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Apr 24, 2006 02:19 PM

Why peanut oil?

  • m

I've been cooking the last couple of weeks with "Think Like a Chef" - a lot of recipes call for using peanut oil. I'm wondering why - because certain dishes retain the taste of the peanut oil where it doesn't seem complementary to the other flavors, and it leaves my smallish NY apartment smelling like peanut oil. Any ideas, or suggestions for a substitute? One great dish that I made on Friday was the fried oysters ... can't wait to make them again ... I didn't save the oil though and that starts to make it an expensive proposition.

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  1. h
    Hungry Celeste

    Peanut oil has a relatively high smoking temp, in respect to other oils, making it better for deep frying. It also has a neutral taste compared to olive oil, lard, or (yuck) canola (my least favorite).

    8 Replies
    1. re: Hungry Celeste

      That's what I thought - the high smoking temp, but, I don't know if it is the peanut oil that I am buying, but the taste is not neutral ...

      1. re: MMRuth
        Hungry Celeste

        Perhaps you're getting old oil. Liquid cooking oils definitely degrade in taste & aroma with time. They should be stored away from direct sunlight, too.

        1. re: Hungry Celeste

          I'll keep trying - the one I used was from Whole Foods and was stored in a cupboard for a month max.

          1. re: MMRuth

            I suspected (even before you said you bought it at Whole Foods) that you got a less refined, more "natural" grade of peanut oil, which will definitely have a more pronounced tasted -- kind of like the difference between "light" olive oil and cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil: they're both 100 percent olive oil, but the oil has been extracted in different ways.

            If you want to try another oil with a high smoke point and a neutral flavor, you might want to try grapeseed oil (but don't buy it at Whole Foods -- there was a discussion about it a while back and people were buying it at Middle Eastern markets for more reasonable prices).

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Thanks Ruth. I know that I've used peanut oil before w/o this strong taste/odor ... I'm going to try grapeseed oil and also some other brands of peanut oil.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                Another great oil with a super high smoke point that has NO flavor...Avocado oil.
                I recently got a bottle as a gift, so don't know how much it costs, but I really have liked it alot.

                1. re: Aaron
                  Caitlin McGrath

                  Avocado oil isn't cheap when you're talking deep-frying, usually $12 and more per liter where I've seen it (for cold-pressed oils), but it's high in monounsaturated fats (as is olive oil) and is therefore a healthful choice. I've heard it has the highest smoke-point of any oils, but I don't have numbers (i.e., temperature) to back that up.

          2. re: MMRuth

            I don't think Peanut oil has a neutral flavor at all. People use it and fry with it exactly for that imparts flavor.
            Agreed on the smoking point.

        2. First a question: what's "Cook Like a Chef"? Oh, a second question: what is it you want to cook with oil?
          That will determine which oil you use. There is no one all-purpose oil.

          I'm going to assume you are limiting your inquiry to frying. So let's talk about peanut oil first. It is a bit heavier than some other vegetable oils. Less intrusive flavor than evoo, more than canola. Peanut oil has been used a lot for frying in the past by 2 groups I can think of: Chinese and Jewish. You routinely see those oils as the oils of choice in older cookbooks for both groups. Peanut oil has a relatively high smoking/burning temp. A lot of people like its rounded flavor.

          Italians fry with olive oil, as I'm sure you know. I like to fry a lot of things with olive oil - I like the mild, subtle, but still-there flavor - it adds to most foods. But I don't fry with evoo, because it burns at the highest temps. Mario Batali fries everything in evoo. Very recently, I ate at a restaurant that was serving really delicious All-American type fried foods and the chef was an older Chinese-American man. I had a chat with him about his deep frying technique, and he said he fries exclusively with corn oil at 375.

          As I said, peanut oil used to be used more in the past for frying than it is in more recent years. I think a lot of middle-of-the-road American cooks have always used Wesson, corn oil, and Crisco. Lard is something traditionally used in the South, Southwest and Midwest. And bacon fat was also used much for frying more in the past than today. People used to strain and store their fats for reuse very routinely for reasons of economy. Health concerns and higher standard of living have changed our frying habits. Now most of us have the luxury of choosing the particular fats we want to use very selectively. So, for example, you might choose to use bacon fat for a long-cooked meat and sauerkraut casserole, or frying calf's liver. You might want to fry in butter - browned butter would be the perfect choice for something like asparagus or French toast & omelets.

          The new star in frying is canola oil. It has virtually no flavor, and like olive oil, is very healthy for your circulatory system. Canola oil can be used in both savory and sweet applications, unlike olive oil - which doesn't go with sweet flavors. I feel Wesson corn oil both impart avery slight flavor that I don't want in my cooking.

