fryers with cooking oil

The best cooking oil is…

The best cooking oil is debated like a beauty pageant. What are the criteria? Musical talent, beauty, life story or playing to the judges. In choosing the best cooking oil you have to balance taste, price, overall cost, shelf life, availability and health.

Cooking Oil Taste

Every restaurant and every customer wants tasty fried food. Who doesn’t love fish and chips? In most cases you want an oil that prevents transference of flavors to the food they are cooking. You also want an oil with a high smoke point because smoky oil imparts very unpleasant flavors to fried food. These two factors are critical to flavor. Some of the different oils and their uses are:

  • Low heat oils
    • Hazelnut, walnut, flaxseed are used for salad dressings and to add flavor. They have low smoke points, and not typically used for frying.
  • Medium heat oils
    • Olive and unrefined coconut oils can be used for sautéing, recipe contents and baking but are not usually used for deep fat frying due to lower smoke points.
  • High heat oils
    • Sunflower, safflower, corn, canola, refined peanut, soybean, cottonseed and rice bran
    • Neutral tasting
    • High smoke points 400 to 470 degrees F

Most fryers operate at 350 to 375 degrees so a higher smoke point, say 450 degrees means more durability and greater longevity. Here is a table of oils and their smoke points. 

Sunflower oil is widely used in Europe for frying but with 50% of sunflower oil coming from Ukraine and 25% from Russia it has created a bit of a crisis for restaurants there.

Cooking Oil Cost

Soybean and Canola oil are commonly used in the U.S. for restaurant frying. Soybean prices have risen dramatically due to the use of soybeans for making biodiesel fuel. Canola oil prices have risen due to production shortages in Canada (drought), Ukraine (war) and increased demand from China.

Sunflower oil prices have risen due to the aforementioned war in Ukraine. Peanut oil is popular for frying and the prices are a bit steadier but not everyone loves the flavor.

Cost is paramount to the profitability of the restaurant. But, the cost is more than the price you pay for each unit of oil. You need to consider how long  oil lasts before it has to be disposed of?  Some oils are more durable, more stable, particularly those with higher smoke points. 

What Oils Do the Biggest Users Choose?

Canola is considered one of the top options in cooking oil but not one of the most durable. It has a fairly high smoke point of 400 degrees, is high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, is flavor neutral and relatively inexpensive. Peanut oil is usually more expensive than canola but is also flavor neutral, and has an even higher smoke point (450) and is more durable. Some people worry about peanut allergies but highly refined peanut oil has no allergens. Lastly, safflower oil has one of the highest smoke points but is more expensive.

Soy oil is very popular due to its low cost but its durability is also not high. Corn oil is inexpensive, has a slightly sweet flavor with medium durability. Premium soy is more expensive than soy but has higher durability.

What Oils Do High Volume Restaurants Use for Frying?

So, how does a restaurateur weigh these factors and make a choice?

Wendy’s cooks its fries in 100% corn oil. Burger king uses a blend of soybean and cottonseed oil. Chick-Fil-A uses a blend of canola and peanut. McDonalds is said to use a blend of canola, corn and soybean. McDonalds UK used a blend of canola and sunflower. KFC uses canola oil and hydrogenated soybean oil. Often a restaurant will use one oil for fries and a different one for fish or chicken.

Clearly, the trend among restaurants who purchase a lot of cooking oil is to blend oils to get a balance of durability, smoke points, flavor and cost. With blends that mimic the desired characteristics a big purchaser of oil can substitute as prices change. Some bulk purveyors offer custom blended oils for larger clients.

The Cooking Oil You Choose

The best cooking oil is the one that provides the best balance of flavor, cost and healthy food. And that choice may vary with market conditions-availability and price. It may vary with the foods being fried and the priorities of your customers. If you’ve been purchasing the same frying oil for years it may be time to look at what is available. It is important for a restaurant to get it right.

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