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Is it just us or there’s something magical about deep-fried foods? Whether we’re talking about french fries, onion rings, chicken wings, or fish sticks, deep frying adds a signature flavor and a delicious crunchy texture that always leaves you craving for more.
Yet, trying to recreate KFC’s fried chicken is a slippery slope. There are so many things that can affect the result. Many end up disappointed when they realize that the flavor and texture are a bit off. So, what can you do to become a true frying master?
The first thing you should look at is the oil. Since the food is completely submerged in the oil for the entire cooking process, the properties and flavor of the oil can significantly impact how the food tastes.
Another issue is the price and healthiness of frying oils. You might have heard that avocado oil is very healthy, but is it worth it when you have to pay around $8 for a cup? Is there a healthy alternative that won’t cost an arm and a leg?
To address all these questions, we’ll review and rank the most popular oils for deep frying. This will help you decide what’s the best oil for your deep fryer. Whether you’re looking for a healthier, tastier, or cheaper option, we have your back.
How Can Oil Affect Food in a Deep Fryer?
To be able to make a smart decision, you need to understand how the properties of oils can affect the food’s quality and taste. Can some oils make the food crispier? Can others make the food taste weird?
Yes to all, but there’s more. There are several different ways in which the oil affects the food that you need to consider.
The first consideration refers to the oil’s smoke point. And, this is something that’s commonly discussed over the internet. The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil begins to break down and burn. By burning, we mean that the oil’s chemical composition is altered and potentially toxic molecules are being released. When this happens, the oil gets a bad taste, but more importantly, it makes the food unhealthy.
The second consideration is associated with the oil’s taste naturality. Unlike the smoke point, taste naturality does not affect the food’s quality, but it’s very important for flavor. Different oils are more or less suited for different food types. However, we also need to consider that taste is subjective. What some people might enjoy, others might find repulsive. For this reason, the best oils for deep frying are usually the ones that have a very natural taste. This allows for the flavor of the food ingredients to be accented and removes the possibility of flavor mixing.
Nonetheless, we’ll include the taste of each oil we review as some people might want to experiment with different tastes.
Nutritional Profile of Oils
The third consideration is the nutritional profile of oils, which affect the food’s quality i.e health and safety. Different oils have different compositions of fats (monounsaturated, polyunsaturated (PUFAs), etc.) that react very differently under high temperatures. For instance, even though PUFAs are considered healthy fat, because of their composition, they’re unstable when heated. This means that they break down at high temperatures releasing some harmful chemicals. For these reasons, oils with low amounts of PUFAs are better for deep-frying.
Additionally, oils vary in their caloric density, antioxidant profile, and other nutritional values, so make sure to factor in these things as well.
Last but not least, the taste and quality of food depend on how often you change the oil and what you cook with it. This one is a no-brainer, but you might be surprised to learn that even cooking only twice with the same oil can sometimes be disastrous. Does this mean that you need to change the oil after each use? No, but there are a few things you need to consider.
Cooking any food inside the oil will leave residue, especially when we’re talking about taste. Therefore, the second meal’s flavor will be affected by the first meal. Before we wrap up this article, we’ll explain in greater detail how often you should change the oil and what type of food should never be cooked one after another in the same oil.
The Best Oil for Deep Frying
Now that you know what you need to factor in to choose the best oil for your deep-fryer, let’s review the most popular oils for deep frying.
Vegetable Oil – Best Overall
You may be surprised, but the cheapest oil for deep frying is also the best one – vegetable oil. This is what most restaurants and companies in the food industry use. It’s also what you’ll find as the number one recommendation everywhere on the internet.
There are several reasons why vegetable oil stands out from the others.
First, vegetable oil has a very high smoking point. It’s labeled as a high heat oil, with a smoke point between 400° and 450° (depending on the brand).
Second, vegetable oil is highly refined oil which means that it’s very taste neutral. Unrefined oils, although healthier and better for salad dressings or low heat meals, usually have a very intense flavor – think extra virgin olive oil or virgin coconut oil. And, we’ve already discussed the benefits of taste naturally when choosing an oil for deep frying.
Third, it’s cost-effective. In other words, vegetable oil is usually one of the cheapest options on the market and can be reused several times making it even more cost-effective. If we consider that you need a large volume of oil to deep-fry, the price is not an insignificant matter.
