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Factors in Choosing an Oil for Frying

Frying oil is an important aspect for determining the desired quality of a finished food product. The frying process itself is actually quite simple and a properly fried food will have a crisp texture, golden color, non-greasy flavor and be visually appealing. All of these aspects will keep customers coming back for more. An important key to producing a high quality fried food is choosing the right oil for the food and operation in question. 

The purpose of this paper is to present the many aspects involved in choosing the best oil for a particular frying purpose. There are a number of quality, economic, logistical, nutritional and practical considerations that must be evaluated when choosing an oil. This paper outlines these considerations.


The most important consideration for choosing a particular frying or cooking oil is functionality—what will be the role of the oil? What will it do for the product? How will it make the product the best it can be? Is the oil durable? Will it minimize fryer clean-up? Functionality can cover a number of attributes:

  • Flavor – What kind of flavor do I want to impart in my product? Do I want a sumptuous fried flavor reminiscent of grandma’s fried chicken? Do I want to match a particular flavor note for an ethnic or regional recipe? Do I want no flavor at all? Because oil contributes very significantly to flavor, it is extremely important that the right oil be chosen. A mismatched oil could result in variances to the recipe. In most cases, the oil should be neutral in flavor enabling the delicate flavors of the food itself to come through.

  • Shelf stability – Oil choice is critical for shelf-stability. It’s important that a food product tastes as fresh and delicious as it did on the day it was produced. As foods age, the flavors change, particularly as a result of light or air exposure. An oil with a high degree of oxidative stability such as oils that are high in oleic acid and very low in polyunsaturates will increase the shelf-life of a finished product. Choosing a stable oil is critical to ensuring that the product will meet or exceed the desired shelf life.

  • Sensory attributes – In addition to flavor, oils impart other important properties to foods such as mouthfeel, lubricity, flavor release, aroma, and texture. The type of oil chosen can be critical for bringing out the best in a food. An overpowering texture or greasiness can ruin the desired effect. The oil should complement and support the recipe rather than overtake it.

  • Nutrition – Like proteins and carbohydrates, fats and oils are one of the primary building blocks of our food. A fat is simply an oil that is solid at room temperature. In addition to making our foods taste good, oils are a key nutrient. With nine calories per gram, they have more than twice the caloric density of proteins and carbs. A little oil goes a long way in terms of nutrition, and it’s important that we consume the most optimal oils possible. Concerns about saturates, cholesterol, and trans fatty acids make oil choice critical. In fact, the ban on partially hydrogenated oils, which were developed for high-stability and structure, was due to their negative impacts on human health. This means that choosing the proper fat or oil has become more critical than ever before.

  • Structure – Cakes, cookies, icings, donuts and other baked goods require the use of fats to achieve the desired product structure. For instance, a cake made with oil instead of shortening, which is a type of fat, would be more like a pancake than the fluffy morsel we all know and love. Pies would be greasier, donuts would be oilier – you get the picture. Without structure, many of our favorite foods could not exist. In the past, oils were turned into fats by a process called partial hydrogenation. In this way, shortenings and margarines could be produced. One consequence of partial hydrogenation is the formation of trans fatty acids. While trans fatty acids add desired structure, they are detrimental to health to the point that partially hydrogenated oils must be eliminated from the food supply by 2018. Does this mean no more cakes? No more pies? No more icings? Not at all! The food industry has responded by developing zero trans- shortenings and margarines which can be substituted for the old partially hydrogenated ingredients. When produced with high oleic soybean oil, they will also impart desirable shelf stability to finished products.

