Is Sesame Oil a Good Substitute for Olive Oil? Simple Guide

Olive oil or sesame oil? For many home cooks looking to stock their kitchens with versatile cooking oils, it’s a common question. Both oils have stood the test of time as pantry staples valued worldwide for their culinary benefits.

But are they readily interchangeable? Can you simply swap sesame oil in place of olive oil and vice versa? In this article, we’ll explore the nuanced differences between these two popular oils in terms of flavor, smoke point, nutrition, and best uses. Discover when it’s possible to substitute one oil for the other, and when it’s best to stick with the oil intended in a recipe.

You’ll learn how to capitalize on their complementary strengths through smart pairings and uses of each. Read on to gain insight into maximizing the flavors, health benefits, and versatility of both olive and sesame oils.


Is sesame oil a good substitute for olive oil?

Sesame oil can be a good substitute for olive oil in certain dishes (1), offering a unique flavor profile and adding depth to your culinary creations. However, it is important to consider the specific flavor requirements of your recipe before making the substitution.

Sesame Oil vs. Olive Oil: A Comparison

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Source: Thomas DeLauer

While both are cooking staples, sesame and olive oils have distinct differences:

  • Sesame oil comes from sesame seeds; olive oil is extracted from olives.
  • Sesame oil has a very strong, nutty flavor; olive oil is more mild and fruity.
  • Sesame oil is used in small amounts as a flavoring; olive oil is used as an everyday cooking oil.
  • Sesame oil has a high smoke point of about 410°F; extra virgin olive oil’s is around 375°F.
  • Sesame oil contains vitamin E, zinc, magnesium; olive oil provides vitamin E, vitamin K, polyphenols.
  • Sesame oil works well in Asian dishes; olive oil is a staple of Mediterranean cuisine.

While both provide cooking benefits, sesame oil and olive oil have unique nutritional profiles and uses. Sesame oil delivers big, bold flavor; olive oil offers more subtle fruitiness.

Flavor Differences Between Sesame Oil and Olive Oil

Is Sesame Oil a Good Substitute for Olive Oil

When it comes to taste, sesame oil and olive oil are quite different (2). Sesame oil has an intense, nutty, toasted flavor that provides a very concentrated, aromatic sesame essence. Just a few drops can impart bold sesame richness. By contrast, olive oil is more mild and fruity in flavor with subtle grassy, peppery notes.

It has a lighter taste that blends and complements other ingredients beautifully. Sesame oil is signature in Asian cooking, where its robust nuttiness shines. Olive oil brings a more delicate fruitiness that makes it a staple of Mediterranean cuisine. While sesame oil enhances dishes as a strong flavor booster, olive oil works well as an everyday cooking oil with its more mellow profile.

Health Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs. Sesame Oil

Both olive and sesame oils offer valuable health advantages. Extra virgin olive oil contains high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids that can improve cholesterol levels. The polyphenols in olive oil provide anti-inflammatory benefits. Studies show olive oil may also help lower blood pressure and heart disease risk, especially when used in place of less healthy saturated fats.

Its stability makes it resistant to oxidizing and breaking down during heating. Sesame oil also delivers key nutrients. It provides essential fatty acids like linoleic acid, along with an excellent source of zinc, magnesium, iron, and calcium.

Sesame oil contains beneficial antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds as well. Research indicates sesame oil may help lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure. So while both oils provide benefits, olive oil gets the edge for everyday cooking and sesame oil works well as a flavor-enhancing oil.

Environmental Impact of Sesame Oil vs. Olive Oil

When it comes to ecological sustainability, sesame oil and olive oil have both benefits and downsides. Sesame crops typically require less water, pesticides, and fertilizers compared to traditional olive groves, giving sesame oil an advantage in terms of environmental impact.

However, the rise of sesame oil popularity has also led to risks of deforestation in some regions as land is cleared to increase sesame planting. Olive oil production creates significant greenhouse gas emissions and waste products as well. But the olive trees themselves absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and help control erosion. Ultimately, by choosing sustainably-grown oils and using moderation, the environmental footprint of both sesame and olive oils can be improved.

Smoke Points: Sesame Oil vs. Olive Oil

Smoke point, or the temperature an oil breaks down, is an important factor when cooking. Refined sesame oil can withstand very high heat with a smoke point around 450°F, making it excellent for stir-frying, deep frying, and high-temperature cooking.

Extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoke point, around 375°F. This makes it suitable for most cooking needs like light sautéing, roasting, grilling, and dressing at a medium-high heat. Heating any oil above its smoke point can damage nutrients and create a bitter, unpleasant taste. For this reason, sesame oil is the better choice for high-heat Asian dishes. But olive oil’s smoke point works beautifully for the majority of recipes.

Exploring Substitutes for Sesame Oil

When you’re out of sesame oil, don’t despair! Consider using one of these flavorful substitutes:

  • Olive oil – The most versatile and readily available option. Imparts a mild, fruity essence.
  • Walnut oil – Provides the most similar nutty flavor, but can be overpowering.
  • Peanut oil – A more affordable choice with a faint nuttiness.
  • Avocado oil – Has a clean, delicate flavor that works well in dressings.
  • Coconut oil – Lends sweetness, but the coconut flavor may be too dominant.
  • Chili oil – Adds spicy kick that complements Asian recipes nicely.