The downside to deep frying with vegetable oil is that it’s not very healthy. It does have a high smoking point, which is good, but unfortunately, it also has a high amount of unsaturated fats, which tend to oxidize at high temperatures. But, how big of a problem this is will depend on the exact mix of oils used in the vegetable oil. So, make sure to check out the ingredient label before buying vegetable oil. This is especially important for people with allergies. Let’s explain a little bit more.
What Exactly Is Vegetable Oil?
The term vegetable oil can be applied to all oils extracted from seeds or from other parts of fruits. This includes but it’s not limited to soybean oil, sunflower seed oil, olive oil, palm oil, canola oil, and more. However, in this context, we’re talking about the label “vegetable oil” on oil bottles in a supermarket.
What’s the difference?
Commercially produced vegetable oil is most commonly a mix of highly refined plant-derived oils such as corn oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil. These oils are blended together in different concentrations for maximum cost-effectiveness, naturality, and to manipulate the smoke point.
Yet, depending on the brand and particular mix some can be better than others. For instance, avoid brands that use palm oil, especially in high concentrations.
Olive Oil – Healthiest Oil
Our second pick for deep frying is olive oil, especially for people who want the best of the best regardless of price.
The smoke point of olive oil depends on refinement. Regular olive oil has a smoke point of about 240°C whilst extra virgin olive oil is around 190°C. Also, regular olive oil (refined) has a more natural taste, although its flavor and fragrance are known to affect the taste of the food.
To conclude, we recommend olive oil because it’s healthy. It has a very high amount of antioxidants which rightfully makes it one of the healthiest oils out there.
However, the downsides of using olive oil for deep frying include the high price tag, its relatively low smoke point, and the more or less intense flavor (which might be a benefit to some people who enjoy the flavor).
Canola Oil – Best Lower-Fat Alternative
Another very popular choice for deep frying is canola oil. The reasons for this choice are plenty, but most people love how healthy it is while still having a high smoking point.
Canola oil is derived from the rapeseed plant. It’s light in color and has a very neutral flavor. Because of this, most chefs love to work with canola oil. It lets the flavor of the food really stick out.
On top of that, refined canola oil is specifically made for deep frying because that brings its smoking point up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit – more than you’ll ever need for deep frying.
And, finally, the third benefit is that refined canola oil is widely available at a very low price point. Depending on where you live you can even find canola oil for $2 to $3 per quart.
The only downside to canola oil is that it’s not very nutritious, especially when talking about highly refined canola oil. Except for maybe vitamins E and K, canola oil is not a good source of vitamins, minerals, or antioxidants. This means that the consumed calories from canola oil will be empty calories – ones that do not add any health benefit.
Peanut Oil – Best for Natural, Slightly Nutty Flavor
Last but not least, a smart choice for deep frying can also be peanut oil, also known as groundnut oil. Peanut oil has a smoking point of around 446°F and a natural, yet slightly nutty flavor that blends well with fried foods.
However, there are some concerns when it comes to peanut oil. The first obvious one is allergies to peanuts. And, while highly refined peanut oil is labeled as safe even for people with allergies, it still might be best to stay away from it just to be on the safe side.
Second, peanut oil contains around 32% polyunsaturated fats, which is comparatively higher than our other recommendations. This would mean that using it raw is better than others, when heated it’s more vulnerable to oxidation.
Finally, it’s a little pricer than canola oil, but for people that for whatever reason are looking for an alternative, peanut oil is a great choice.
Other Popular Options
For those who want to experiment, there are always more alternatives to try out. For instance, avocado oil, coconut oil, and lard are also commonly chosen for deep frying. Here’s why.
If you google what is the healthiest oil, you’ll probably end up seeing avocado oil topping all lists. The reason for this is simple: avocado oil is incredibly nutritious and has an amazingly high smoke point – around 520 °F (refined).
Still, even refined avocado oil has a very specific and mild, buttery flavor. It’s a neutral flavor that works for both savory and sweet recipes, even though not everyone might enjoy it.
On top of that, avocado oil is incredibly expensive and not everyone can afford it, which is the main reason why we didn’t include it in our top four oils for deep frying.
Coconut oil is another good choice for deep frying. It has a really high smoke point of around 365°F, and because of the saturated fats, it’s incredibly stable even when exposed to high temperatures for long periods of time. Some studies have confirmed that the stability and quality of coconut oil remain intact after 8 hours of continuous deep frying.
