June 26, 2024 - Written by: Nancy Pollard
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Freedom To Fry

Amedeo frying olive ascolane in BolognaNow that I reside in a country whose citizens feel that they gave birth to olive oil –  an opinion that their Greek neighbors might object to – I have been experimenting with different ones. Lots of choices are available, and their tastes and aromas vary widely. I share the Italian love of fried foods and have discovered that cold-pressed olive oil that has been partially refined makes a great frying oil. I never fried with it at home because I mistakenly thought its smoke point was too low (it’s actually well over 400F).  I’ve used sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil and, of course, Canola oil,  called olio di colza here, which  has a different taste from the one I tried at home.  I discovered that the EU regulations for extracting oil are different from the US and actually play a tiny role in the vast reforms planned in  The European Green Deal

Many cookbooks and chefs recommend Canola oil as the best choice for frying, salad dressings, and chiffon cakes, and they tout its many health benefits.  I have often wondered why I did not like the taste of Canola oil and switched to sunflower oil sometime ago. Actually MOMs has a really nice sunflower oil that I think is cold pressed and partially refined.  I could use it two times for deep frying.  There are so many conflicting articles about these different oils that I thought I would share some facts I uncovered. 

Oh Canada

Canola oil is from a hybrid  that was developed from the rapeseed plant and another cultivar by theWild Rape plant from Nature website in uk University of Manitoba in the 1970s, according to Wikipedia. Previous attempts to use the oil extracted from wild rapeseed in food had been unsuccessful due to the high concentration of erucic acid, which has a sharp bitter taste. If you don’t like the taste of rutabagas, you definitely won’t like rapeseed.  The name Canola is a trademark name from the association of rapeseed farmers in Canada – Can for Canada and ola for oil, low acid. It is now the generic term for this plant and its oil.

For a couple of decades, this hybrid was grown successfully across the USA, Australia and India without being genetically modified.  That changed in 1995 when Monsanto modified it to be “Round Up Ready” – in other words, it could withstand repeated spraying of glyphosate, a heinously harmful chemical that many in scientific and medical fields would like to see banned. Today most of the “Canola”  rapeseed grown in the US and Canada is genetically modified. In Europe, and I believe also in the United Kingdom, GMO Canola is not allowed as a crop. Globally, GMO rapeseed represents less than a third of the crops grown. One of the concerns of agricultural scientists is that now herbicide resistant “transgenes” from GMO rapeseed are present in wild or natural rapeseed. Organic farmers can lose their certification if their crops show a random GMO presence.

 

To produce the oil we commonly see in our grocery stores and used by most food service facilities, the health aspects get a bit complicated. In order to get the oil that you use for frying or salad dressings, it is bleached and deodorized (rapeseed has a high chlorophyll content, which gives it a grassy green color and mustardy odor). The petroleum-based  chemical most often used for this beautification project is hexane, which is a neurotoxin to humans. It does not have to be listed on a food label in the US. The EU has switched to another safer solvent through the research done at the University of Turin in Italy and the University of Avignon in France. A tract published by the US National Library of Medicine in 2022 stated that although the toxicity of hexane has been known for years, “the real toxicity of this substance may be underestimated.” Another alarming fact is that studies of the safety and nutritional benefits of Canola oil are often conducted with cold-pressed canola oil and not what is normally bought by consumers and used in restaurants. 

 

Cold Press Preference

Spectrum canola oil from company websiteA cold-pressed oil is one that is extracted from nuts,  seeds, or vegetables  without heat – although the temperature during extraction is allowed to reach 120F. An example for nuts would be peanut oil, which is great for frying (I can taste a little bit of peanut flavor when I have fried food in it). Other nuts can have a lower smoke point, so always check – most of them such as walnut, pistachio, almond, hazelnut or pecan are  used as a condiment or in dressings, because they impart such an unusual and evanescent flavor. I have also used them occasionally in baking, where their flavor can enhance a cake or cookie. Oil from seeds would include not only rapeseed, but also sunflower, sesame, flax, grapeseed (which I really like for mayonnaise)  and safflower – which I did not know was a real plant! Vegetable-based oils would include olive, avocado, coconut, palm fruit. Cold-pressed oils obviously retain more of their natural antioxidant properties, nutrients, and will maintain a richer aroma than their heat-processed counterparts. They can also be partially refined after the cold press, which increases their smoke point. 

