Whether you are a health nut or not, deep fried foods can be hard to resist, there are so many foods that taste wonderful when fried, such as french fries and king prawns, fried bread and batter covered sausage, even sweet pastries, fruits and chocolate can taste so much better when deep fried. However, deep fried foods aren't really a healthy choice, though deep frying at home can be a better option for your health if you know which oils to use.
What is Deep fat Frying?
The practice of frying food is an age old technique. It is believed to have originated in the Middle East around 2000 years BC. It is the process of heating oil or fat to a 'melting' point which 'crisps' the outside of the food, while locking the moisture and flavor inside. Any food that is cooked in hot oil or fat is classed as fried food.
How Does Frying Work?
Deep frying means submerging food in hot oil which should ideally have a temperature around 350-375 degrees F (176-190C). If the temperature is too low, the food will absorb the oil and become greasy before it has had a chance to form a crisp outer crust. If the oil is too hot, the outside of the food will burn before it has cooked on the inside.
What Sort of Oils are There?
Deep fried food can taste wonderful with the right oil and there are many oils to choose from, but the healthiest oils are the ones that have more polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats. Some oils are better for certain types of food and some fry better at certain temperatures, but before you choose an oil you need to know about its 'smoke point'.
What is the Smoke Point?
When the oil you are cooking with begins to smoke, it has reached its 'smoke point'. All oils have a smoke point, which is when the oil has reached a temperature where it starts to burn. The smoke point is also s warning that the oil is getting close to its 'flash point', this is the stage when the oil is so hot that it can burst into flames. The higher the smoke point, the more suitable the oil.
Frying with an oil that has a high smoke point means you can safely cook food at a higher temperature, which cooks the food quicker and absorbs less of the oil, not only is this better for your waistline but it is healthier too.
There are however, a number of factors to consider when deep fat frying, which will decrease the smoke point of the oil you use. For instance, food fried in batter will reduce the smoke point of the oil, as will the number of times the oil is used and the length of time it is heated. Adding salt to the food will also decrease the oil's smoke point and the temperature to which it is heated will alter its smoke point too.
Does oil Deteriorate with use?
In a word, Yes. The more times oil is used the more it will deteriorate and the slower it will pour, this is because it's viscosity will alter through changes to the molecular structure of the oil. Oil will also darken with prolonged use because the food and oil molecules burn when subjected to the high heat needed for deep fat frying.
Another factor to bear in mind is that oil is no longer effective at deep frying if smoke appears on the surface of the oil before it reaches around 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Old oil needs to be discarded if it smells rancid or has the smell of previously cooked foods, or if there is an accumulation of sediment at the bottom of the fryer.
So Which is the Healthiest oil for Deep fat Frying?
Below are some popular and readily available cooking oils along with their benefits and health properties to help you to choose the best oil next time you fry some food!
Coconut oil is considered to be one of the best and healthiest choices for deep fat frying, but as 90% of its fatty acids are saturated, it makes it very resistant to high heat and its quality doesn't deteriorate either, even after 8 hours of continuous frying. There are many benefits of using coconut oil plus it can help to help kill viruses and harmful bacteria.
On the downside, some coconut oils can leave their smell or flavor on the food that is being fried, so if you don't like the taste of coconut oil, especially on your fried food, then try a few out until you find one that suits your needs.
Olive oil is one of the healthiest oils you can buy, it's very high in mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which are also very resistant to high heat, it can be used for over 24 hours before it starts to oxidize, making it equally as good as coconut oil for its frying properties and it's health benefits.
The only downside to this oil is that it doesn't hold its flavor and fragrance when it's heated up for any length of time.
Canola oil is also considered a healthy oil and one of the least expensive oils. It's low in saturated fats and has a high smoke point of 460 degrees F (238 degrees C).
Sunflower oil is full of mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, making it a great choice for deep fat frying. Its vitamin E and neutral flavor also makes it a popular choice.
Soybean oil comes from antioxidant rich soybeans, its omega 3 fatty acid and polyunsaturated fats make it a heart friendly oil. It reaches a smoke point of 466 degrees F (241 degrees C) and it also has a neutral flavor.
Rice Bran Oil
Rice bran oil contains almost 47% of mono-unsaturated fat, as well as nutrients such as antioxidants, oleic and linoleic acids and vitamin E. It's a stable oil and has a neutral flavor making it a good choice for deep fat frying.
Avocado oil has a slight nutty taste and its composition is quite similar to olive oil. Although it is considered a mono-unsaturated oil, it also has a mix of polyunsaturated and saturated fats in it. Avocado oil has a very high smoke point at 520 degrees F (270 degrees C).
Peanut oil also known as Groundnut Oil, has an abundance of mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and has a neutral taste. Its plus point is that it doesn't absorb the flavor of different fried foods so it can be used many times. It also has a high smoke point of around 446 degrees F (230 degrees C), though it is susceptible to oxidative damage when heated to a high temperature. Health wise, peanut oil could be considered an unhealthy oil as it can affect people with a peanut allergy.
Palm oil is made up of mono-unsaturated and saturated fats, which also makes this oil a good choice for deep fat frying. Palm oil has a neutral flavor, especially the unrefined ‘red’ palm oil, though this oil is under scrutiny regarding its sustainability.
Corn oil has a neutral taste and is a good choice for deep fat frying. It is well known that corn oil helps to maintain healthy levels of cholesterol in the body and it has a smoke point of around 457 degrees F (236 degrees C).
Animal fats such as lard, fat drippings and ghee (tallow), are also suitable for deep fat frying and they can make the food extra tasty and crispy. Animal fats are very resistant to high heat because their fatty acids are mainly mono-unsaturated and saturated.
Having said that, there is a difference between animals that were grass fed and those that were fed on grains. The fat stores of grain fed animals will have a lot more polyunsaturated fatty acids, so it's best to only use the fats from those animals that have been naturally fed.
....The Crispy Truth
Deep fried foods may taste wonderful but they are extremely high in calories and fat, so they are definitely not a healthy option. They have little nutritional value when deep fried and too much of them in your diet can lead to many health problems. Eating too much of the stuff puts you at an increased risk of high cholesterol, obesity, some cancers and heart disease. On top of that, foods that are deep fried at higher temperatures and for longer, may contain a possible carcinogen called acrylamide.
Everything in moderation is the way to go with any food, so if you absolutely love your deep fried food, then, try to limit those meals to special occasions, or a deep fried treat now and then. You could opt for sticking to foods you deep fry yourself at home, it will be far healthier than eating out because you are in charge of the oil you use and what sort of food to fry.