You won't believe EVOO's sweeter side.
baking ingredients
Getty / Arx0nt
| Credit: Getty / Arx0nt

There's lots to love about olive oil, from its healthy fats and antioxidants to its versatility as a cooking or finishing oil. But for all its virtues, extra-virgin olive oil (or EVOO) is not what the cooking world knows as a neutral oil. Real olive oil has a distinct and, many say, heavenly taste: fresh, grassy and almost spicy. Connoisseurs say, only half-jokingly, that instead of stars, oils are rated by how many times you cough after tasting them; three coughs is an excellent oil. Those piquant flavors are wonderful on focaccia, pasta and roasted vegetables. But pancakes? Not so much.

That's about to change, however. Just in time for baking season, California Olive Oil has debuted two oils with a sweeter side. The Sweet Vanilla Extra Virgin Olive Oil Baking Blend uses a mild EVOO as its base and infuses it with natural flavor from vanilla beans, while the Almond Oil & Extra Virgin Olive Oil Baking Blend is a mix of 75% almond oil and 25% mild extra-virgin olive oil.

The oils were created, says Meagan Cole, senior communications manager for California Olive Oil, as a result of the popularity of plant-based foods—a lifestyle she herself was unexpectedly thrown into when her son was diagnosed with a dairy allergy. While these oils are a great option for vegans, low-carb dieters and paleo fans, you don't have to be following a special diet to reap the benefits.

I've long preferred oil to butter for baked goods because it seems to keep them moister longer and create a more consistent texture. But, with a few rare exceptions where I'm embracing EVOO's savory notes, like olive oil cake, butter usually wins the flavor contest, which is why it's often a first choice for desserts. These sweet oils are a game changer for brownies, cakes and cookies, or for just drizzling over some homemade vanilla ice cream.

I whipped up some vanilla-oil pancakes: they were moist and fluffy, and both my picky-eater kid and I enjoyed them. I'm already thinking of uses, both sweet and savory, for the almond oil. In any recipe you have, you can swap these oils 1-to-1 for other oils or ¾-to-1 for butter. Give them a try; they just may be your new neutral.

The Sweet Vanilla Extra Virgin Olive Oil Baking Blend is also available in Whole Foods Markets nationwide, and the Almond Oil & Extra Virgin Olive Oil Baking Blend is available in Sprouts nationwide.