Smoke Points & Temperatures

The best frying temperatures start at around 320F (first fry for frites) and then around 350-375F – I actually try to keep it around 360F.  I was not always successful in using a bread cube for determining the right frying temperature, so I always, always use my Thermapen to maintain the proper temperature.  There is such a narrow window between limp and greasy fried food and food that’s over browned and somewhat bitter. I found this table from Wikipedia to be very helpful in my newfound playground of frying oils.

Fat Quality Smoke point
Almond oil   221 °C 430 °F]
Avocado oil Refined 271 °C 520 °F
Avocado oil Unrefined 250 °C 482 °F
Beef tallow   250 °C 480 °F
Butter   150 °C 302 °F]
Butter Clarified 250 °C 482 °F
Castor oil Refined 200 °C[ 392 °F
Coconut oil Refined, dry 204 °C 400 °F
Coconut oil Unrefined, dry expeller pressed, virgin 177 °C 350 °F
Corn oil   230–238 °C 446–460 °F
Corn oil Unrefined 178 °C 352 °F
Cottonseed oil Refined, bleached, deodorized 220–230 °C 428–446 °F
Flaxseed oil Unrefined 107 °C 225 °F
Grape seed oil   216 °C 421 °F
Lard   190 °C 374 °F]
Mustard oil   250 °C 480 °F
Olive oil Refined 199–243 °C 390–470 °F
Olive oil Virgin 210 °C 410 °F
Olive oil Extra virgin, low acidity, high quality 207 °C 405 °F
Olive oil Extra virgin 190 °C 374 °F
Palm oil Fractionated 235 °C 455 °F
Peanut oil Refined 232 °C 450 °F
Peanut oil   227–229 °C 441–445 °F
Peanut oil Unrefined 160 °C 320 °F
Pecan oil   243 °C 470 °F
Rapeseed oil (Canola)   220–230 °C 428–446 °F
Rapeseed oil (Canola) Expeller press 190–232 °C 375–450 °F
Rapeseed oil Refined 204 °C 400 °F
Rapeseed oil (Canola) Unrefined 107 °C 225 °F
Rice bran oil Refined 232 °C 450 °F
Safflower oil Unrefined 107 °C 225 °F
Safflower oil Semirefined 160 °C 320 °F
Safflower oil Refined 266 °C 510 °F
Sesame oil Unrefined 177 °C 350 °F
Sesame oil Semirefined 232 °C 450 °F
Soybean oil   234 °C 453 °F
Sunflower oil Neutralized, dewaxed, bleached & deodorized 252–254 °C] 486–489 °F
Sunflower oil Semirefined 232 °C 450 °F
Sunflower oil   227 °C 441 °F
Sunflower oil Unrefined, first cold-pressed, raw 107 °C] 225 °F
Sunflower oil, high oleic Refined 232 °C 450 °F
Sunflower oil, high oleic Unrefined 160 °C 320 °F
Vegetable oil blend Refined 220 °C 428 °F

 

 

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Victoria Carr
24 days ago

Hi, Nancy. I only use EVOO and expeller-pressed grapeseed oil. I never use oil bottled in plastic. What olive oil is cold-pressed and slightly refined.

Diane
24 days ago

After much tasting and research, I settled on Terra Delyssa, organic, first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil; farmer produced in Tunisia, and it is traceable and is not difficult to source.
When in business, I used grapeseed oil when making sweet & spicy pecans due to the high smoke point, but for Moi, I even gave up grass-fed Irish butter last month. Instead of frying my morning eggs, I now boil them and top the chopped eggs with EVOO and Himalayan salt.
As I age, less even becomes more. 😉

Diane
21 days ago
Reply to  Nancy Pollard

Yes, Nancy, I choose Himalayan salt, as our oceans are rapidly becoming polluted and microplastics prevail. I have stopped eating all fish for the same reason. I think all sea salts should be tested for microplastics before sale. So sad for our planet, our people and our food. Diane