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Butter vs. Cooking Oil: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on March 22, 2024
Butter is a dairy product made from churned cream, solid at room temperature, while cooking oil is derived from plants, seeds, or nuts and is liquid at room temperature.

Key Differences

Butter is a dairy product obtained by churning milk or cream, resulting in a solid substance that is rich in milk fat. Cooking oil, conversely, is extracted from various plants, seeds, or nuts and remains liquid at room temperature. While both are fats used in cooking and baking, their origins and physical states at room temperature distinguish them.
The flavor profiles of butter and cooking oil differ significantly. Butter imparts a rich, creamy taste to dishes, making it a favorite for baking and finishing sauces. Cooking oil, depending on its source, can range from neutral to nutty or fruity, influencing its use in different culinary traditions. This difference in flavor makes butter and cooking oil suitable for different types of recipes and cooking methods.
Butter contains saturated fats and has a lower smoke point compared to most cooking oils. This makes butter more suitable for baking, sautéing, and low-heat cooking. Cooking oils, especially those with higher smoke points like canola, vegetable, or peanut oil, are better suited for high-heat cooking methods such as frying and searing. The smoke point of a fat is crucial for determining its best culinary use.
Nutritionally, butter and cooking oil offer different health benefits and considerations. Butter, being an animal product, contains cholesterol and higher levels of saturated fat. Cooking oils, particularly those high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like olive oil and avocado oil, are often recommended for heart health. The nutritional content directly influences the dietary choices of health-conscious individuals.
Despite these differences, both butter and cooking oil are essential in culinary arts, offering unique textures, flavors, and characteristics to a wide variety of dishes. Choosing between butter and cooking oil often depends on the desired outcome of the recipe, dietary restrictions, and personal taste preferences. Each has its place in the kitchen, contributing to the diversity of culinary techniques and outcomes.

Comparison Chart


Dairy (milk or cream)
Plants, seeds, or nuts

State at Room Temperature



Rich, creamy
Neutral to specific (nutty, fruity)

Smoke Point


Best Used For

Baking, sautéing, low-heat cooking
Frying, searing, high-heat cooking

Nutritional Content

Higher in saturated fats and cholesterol
Varied, can be higher in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats

Health Considerations

Concerns over saturated fat and cholesterol
Often considered healthier, depends on type

Butter and Cooking Oil Definitions


A rich, fatty food ingredient used in cooking and baking.
He added butter to the pan for frying eggs.

Cooking Oil

A liquid fat extracted from plants used in cooking.
She used olive cooking oil for the salad dressing.


A key ingredient in pastry and sauce recipes for added flavor.
The recipe called for unsalted butter.

Cooking Oil

A source of fat with a high smoke point for high-heat cooking.
Canola cooking oil is versatile for various cooking methods.


A solid dairy product made by churning cream.
She spread butter on her morning toast.

Cooking Oil

An ingredient that can add a specific flavor or remain neutral.
Sesame cooking oil added a nutty taste to the dish.


An emulsion of butterfat, water, and milk proteins.
They finished the sauce with a knob of butter for richness.

Cooking Oil

A healthier fat option depending on the type, like olive or avocado oil.
For heart health, he switched to using vegetable cooking oil.


A source of fat obtained from milk.
Butter was used to make the cake moist and flavorful.

Cooking Oil

A kitchen staple for frying, baking, and dressing.
Cooking oil was heated in a skillet for deep-frying.


A soft yellowish or whitish emulsion of butterfat, water, air, and sometimes salt, churned from milk or cream and processed for use in cooking and as a food.


What is butter?

Butter is a solid dairy product made from churned cream, known for its rich flavor.

Which is healthier, butter or cooking oil?

It depends on the type; many cooking oils have healthier fats, but butter can be part of a balanced diet.

What is cooking oil?

Cooking oil is a liquid fat derived from plants, seeds, or nuts, used in various cooking methods.

Can cooking oil be used in baking?

Yes, cooking oil can be used in baking for moistness and to add a neutral or desired flavor.

Are there vegan alternatives to butter?

Yes, there are plant-based butters made from oils that mimic butter's texture and flavor.

Can butter be used instead of cooking oil?

Yes, but consider the recipe's desired flavor and cooking temperature, as butter has a lower smoke point.

What is the smoke point of cooking oil?

It varies; some oils like canola have high smoke points suitable for frying, while others like olive oil are lower.

How do I store butter and cooking oil?

Butter should be refrigerated, while cooking oil should be stored in a cool, dark place.

Can I use olive oil as a butter substitute in recipes?

Yes, olive oil can replace butter in many recipes, adjusting for flavor and texture.

Can I fry with butter?

Yes, but at lower temperatures to avoid burning due to its lower smoke point.

Is butter vegan?

No, butter is made from dairy and is not vegan-friendly.

Is coconut oil a type of butter or cooking oil?

Coconut oil is a plant-based fat that can solidify at room temperature but is generally considered a cooking oil.

Can butter flavor be replicated with cooking oil?

Butter-flavored oils exist, but they may not fully replicate the rich taste of real butter.

What's the best oil for baking?

Neutral oils like vegetable or canola are often preferred for their mild flavor.

How does butter contribute to baking textures?

Butter's fat content helps create tender, flaky textures in baked goods.

What are the benefits of cooking with oil?

Cooking oils can provide essential fatty acids and vitamins, depending on the type.

Why might someone choose cooking oil over butter?

Dietary preferences, health considerations, or the desired outcome of a recipe can influence this choice.

Why choose butter over cooking oil?

Butter is chosen for its rich flavor, especially in baking and finishing dishes.

What cooking oil is best for high heat?

Oils like avocado, canola, and peanut oil have high smoke points, making them suitable for high-heat cooking.

How do saturated fats in butter affect health?

High intake of saturated fats, like those in butter, can raise cholesterol levels and heart disease risk.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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