  • Fryer Maintenance & Clean Up – When evaluating the functionality of an oil, it’s important to consider the entire life cycle of an oil batch. This includes fryer charging, temperature equilibration, fry life, and clean up time. The high temperatures and conditions of the frying process not only have a severe impact on the life of an oil, but also to the frying equipment itself. As a frying oil deteriorates, it polymerizes and over time, a sludge residue will form on the fryer. Cleaning the equipment often requires considerable labor and the use of harsh chemicals such as caustic soda to cut through the residue. Over time, continued scouring and caustic usage will deteriorate, damage and pit the fryer, heating elements and auxiliary piping, valving and screens. During the time the fryer is down for cleaning, it cannot be utilized and of course, downtime is undesirable in any production operation. Using high stability oils such as high oleic soybean oil that are high in oleic acid and very low in polyunsaturates will minimize sludge formation and downtime as illustrated below. High stability oils such as high oleic soybean oil will significantly increase the whole life-cycle of an oil batch and may be more economical to use than cheaper and less stable oils over time.

Pictures comparing polymerization on fryers

24-day performance test of high oleic versus commodity sunflower oil.


After functionality, availability is considered to be the next most important factor in choosing an edible oil. No matter how perfect your formulation, it doesn’t do you any good if you can’t get the ingredients you need in the quantities you need them. There are probably a few hundred edible oils used around the world, yet there are only a handful that you seem to see all the time.

  • Volume must match demand – It is important to be able to secure the volumes you need when you need them. Lack of availability of ingredients can lead to product shortages, which is detrimental to your business. You may eventually need to make costly formula changes to be able to secure the ingredients you need to satisfy demand for your products. When such formula changes lead to changes in flavor or perceived quality in your finished product, sales and reputation could suffer. Some very large fast food chains won’t consider using or even evaluating an oil unless they know their volume needs can always be met. In some cases, this negates the consideration of whole classes and types of oils. In addition to sheer volume demand, growth can lead to an imbalance of ingredient supply vs demand. Small regional chains who have utilized certain oils for their unique flavor attributes are finding it much more difficult to secure necessary volumes as their businesses went national and grew. These companies will soon be faced with strategic choices concerning growth and/or formula changes.

  • Mutual commitment across supply chain – Your supplier must be as committed to your needs as you are to the ingredient. There are a number of edible oils that are actually secondary products to the crop being raised. An increase in demand for cotton, corn, or peanut oil won’t drive production of a single additional acre of the commodity in question. Likewise, there are several small volume “boutique” oils such as sunflower or safflower oil, that cannot easily expand without considerable cost. Finally, are there changes going on in the basic commodity that will reduce your availability over time? Will export demand reduce your availability? If your product is expected to grow over time, the consequences of using a secondary or boutique oil could be troublesome at some future point. Choosing an oil with the functionality you need with availability you can rely on from a supplier who is as committed to you as you are to them is critical to success.

  • Weather, force majeure, distance, etc. – A food producer typically has an entire catalogue of ingredients to procure—they need to be delivered where you want them, when you want them and in the quantities that you want them. Snowstorms in Canada or the Northern Plains, typhoons in the east, plant breakdowns or shutdowns, even drought or disease—these can all drastically affect delivery and even availability. The larger the volume demand, the more such factors need to be considered. It’s important to choose an oil with wide availability from multiple sources and geographies. For instance, over 80 million acres of soybeans are currently grown over a very wide range across the U.S.


Now that you have found the right oil in terms of functionality and availability, what are the financial ramifications? In general, you want to choose the most cost-effective oil for your needs. Considering the circumstances discussed above, the most cost-effective product is not always the least expensive product. The need to reformulate or re-source could easily negate any savings that may have resulted from focusing on the lowest price.


  • Newer technologies may be more costly at the onset – Most food companies are in a marathon rather than a sprint. While none of us predict the future, we must nonetheless always consider the future in terms of responsible product management. Growth, expansion, and product extensions are always critical for maintaining and assuring the long-term success of a business. Newer products such as high oleic soybean oil are going to be more costly at the onset—acreage, infrastructure, demand, etc. must all be developed essentially from the ground up. Until the process approaches full maturity, there will be a price premium for such products. However, if the evolution of the oil has followed the tenets outlined above, as is the case for high oleic soybean oil, its cost will significantly decrease over time to the point where it is considered to be the optimum product in terms of functionality, availability and cost-effectiveness. While perhaps being a bit more expensive in the short-term, early adoption of such ingredients will be much more cost-effective in the long-term.