          What's in my pantry? EVOO, regular olive oil, canola oil, and butter (I prefer unsalted). Oh, and sesame oil for use as a condiment - it burns easily.

          19 Replies
          1. re: Niki Rothman

            Think Like a Chef is a cookbook by the chef of Gramery Tavern in NYC - I've been enjoying cooking with it the last couple of weeks, except for this peanut oil issue.

            Thanks for your in-depth response - I may try some of this frying with canola oil instead.

            1. re: MMRuth

              IMHO canola oil has an obnoxious flavor. I prefer to use grapeseed oil.

              1. re: wally

                I have to agree with this. I find the smell of canola cooking very disagreeable, however, in the end result it imparts little flavor so I continue to use it.


                1. re: sivyaleah

                  That's another reason I am disinclined to entirely dismiss the concerns over how canola behaves at high heat.

                2. re: wally

                  YES!! I totally agree about canola oil. I've been using it cause it's supposed to be "better" for us, but it also has an odor that is really disgusting to me.

                  I also heard about the high heat concerns.

              2. re: Niki Rothman

                My preferred neutral oils for high heat are safflower, grapeseed and soybean (which is what "vegetable oil" is unless it is mixed with corn oil).

                I would only use peanut oil for Asian frying, because it's a traditional part of the flavoring. Otherwise, I find its flavor too much; I do not find it neutral.

                Corn oil is not neutral and I don't like the flavor.

                I do not use canola (rapeseed) oil because of lingering concerns over what happens to it at high temperatures (some concerns are overinflated myth, but there are some unresolved issues and I don't see any reason to use it when I have other options).

                I use non-virgin pure olive oil for many things, of course, plus EVOO.

                My special purpose oils: walnut (the best for salads), hazelnut (for roasted vegetables), almond, pumpkinseed (for dazzling effects) and coconut (which was unfairly maligned for too long).

                1. re: Karl S

                  Thanks ... I always value your opinion. Maybe I'll try the grapeseed (have some on hand) for when I do the fried oysters again ... soon I hope!

                  1. re: Karl S

                    What are the concerns to which you allude regarding canola oil? I haven't heard of any problems. I didn't know it was rapeseed oil - rapeseed/grapeseed - confusing! You say you like grapeseed oil for frying hot - I'm not familiar with that either. Trader Joe's doesn't sell it, only canola and evoo. TJ's always seems so careful about selling foods with iffy chemical questions (canola?), so you've really got me curious. As for soy and saffola - soy seems heavy with a slight aftertaste and safflower has always had a very heavy repellant flavor to me. Tastes are so subjective, you dislike the flavor of canola, and I'd call it the lightest most flavorless cooking oil I've ever tried. I use it in pancakes (like for sweet dishes) and very hot frying all the time.

                    1. re: Niki Rothman

                      Well, there are concerns that canola at high temperatures destabilizes in a way that may produce carcinogenic compounds. The effect is more pronounced the less refined it is, but there was a great deal of bad hype about it way back. Like others, I found canola has a pronounced off flavor at high heat, so between that and the unresolved health issue I just decided that it wasn't worth using for high heat. I always find it funny when people promote canola like it's some miracle oil (which people very oddly tend to do)...

                      Safflower that's well refined doesn't have any flavor, but the less refined versions may. Safflower is what i usually cut EVOO with when I want some good oil flavor but to be frugal.

                      Grapeseed is my all-time favorite for high heat (nothing else will do for popcorn, perhaps the most burn-likely oil scenario), but I don't use it for deep-frying in my Waring Pro deep fryer, as that would not be as frugal as using pure soybean oil.

                      And let us not neglect ghee...always worth having for sauteeing. Doesn't have the sweetness of butter (after all, the lactose is removed) but it has the silken texture and nuttiness of slightly browned butter. It's what I use with pan-broiled steaks (cut with a bit of grapeseed oil).

                      And lard is basic for cornbread in the cast iron skillet. Animal fat is essential to get the proper crust.

                      1. re: Karl S

                        Sounds like you are saying safflower and grapeseed are best for high heat frying for none of this breakdown you mention. Which one is better? What brands do you prefer? Supermarkets or sources for purchasing them? The only supermarket brand of saff. I've seen is saffola - and I haven't tried it because when I tried saff. oil years ago it tasted so terrible to me. Maybe the saff. oils that I thought were so awful weren't refined enough.

                        1. re: Niki Rothman

                          I've never heard of saffola.

                          Spectrum Naturals and Hain's make fine oils.

