Why is it that most of the tastiest things on the planet are also the things that are worst for us? Deep fried foods are crispy, salty and rich in flavor and it seems that almost everything can be made better by frying it, right!?
Picture it now, a delicious piece of burger meat between two buns with some crunchy ice berg lettuce on top and bottom. On top are some streaks of delicious, deep fried bacon with blue cheese dripping off of them. And on the side is a big pile of crispy French fries that crunch and snap with each bite…
How can you do without it? Why does it have to be so unhealthy?
I used to work in a fish and chip shop and I would regularly get customers coming in and asking if they could deep fry their candy bars…
While a deep fried candy bar will probably never be healthy, it’s not necessarily true that frying has to be bad for you. Frying is just cooking but with lots of oil. So if the oil isn’t bad for you, then the frying won’t be either… We just might be on to something!
From a health perspective then, what is the best oil for deep frying?
How Does Deep Frying Work?
First, let’s go off on a slight tangent and take a look at how deep frying works. Essentially, this is just submerging food into a vat of hot oil, be that in a frying pan or a deep fat fryer.
Once the food is submerged, the surface will be cooked immediately in order to seal in the flavor. For this to happen, the oil needs to be around 350-375F or 176-190C. If the oil is too cool, then it will seep into the food and this will make it greasy and much too rich. Likewise though, if the temperature is too high, then the food will become dried out and oxidized.
This is key because it tells us that the best oil for deep frying needs to be stable at those high temperatures. That means the oils need a high smoke point and it means they can’t react with oxygen when heated. So, finding the healthiest oil for deep frying is not a simple matter of picking any healthy oil – it first needs to be one that can be used to fry with.
So, what makes a fat stable? It usually comes down to the saturated fats. The more saturated fats in oil, the more stable it will be when it is heated up. For the same reason, we need to avoid cooking oils high in polyunsaturated fats. These contain two or more double bonds in their chemical structure, which in turn react with oxygen and result in harmful compounds when they are heated.
Oh and of course the best oil for deep frying also needs to be one that actually tastes good! As a rule, the best oils here will be those with a ‘neutral’ flavor.
And the Winner Is…
So, what oil is there that meets all of these criteria and offers us up a lot of nutritional benefit?
The winner overall has got to be coconut oil. Yep, that’s another win for the oil that seems to be popular for just about everything at the moment.
Coconut oil has been proven to be stable even after 8 hours plus of continuous deep frying at 365F. No loss in quality is observed and there’s a very slim chance you would ever need to cook for that long!
Note that 90%+ of the fatty acids found in coconut oil are saturated. This makes it easy to understand why the oil would be so resistant to heat.
Now onto those health benefits. And there are lots.
Coconut oil is great for killing off harmful bacteria and viruses is excellent at combating a range of illnesses.The big reason that so many people like coconut oil though is because of the medium chain triglycerides (MCT). This is a type of fat that is absorbed very differently from other fats. This will travel directly to the liver, where it will then go on to stimulate the production of ketone bodies. Ketones are an ‘alternative’ energy source that the body can use in the place of glucose. The great thing about this is that it can’t be stored as fat!
What’s more, is that the brain actually prefers ketones to glucose for some functions, meaning that you might get a little cognitive boost. This is why some brain supplements such as Brain Octane oil are made from MCT oil.
Oh, and because coconut oil provides you with energy, it can also help you lose weight. This is a good way to satiate yourself long into the day!
The only potential downside is that coconut oil does add some flavor and smell to your food. This depends partly on the brand and variety, so shop around and find one you like to work with. Note too that it is of course still high in calories, meaning that this is not a license to eat as many deep fried chips as you can stomach!
If you’re not a fan of coconut oil or don’t want to shell out (it is a little expensive) then what are the other best oils for deep frying?
Other good options that will prove to be stable at high temperatures and that provide various nutritional benefits, include lard, tallow, ghee and drippings. These taste great and add a lot of crispiness.
The other benefit is that these are animal fats, meaning that they tend to be high in fatty acid content. Note that the healthiest oils will come from animals that are fed grass rather than grains.
And perhaps surprisingly, butter is not a good fat for deep frying. Not only does butter contain traces of carbs and protein that burn at high heats but it is also a difficult consistency for frying in.