  • Newly developed trait-enhanced oils carry a premium – Enhanced nutrition and functionality add significant value for consumers and food product companies. Although such oils may carry a premium relative to commodity oils, they represent significant economic value in terms of improved quality, nutrition, extended shelf-life and increased sales. These benefits will be enjoyed by all segments of the value-chain, increasing value all along the way.

  • Price predictability – By their very nature, boutique and specialty oils can carry a significant amount of price unpredictability. Changes in availability, unexpected demand, and even favorable press can drive very significant increases in price. Sometimes the marketplace can absorb these sudden increases but more often than not, it is very difficult to pass increases along to customers. As counterintuitive as it might sound, unexpected demand for a product could actually result in decreased profitability for a food producer. The ability to hedge oil purchases and to utilize futures contracts is very often a critical determinant in a product’s profitability and ultimately its success. Trait enhanced soybean oils such as high oleic soy are priced directly against prevailing Board of Trade futures and cash prices, making it very straight forward to predict long term oil costs and product margins. The ability to utilize futures contracts is often a requirement for users of large quantities of edible oils.

  • Oil Batch Life Cycle / Fry-life – The longer an oil lasts in the fryer, the more cost effective it will be. A corollary to this may be “the less downtime, the greater the efficiency”. As examined in more depth in “Fryer Maintenance & Clean Up” above, the whole cycle of oil use and cleanup must be considered. Extending fry life and decreasing downtime will have a significant effect on the bottom line of a frying operation. The use of high stability oils such as high oleic soybean oil will result in both a much longer period between oil change outs and significantly shorter downtime due to easier clean up. This one-two punch means more efficiency, productivity and profitability.

Total Polar Compound by Day of Test


Total Polar Compound by Day of Test

The fry-life of high oleic soybean oil has been measured to be on-par with high oleic sunflower oil, considered the “gold-standard” oil for frying


There are cuisines, foods and regions that are synonymous with certain oils. Italian food without olive oil? Fish and chips with sesame oil? Not on your life! Now, how about hush puppies or fried chicken with peanut oil? Now you’re talking! Traditional flavor, culture and heritage are often the determining factors when choosing an oil. Is there an alternative? You bet!


Consumers are looking at labels more often and restaurants will soon be required to provide nutritional labeling information. As consumers continue to demand fewer ingredients and “cleaner” labels, oil choice becomes important.

To summarize, high quality frying oils offer many significant benefits to food companies and their customers. High oleic soybean oil offers a versatile solution to many of the considerations that must be kept in mind when selecting the right oil for the job.

  • Blends – Even though some oils are considered “de rigueur” for certain foods, they might be very expensive or unavailable. In such cases, blends can be a perfectly acceptable alternative. The popularity of fried chicken chains has resulted in a tightness in the supply of peanut oil along with a proportionate increase in price. One solution is to choose a blend of peanut oil and a very neutral flavored oil such as high oleic soybean oil. The peanut oil flavor will come through, but costs and availability will be improved. This goes for other oils such as cotton and corn as well.

  • Zero trans- labeling – Trans fatty acids have been shown to be have negative effects on health and consumers are demanding zero trans products. The FDA has determined that “partially hydrogenated oils”, which are the largest dietary source of trans fats, are no longer GRAS (generally recognized as safe) and cannot be in the food supply past June 18, 2018.

  • Health perceptions – Some consumers follow a “natural” or “organic” lifestyle, and foods bearing these designations are important to them. In such cases, it is important to determine whether an oil has been refined or if it is a “cold-pressed” or “expeller-pressed” oil. For deep frying applications, it is important that the oil be refined—cold-pressed or expeller pressed oils may still contain some residual proteins and contaminants that will cause an oil to darken or burn in a fryer. Allergenicity must also be considered. While a fully refined peanut oil is acceptable for use in commercial deep frying applications, cold- or expeller pressed peanut will likely be a problem for those with peanut sensitivities.


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