                          Carapelli makes a very affordable grapeseed oil.

                          1. re: Karl S

                            I do remember seeing the Carapelli brand somewhere. I'll make some calls to local retailers.

                      2. re: Niki Rothman

                        Hello, grapeseed oil was first recommended to me by the line cooks who run the big broilers in the open area behind the bar at Boulevard (SF), who needed its mild fruitiness and very high smoking point (which makes it good for popcorn and deep frying). I had asked what they kept squirting over the meats.
                        When I tracked down a retail source, I found it cheaper than olive oil, probably because its production takes place in wine regions where the seeds are literally everywhere during the crush. You'll find it in skin moisturizers because it is extremely high in vitamin E. The stuff I presently use for an all-around higher temperature oil was pressed in Spain, but labelled in Chinese and English, sold in a Oak-chinatown market for $5.99/liter. You can probably find it in a well-stocked oriental foods market.
                        hope you had a great holiday

                        1. re: moto

                          Hi Moto,
                          Thanks for asking about Pesach. it was the best ever, with the exception of dimly remembered Grandma/Grandpa seders of my early childhood. First night was at relatives. With help of chowhound chefs made a fine fruit salad. Second night was at Sha'ar Zahav in SF. Volunteered that afternoon slicing fresh horseradish (the bitter herb of slavery) and setting out ingredients for the seder plates for each table - egg, charoset - sweet spicy "mortar" for the pyramids, burnt "shank bone" for a sacrifice symbol (it was a chicken leg), fresh parseley to be dipped in the salt water "tears". My home-made contribution was a Russian smoked salmon appetizer that got raves (posted recipe here). Completing a lifetime first -first full year of synagogue membership. So gratifying, who woulda thunk it?

                          Now, about that grapeseed oil. I am very interested.
                          If that sophisticated Boulevard restaurant is using it, it must be special. But seeing as I have yet to notice it in any supermarket of TJ's, sounds like I should look in the Asian markets and it is just labelled grapeseed oil. It's funny, although I do shop the Asian markets in SF Inner Richmond, I haven't noticed it. But sometimes you just don't see something until you are actually looking for it.
                          Thanks for the tip.

                          1. re: Niki Rothman

                            Grapeseed oil is not traditinally of east Asian origin, as grapes are largely a phenomenon of traditional grape wine-growing countries....

                            I find it in my supermarkets in Boston, plus Whole Foods and Italian grocers.

                            1. re: Niki Rothman

                              Actually, TJ's does carry it (although when I was in my local TJ's yesterday they were out of stock).

                              I've linked a discussion about it from this board a while back which includes some suggestions about where to buy it.


                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                Thanks, Ruth! I just read all the posts in that thread. Looks like I need to start shopping at Ranch 99 - and get some of that grapeseed oil. Also mentioned was the Orient mkt. 7 & Bdwy. Oak.

                                1. re: Niki Rothman
                                  Caitlin McGrath

                                  It'll be cheaper at 99 Ranch, etc., but if TJ's is your regular market, ask them about their stocking, because they do carry cold-pressed grapeseed oil under their own label. In NYC I often found the Roland brand in a 500 ml can at stores that carry Middle Eastern and Eastern European foods, so if you shop at Haig's and the like, you might look there. It is pricier than canola at these stores and TJ's, but aside from any concerns mentioned here, I prefer it to canola for frying, etc. because it is relatively unprocessed (the brands I buy are cold-pressed, like EVOO) whereas canola is highly refined, and because I find canola has a funky flavor and petroleum-like odor that I do not like.

                                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                    ITA on the "petroleum" odor of canola oil. I've always thought of it as smelling rancid, but I think your description is better.

                                    After using it for a while because it was supposedly the healthiest choice, I've completely stopped using canola oil, and I tend to avoid products that contain enough of it (like bottled dressings) for the taste to come through.

                    2. I use peanut oil in Chinese cooking, and for non Italian or Mediterranean dishes. For everyday cooking I use Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

                      Peanut oil should not have any taste . It is very light, has a high burning temperature and is flavor neutral. I have had a very difficult time finding it locally. I was thinking that because so many children are now allergic to nuts it has been pulled from the shelves. Planters Peanut Oil has disappeared in NY.

                      I have been buying mine in Chinatown.

                      1. The link posted below is from a much earlier thread and provides information on smoke points. I noticed that the highest is avocado oil that an earlier poster thought was great.
                        Personal taste is obviously very important because I can't stand the odor of canola, sunflower or corn oil but for me peanut oil has no odor. I also find that peanut oil cooks cleaner and doesn't produce the difficult to clean sticky scum like the other oils.