The Surprising Truth: Why is Cottonseed Oil Labeled as “Vegetable Oil” Despite Being Neither a Fruit nor a Vegetable?

When it comes to cooking oils, there’s a wide variety to choose from – olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, and more. However, one type of oil that often raises eyebrows is cottonseed oil. Despite cotton being neither a fruit nor a vegetable, cottonseed oil is often labeled as “vegetable oil” on food labels. This might seem confusing, but there’s a surprising truth behind this labeling practice. Let’s delve into why cottonseed oil is considered a vegetable oil and why the FDA allows this classification.

Understanding the Term “Vegetable Oil”

The term “vegetable oil” is used in a broad sense to refer to any plant-derived oil, regardless of whether it comes from a fruit, seed, nut, or vegetable. The term is more about the source of the oil (plants) rather than the specific type of plant it comes from. Therefore, even though cotton is not a vegetable, the oil derived from its seeds is still considered a “vegetable oil”.

The FDA’s Stance on Vegetable Oil Labeling

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows the term “vegetable oil” to be used for any edible oil obtained from plant sources. This includes oils derived from seeds, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. The FDA’s guidelines are based on the source of the oil rather than the botanical classification of the plant. This is why cottonseed oil, despite being derived from a plant that is not a fruit or vegetable, can still be labeled as “vegetable oil”.

Why Use Cottonseed Oil?

Cottonseed oil is a popular choice in the food industry due to its neutral flavor and high smoke point, making it ideal for frying and sautéing. It’s also less expensive than many other types of oil, making it a cost-effective choice for food manufacturers. Despite its non-vegetable origin, cottonseed oil is safe to consume and provides similar nutritional benefits to other plant-based oils.


In conclusion, the labeling of cottonseed oil as “vegetable oil” is not a misrepresentation or a mistake, but rather a reflection of the broad use of the term “vegetable oil” to refer to any plant-derived oil. The FDA’s guidelines allow for this classification, and cottonseed oil itself is a safe and commonly used oil in the food industry. So, the next time you see “vegetable oil” on a food label, remember that it could be any number of plant-based oils, including cottonseed oil.