Compare a cup of fresh oil before you put it in the fryer to the used grease that gets disposed of at the end of its lifespan. It’s the same oil, yet so different in smell, appearance, viscosity, and taste. This is the result of the many chemical changes that cooking oil undergoes as you continue to cook with it. It degrades in quality, and the taste gets worse. As a restaurant operator, one of your duties is to manage the constant balancing act between getting the maximum life out of your fryer oil while also making sure it produces top-notch food.
You know how to get the most life out of your oil. This is what you need to know to make your fryer oil taste better.
Some People Prefer the Taste of Used Oil
When considering ways to make your fryer oil taste better, it’s important to remember that taste is subjective. Some people prefer the taste of food that’s cooked in used oil. Why? Used oil develops a stronger flavor, and while it’s not a better flavor, it is more flavor. Despite this, most people prefer the taste of food that’s cooked in fresh oil.
Changing your oil regularly not only ensures better flavor — it’s also healthier. This is because of chemical changes that take place as cooking oil is exposed to heat, air, and water. Three major changes — hydrolysis, oxidation, and polymerization — break down oil and release harmful particles and compounds like free radicals. The more oil gets reused, the more it changes chemically. It becomes thicker, darker in color, and acrid or burnt-tasting.
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When Is Fryer Oil at Its Best?
You might assume that fryer oil is at its best when it’s completely fresh. But as anyone who fries food regularly knows, the first batch with fresh oil is rarely the best.
This makes sense from a food science perspective, too, as oil that’s been slightly used has begun to undergo hydrolysis. This means it’s started to break down, and various flavor-adding compounds have been released. These compounds are undesirable in large quantities, but a small amount is just right.
Oil that’s started hydrolysis can also break down the outer layer of foods and release the water within more quickly and effectively. That’s why it crisps up faster. Some fry cooks will pour a cup of slightly used oil in with a fresh vat of oil because it adds a bit of flavor, and helps crisp foods more efficiently from the beginning.
Cooking oil peaks in taste during the hydrolysis processes. Its quality begins to rapidly decline during the polymerization process as this is when the most harmful compounds are released.
Test Different Oils
What kind of fryer oil are you currently using? Most restaurant kitchens use soybean oil, vegetable oil, or canola oil in their deep fryers. These are great choices because they have a neutral taste and cook many different foods well.
Of course, there are many more oils to choose from. If your goal is to improve the taste of your food, that could mean it’s time to test your recipes with different types of oil. Peanut oil is a popular choice because its smoke point is very high and its flavor is close to neutral with a slight distinctive nuttiness. Working with it is very easy — you can usually switch to peanut oil without any other tweaks to your recipe. Coconut oil is a popular choice for items like fried desserts that need a touch of sweetness.
Filtering Oil Is a Must
Proper oil filtration is an absolute necessity if you plan on reusing cooking oil. If you don’t filter it, your oil will go through hydrolysis, oxidation, and polymerization in quick succession, and your oil will soon look and taste bad.
Food debris has a snowballing effect on the way oil breaks down. That’s why you should filter and skim your oil as often as possible. For QSRs and busy kitchens, we recommend filtering twice a day. That will put you well on your way toward ensuring your oil has a long cooking life and excellent flavor.
Say No to H2O
You’ve heard that adage that water and oil don’t mix. It’s true: and when it comes to fryer oil, water can quickly ruin the taste.
The food you’re cooking already contains hydrogen and oxygen, which cause hydrolysis and oxidation. Any additional water that gets in will accelerate these processes. Pay attention to ways that water could be getting into your oil and make efforts to eliminate them. For example, limit your fryer’s exposure to steam or condensation, and when you clean your fryer, double and triple check that it’s been wiped completely dry.
Even more important than taste, water in a hot deep fryer can also be extremely dangerous. It will cause the oil to splatter, which can cause burns or slip-and-falls. The more water, the more oil splatter. If there’s a fire source nearby — which there often is in a kitchen — this could very easily spark a fire.
Dry Your Food Before Breading and Battering
Most cooks know that drying proteins before cooking is a best practice, but it’s even more important with fried food. Fully pat dry anything you plan on breading or battering. This helps limit the amount of water that ends up in your oil, which slows hydrolysis and oxidation. It also ensures that your food fries up perfectly light, crisp, and golden.
Automate Your Oil Management Process
Kitchens that do manual oil management — filtering by hand, disposing and refilling with inefficient and unsafe equipment — tend to be kitchens where these important tasks aren’t performed as often as they should. When that translates to not filtering your oil often enough, that either means you’re not getting as much life out of your oil as you should, or the taste of your food is suffering.
An automated oil management system like Total Oil Management makes filtration easy, and makes it that much more likely it gets done frequently. When you can ensure your oil is filtered frequently, that pays off not just in more efficient oil management, but also consistently better tasting fried food.