The question “what is the best cooking oil for…” plagues restaurant owners because cooking oil has skyrocketed in price during the pandemic and remains one of the largest expenses for a restaurant that fries a lot of food.
To answer the question of what is the best cooking oil you first have to define the criteria that’s important to you. Is it price? Is it the smoke point? Is it flavor or is it healthfulness?
Cooking Oil Performance
Every restaurant wants tasty fried food. 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 criteria are critical to flavor.
Cost is paramount to the profitability of the restaurant. But, cost is more than price you pay for each unit of oil. You need to consider how long does the oil last before it has to be disposed of? Some oils are more durable, more stable, particularly those with higher smoke points. What food are you frying and at what temperature?
Here are some cooking oils and their properties and uses:
- Low heat oils
- Hazelnut, walnut, flaxseed are used for salad dressings and to add flavor.They have low smoke points, are expensive and not typically used for frying.
- Medium heat oils
- Olive and unrefined coconut oils can be used for sauteing, recipe contents and baking but are not usually used for deep fat frying due to lower smoke points and relatively high cost.
- High heat oils
- Sunflower, safflower, corn, canola, refined peanut, soybean, cottonseed and rice bran
- Neutral tasting, typically lower in cost
- 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.
Fast food restaurants do an immense amount of frying. So what oils do they use?
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. The FDA recently approved a claim for soy oil as heart healthy.
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 best cooking oil
The best cooking oil is the one that provides the best balance of flavor, cost and healthy food. 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.the best cooking oil