temperature. Over time, the animal remains were ‘cooked’ by this pressure and turned into crude oil. If the layers of rock above the oil are impermeable, the oil is trapped in pockets underground and can be easily extracted. Lower pressures and temperatures during the crucial formation stages cause oil shale to form instead of pure crude.

For more information, read: How Is Crude Oil Formed?

What is crude oil used for?

Once crude oil has been distilled, it can be used for a variety of fuels, including petroleum, jet fuel, diesel fuel, propane and other heating fuels. Crude oil is also an important component of plastic, some clothing products, home insulation and even fertilizers.

For more information, read: What Fuels Are Made from Crude Oil?

What is vegetable oil?

Vegetable oil is an oil derived from vegetables or plants, such as corn, olive, sunflower and rapeseed. Vegetable oil consists of fatty acids, including linoleic, palmitic, oleic, etc. Vegetable oil can spoil and turn rancid, which is why anti-oxidants have to be added.

How do you get vegetable oil?

Generally speaking, the plant or vegetables are crushed to extract the oil. This is typical of olive oil processing. However, if the oil is difficult to extract, the plant or vegetable is dissolved in a solvent. The oil is then extracted through distillation and any impurities are removed. This is the method used to extract sunflower oil.  

What is vegetable oil used for?

Vegetable oil is used in cooking. Different oils have varying nutritional values - the healthiest oils are those with low amounts of hydrogenated fats and more unsaturated fats. Vegetable oils that are partially hydrogenated could contain trans fats, which health experts believe that these can cause problems such as heart disease. Typically healthy vegetable oils include olive, canola and rapeseed oils. Less-healthy vegetable oils include palm kernel, coconut and cottonseed oils.

Some vegetable oils can also be used as fuels, and are considered to be better for the environment, as they are carbon neutral. 


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