Comparing Fryer Oils
There are a lot of factors that go into choosing the correct fryer oil for your commercial deep fryer. From flavor and smoke point to price and health impact, we break down the benefits and drawbacks to each oil to help you find the best one for your menu and equipment.
One of the most common things discussed when comparing oils is the smoke point. The smoke point is the temperature at which oil begins to burn and produce continuous smoke. Past the smoke point, oil degrades quickly and can give food a burnt flavor, so it is important to select an oil with a smoke point higher than the temperature at which you will be cooking. However, it is important to note that oil types do not have unalterable smoke points, as the temperature can be affected by the oil's refinement, place of origin, sediment, acidity, and quality.1 For example, olive oil's smoke point can range between 320 and 468 degrees Fahrenheit. Each manufacturer can give a good estimate of the smoke point of its particular oil.
Another thing to keep in mind about an oil's smoke point is that as the oil is used it will break down and collect sediment, causing its smoke point to lower gradually until it is no longer suitable for cooking. Different types of oils degrade at varying rates depending on processing methods, level of refinement, and the amount of sediment they collect 2. While it is important to keep the smoke point of an oil in mind, unless it is naturally very low, the smoke point should be less of a factor in your final decision than the oil's flavor and price.
The following are the most common pure oil types used in deep frying that you may wish to consider using in your restaurant. Some things to keep in mind when choosing an oil are:
- What are you cooking? Are you cooking items with strong flavors that can stand up to an oil with some body, or should you be looking for a light, neutral-flavored oil for frying more lightly flavored menu items?
- What is your budget? These oils vary widely in price, so this should be carefully considered, especially if your kitchen fries a lot of items.
- What else will you use oil for? If you will also be roasting, searing, or making condiments or dressings with your oil, you may wish to purchase a versatile oil type that can handle all of these tasks.
- What type of fryer do you have? This is mostly a consideration with solid fats, which will require a fryer with a melt cycle that gently warms the block to ensure it doesn't scorch before it's fully melted.
Canola oil is made from the rapeseed plant, which produces a light oil with a neutral flavor. Canola oil is usually highly refined to make it more stable at high temperatures, giving it a high smoke point ranging from 350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Canola is also one of the most affordable oils available for deep frying and is easy to find in bulk, often sold in 35-pound packages. A potential drawback to this oil is that some people can perceive a slight fishy flavor when food has been cooked at high temperatures or in degraded oil.
Coconut oil has become very popular in recent years for its health benefits, but it is also one of the more expensive oils available. With a smoke point around 350 degrees Fahrenheit, coconut oil can be used for most frying applications. This oil may be a good option for restaurants where health is a focus. Coconut oil usually has a mild, slightly sweet flavor, making it ideal for frying breads and desserts like doughnuts and funnel cakes. Because it is not used as often for commercial deep fryers, coconut oil may not be available as a bulk frying oil from all suppliers.
Corn oil has a high smoke point, ranging from 320 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. This high smoke point combined with its relatively inexpensive price point makes it a common choice for deep frying. Corn oil has a mild flavor that does not impact the food being fried in it, and it is widely sold in bulk for restaurant use.
Cottonseed oil is a popular oil in restaurant frying and food manufacturing due to its mild flavor and low cost. It is light in color, allowing the true color of the food to shine through, and has risen in popularity in past years due to its being recommended as a healthy alternative to more common oils. This oil has also become popular in residential use for frying turkeys at Thanksgiving.
Grapeseed oil is common in home deep frying due to its high smoke point, which ranges between 420 and 485 degrees Fahrenheit, and its neutral flavor. However, there's a lot of debate over its health benefits and it is one of the most expensive oils, so it is not commonly used in restaurants.
Lard and rendered beef fat are easily the most expensive options on this list, but come very highly recommended for deep frying. To help mitigate the price some restaurants render their own pork or beef fat. Lard and rendered beef fat have smoke points between 350 and 420, and often have to be purchased from local farms or butchers. These fell out of common use in recent decades due to health concerns, but are once again rising in popularity as some of those have been disproven.
Olive oil is not commonly used for deep frying in the U.S., but it is more commonly seen in Europe, especially in Mediterranean countries.3 Virgin and refined olive oils are more commonly used, as those types have higher smoke points of 420 to 468 degrees Fahrenheit. Olive oil has a distinctive flavor that makes it ideal for deep frying authentic Mediterranean recipes, but is not a common choice due to its moderate to high price point.
Peanut oil is very economical and has a neutral to sweet flavor, making it a common choice for doughnuts, funnel cakes, and other bread products. While there are some concerns about peanut allergens, the FDA does not count peanut oil as a major food allergen, as it does not contain the proteins that trigger reactions in peanut-allergic individuals.4 Peanut oil also has a high smoke point ranging from 440 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit that contributes to its popularity as a fryer oil.
Rice bran oil is commonly brought up as one of the healthiest deep-frying oil options, but it can be difficult to find in bulk, making it a somewhat pricey option. This oil is more popular in Asia, where the Japanese have long used it for frying tempura. It has a light, slightly nutty flavor and a high smoke point of 490 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Safflower Oil is another oil that has recently experienced a surge in popularity due to potential health benefits. However, it can still be difficult to find in bulk and has a moderate to high price point. Depending on how refined the oil is, its smoke point can fall anywhere within the wide range of 225 to 510 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning only more refined safflower oil is suitable for deep frying. It is neutral in flavor, ensuring the natural flavors of the food you're cooking will be the focus.
Soybean oil is one of the most popular deep fryer oils, which likely has a lot to do with its low price point. It ties with canola oil for the lowest-priced cooking oil available. Soybean oil is readily available from most suppliers in both regular and non-GMO formulations. It has a neutral flavor, but is considered by some to be unhealthy due to its high saturated fat content.
Sunflower seed oil is commonly used in food manufacturing, though recent studies5 have indicated that it may be harmful to health when heated. However, it is still perceived by many to be one of the cheaper oil options available. Refined sunflower oil has a smoke point around 440 degrees Fahrenheit, and is neutral in flavor. Sunflower oil is moderately high-priced, usually costing about the same as coconut oil.
While selective operators can find single-type fats that may be the best oil for deep frying their menu items, in many cases a blend of oil types is more likely to meet a restaurant's needs. Vegetable oil is a common choice for deep frying, and may consist of a blend of palm, soybean, canola, sunflower seed, peanut, cottonseed, palm kernel, coconut, and olive oils. Because each blend of oils varies, the manufacturer will provide the oil's smoke point. Depending on the blend of oils and how they are processed, these blends may be liquid or solid at room temperature, but any solid oils can only be used in a fryer with a melt cycle.
- Where There's Smoke, There's a Fryer. Washington Post. Accessed April 2017.
- Chemistry of Deep-Fat Frying Oils. Texas A&M University. Accessed April 2017.
- Yes You Can Deep Fry with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. California Olive Ranch. Accessed April 2017.
- Peanut Oil: No Allergens. The Peanut Institute. Accessed April 2017.
- Which Oils Are Best to Cook With? BBC News. Access