This resilience to heat comes from the fact that around 90% of the fatty acids in coconut oil are saturated, which is both a blessing and a curse. Sure, it makes the oil resilient to heat and a great choice for deep frying, but organizations such as the American Heart Association have warned against the consumption of saturated fats.
Still, it is fair to note that currently, there’s no scientific consensus on whether saturated fats are big bad guys like they’re commonly portrayed. There’s evidence for both arguments.
Another drawback against coconut oil is that it has a very specific flavor that some people might not enjoy. Plus, because it is naturally sweet, it might not be suitable for some types of foods.
Lard is the most common option for people that choose animal fat, although tallow, ghee, and fat drippings are also used.
The benefits of using lard when deep frying is flavor and resilience to heat. Lard is said to make the food extra crispy, which most people enjoy.
When it comes to quality, lard is mostly composed of saturated and monounsaturated fats – all highly resilient to heat. That being said, it’s interesting that the animal’s diet can affect the fat composition of the lard. For example, if the animal was fed mainly with grains, the lard might contain a higher amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids, compared to grass-fed animals.
Because of this, you should find lard from animals that have been allowed to roam and eat naturally – graze. It’s not something that’s easy to find, so make sure you trust the source from where you buy the lard.
How Often Should I Change the Oil in My Deep Fryer?
At the beginning of this article, we mentioned that changing the oil at the right time is very important and can affect both the quality and taste of your food. But, how often should you change the oil, and what oil is best for which type of food?
The general rule of thumb, which is also the short answer, is to change the oil every eight to ten uses. But, if you want to really master your skills at deep-frying and nail the taste each and every time there are a few more things you need to consider.
The following signs show that it’s time to change the oil regardless of whether you’ve used it eight to ten times.
It’s Time to Change the Oil When:
- You notice that it begins to release smoke sooner than normal.
- You notice that it has changed color. If it becomes darker it means that its chemical composition is compromised and harmful substances have been released, as well as residue from previous foods.
- You notice a rancid or burned smell. If the oil begins to smell, change it immediately.
- You notice that the texture becomes thicker. This is another bad sign that indicates it’s time to change the oil.
Still, the most important consideration when dividing when it’s the best time to change the oil is its smoke point and polyunsaturated fatty acid content. If you choose an unrefined oil with a lower smoke point, then you need to change it a lot more frequently. For instance, coconut and avocado oil can be re-used for a longer period of time, unlike olive oil which should be changed almost every time you cook.
Can you fry different foods in the same oil?
Another thing to consider when deciding how often you can re-use the same oil is the type of food you fry.
Some things are pretty obvious. For instance, if you’re cooking something sweet, such as donuts or pancakes, you should not use the same oil for frying french fries or chicken afterward. Conclusion: Do not fry sweet and savory foods in the same oil!
However, sometimes even foods that complement each other and make a great meal together should not be fried in the same oil one after another. One example that comes to mind is fish and french fries. You can fry french fries then fish, but frying fish then french fries is a bad idea because the french fries will then taste a little fishy.
Try to always fry foods that have a more subtle and mild taste such as french fries and chicken leaving the more intense-flavored foods such as onions, goat cheese, sausages, pork, fish, seafood, for last.
In fact, if you can afford it, keeping the oil separate for only one or two types of foods is best when it comes to taste.
Fried foods are widely consumed all over the world as they’re part of many cultures traditional cuisine, but are also a staple in the fast-food industry. Because of this, knowing how to properly prepare a delicious, tender, yet crispy meal is an important task that begins with choosing the right oil for deep frying.
Needless to say, there are many options, even though experts can’t seem to agree on what’s the best or healthiest oil to deep fry with. There is conflicting information circling online and scientists still haven’t reached a consensus when it comes to frying with oils, which makes it more difficult to separate the myths from the truths.
We hope that our article was a helpful guide that makes this challenge a little easier. By focusing on the facts and providing instructions on what makes an oil suitable for deep frying, we believe that you can now make a smarter decision that works best for you. Whether you want to prioritize your health, flavor, or find an affordable option that’s still healthy, we got your back.
Finally, remember that choosing the right oil for deep frying is just as important as your cooking practices. In other words, re-using the oils for longer periods of time can have the same effect as using an unsuitable for just once. Also, frying different types of foods in one oil can be tricky. Be mindful of these things when choosing what oil to buy and don’t be afraid to experiment to find the right one for your deep fryer.