The best substitutes like olive, walnut, and peanut oil have flavor profiles closest to sesame. But getting creative with oils you have on hand can work too!

Substituting Olive Oil for Sesame Oil

With its versatile flavor and easy availability, olive oil is often a home cook’s first choice substitute for sesame oil. Here are some tips:

  • Use about 3/4 the amount of olive oil to match sesame’s intensity.
  • Seek out unfiltered olive oil for a richer, more aromatic essence.
  • In dressings, add lemon, garlic, chili or ginger to emulate sesame’s impact.
  • For stir fries and sauces, increase garlic, soy sauce and other seasonings.
  • Sauté olive oil with a pinch of brown sugar to mimic a toasted sesame effect.

Olive oil on its own can’t truly duplicate that distinctive sesame essence. But with smart seasoning tweaks and usage adjustments, it can be an excellent stand-in.

Toasted Sesame Oil Substitutes

It’s hard to mimic that signature toasted sesame taste, but these tricks come close:

  • Sauté olive, peanut or walnut oil briefly with a pinch of brown sugar.
  • Stir a few drops of toasted nut oils like hazelnut into a milder oil.
  • Combine regular sesame oil with a bit of maple syrup or brown sugar.
  • Mix toasted sesame seeds into a neutral oil for nutty crunch and flavor.
  • Drizzle a small amount of untoasted sesame oil at the end of cooking.

While no substitute is perfect, these combinations layer flavors for a roasted sesame oil-like effect. Get creative and experiment to find your favorite mix!

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Substitute

With so many oil options, consider these factors when selecting a sesame oil stand-in:

  • Intensity – Pick an oil that can match sesame’s robust essence in small amounts.
  • Smoke point – Choose an oil suitable for the cooking method, like avocado for dressings.
  • Usage – Consider how the oil will be used (cooking, frying, drizzling) and how much.
  • Color – Coconut oil lends a similar golden hue while chili oil is a dark red.
  • Scent – Sesame oil has a very aromatic nutty fragrance. Seek out a similar smell.
  • Nutrition – Compare nutritional content. Sesame oil is high in polyunsaturated fats.
  • Price – Factor in cost, especially if used frequently. Olive oil is budget-friendly.

Keep flavor, cooking needs, nutrition profile and your budget in mind when substituting.

Recipes and Uses for Sesame Oil Substitutes

Sesame oil substitutions sparkle in recipes like:

  • Salad dressings – A mix of walnut and olive oils makes a zesty base.
  • Stir fries – Peanut or avocado oil lend nice nutty flavors for sautéing.
  • Marinades – Olive oil infused with garlic and chili doubles as a sesame marinade.
  • Noodle bowls – Toasted chili oil mimics sesame in Asian noodle dishes.
  • Chicken – Brush chicken breasts with a blend of peanut and olive oil before baking.
  • Tofu – Sauté cubed tofu in a mix of sesame seeds and coconut oil for crunch.

With a little creativity and experimenting with flavor combinations, you can cook your favorite Asian and fusion dishes without sesame oil!

Frequently Asked Questions

Does sesame oil taste like olive oil?

No, sesame oil and olive oil have very distinct flavors. Sesame oil is very strong, nutty, and aromatic. Olive oil is fruity, peppery, and more mild by comparison. The two oils cannot be used interchangeably in most recipes due to their differing taste profiles.

What flavor does sesame oil add?

Sesame oil adds a very intense, concentrated flavor that is distinctly nutty, almost sweet and toasted. It provides a bold, aromatic essence of sesame seeds that can overpower other ingredients if overused. Just a small amount of sesame oil enhances dishes with its signature nutty richness.

Does sesame oil lose flavor when cooked?

Yes, the flavor compounds in sesame oil can break down and become bitter when cooked at very high heats. For maximum flavor, it’s best to add sesame oil after cooking at the end of recipes or use it in cold dishes. Quick light sautéing and lower-heat cooking helps preserve its signature nutty taste.


While sesame oil can substitute for olive oil in some contexts, and vice versa, both oils truly shine when used for their intended purposes. Sesame oil provides bold Asian essence; olive oil offers subtle fruitiness that lets other ingredients shine.

These oils are better viewed as kitchen co-stars rather than stand-ins. By learning the nuances of each in terms of flavor, nutrition, smoke point, and usage, you can make the most of these aromatic oils. Have them both on hand so olive and sesame oils can work in harmony to take your cooking to new heights of flavor. Experiment with pairing them in dressings, dips, and marinades.

Or simply enjoy olive oil’s versatility for everyday cooking, finishing dishes with a dash of sesame for nutty depth. With the right techniques and pairings, these oils become flavor companions rather than substitutes. Now that you have all the tips, put your new olive oil and sesame oil know-how to flavorful use! Share your experiences in the comments.



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