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peanut oil in china: is it number #1 cooking oil?

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  • jenn Aug 22, 2006 07:32 PM
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The question really is what type of oil is used in most Chinese cooking in China. Is it peanut oil--which is what I generally use at home--or is it some other type of oil? And would there be a difference in a high end restaurant versus a street vender?

My curiousity relates to peanut allergies and the likelihood of sending an allergic person into distress were they to consume something prepared with peanut oil. If odds are good that everything in China is cooked in peanut oil, then I guess an allergic person should probably pack a lot to eat but if it is unusual because of cost well, then perhaps not.

Thanks!

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  1. I believe that the most commonly used cooking oil in China is still rapeseed oil, the ancestor of Canola oil. Soy oil may be second. Don't think peanut oil is used that much, though please don't go by my word.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Gary Soup

      If rapeseed oil has a high smoking tempature and is fairly inexpensive then you are likely correct. I think in the US, rapeseed oil is not very easy to come by but peanut oil is which might explain its prevalence in Chinese restaurants in the US and in US cookbooks.

      I certainly couldn't tell by taste when in China though the oil in use was clearly not mustard or olive.

      Not to fear: no one will be eatting and dying--its really more for a story line.

      thanks!

      1. re: jenn

        In the US rapeseed oil is also called Canola oil is is available everywhere (well everywhere I've lived).

    2. Peanut oil was once the primary oil used in Chinese restaurants in the US. The cost of peanut oil has risen so much the past 15 years or so it is no longer economically feasible. Plus there is the peanut allergy that didn't seem to be so prevalent years ago. The primary oil use in the States is soy. It is cheap cheap cheap, flavorless and has a high smoking point.
      I agree with GarySoup that in China, rapeseed oil is used, but not as much as soy. I am sure there are places in China that still use peanut oil but it is not common.

      2 Replies
      1. re: PBSF

        You may be right. Historically, cooking oil has been a very expensive ingredient in China; my wife was amazed, when she first came to the US, that cooking oil here is cheaper than soy sauce. Rapeseed oil was long the most plentiful and inexpensive in China, but as economic conditions have improved, soy oil may have gained precedence as it is considered a superior oil for cooking.

        1. re: Gary Soup

          I enjoy using peanut oil. When I can find one imported from China I'll buy it over Dukes or Lu Ana. Chick-Fil-A uses it 100%. Peanut allergies are a problem to only a very,very small precentage of the population. I also use soy oil as well as olivie oil. The peanut oil price in my area is about the same as extra virgin olive oil. But peanut oil takes the heat better.

      2. I am Chinese.Peanut oil has the richest flavor in vegetable oil,so Cantonese cuisine choose it as main used oil.Rapeseed oil is the local produced oil in south China.In the past it is the most used oil in Sichuan, Guizhou,Yuannan,and other south provinces.It has a vador that north Chinese do not like. soy oil and peanut oil are the main cooking oil in the north.As for prices,peanut oil is the highest,soy is less,rapeseed is the cheapest.hign end restaurnt choose brand peanut oil,vender use none brand,mixed oil,usually no peanut oil,because of its price.

        1. I'm astonished by some of the answers here. Peanut oil is by far the most common cooking oil. I was in my local supermarket earler today and the oil section was 99% peanut oil.

          2 Replies
          1. re: LIuzhou Laowai

            I remembered this post and went (finally) to check at my local Hualian (like a kind of mini-supermarket). Peanut oil takes up at most 30% of the shelf space and is about 1/3 more expensive than the other soy/canola what-have-you oils/blends. The same sort of proportion holds for the Carrefour shelves.
            Liuzhou Laowai where is your supermarket? It's interesting that they only carry the peanut oil.

            1. re: mbe

              Liuzhou

          2. Here is a list of oils I have seen used for cooking in restaurant kitchens in China:

            Rapeseed oil(unrefined) Guizhou, Yunnan, Sichuan, and very surprisingly Xinjiang provinces

            Rapeseed oil(refined) Yunnan Province

            Palm oil in Jin Hong and Mengla in Yunnan province

            Tea oil(made from the dried fruit--not the leaves--but from the same plant) Changde in Hunan Province

            Lard in Yunnan, Hunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, Guangxi, Jiangxi, Anhui, Hubei, etc

            Duck fat in Jiang su, Guizhou, and Fuzhou Provinces

            Yak fat in 1 restaurant in Lhasa in Tibet

            Yak butter in Tibet(yes for cooking not just for flavoring the tea)

            Whole cows butter in Xinjiang Province

            Clarified cows butter in Kashgar in Xinjiang Province

            Lamb fat in Gansu, Xinjiang, Qinghai Provinces

            Peanut oil in Shandong, Heilongjiang, Guangdong, Liaoning, Jilin and a few others that I forget now.

            Soybean oil and blends almost everywhere.

            As far as using oils for flavoring and not cooking, I have seen sesame oil , mustard oil, green onion oil, sichuan peppercorn oil, 5 spice oil, 13 spice oil, Cao guo oil, bai kou oil, cao kuo oil( sorry I don't know the English for the last 3 but they are all spices),star anise oil, Indonesian long pepper oil, lemongrass oil, ginger oil, garlic oil, hot pepper oil(made hundreds and hundreds of different ways).

            This is the ones I can remember now but I am sure I forgot a few.

            4 Replies
            1. re: IHTJ

              Thanks, that's an awesome amount of information.

              Cao guo, bai kou, and cao kuo may all be alternate names for cardamom. See this source:

              http://alternativehealing.org/cao_guo...

              1. re: Xiao Yang

                Yes that picture is exactly bai kou. It is used in the 13 spice mixture of the Hui ethnic group and I have seen it used once in Ningbo ground up with a few other spices to sprinkle on the medium starch deep fried mini potatoes that I love.
                Cao Guo is a larger more oval spice that is much darker on the outside and tastes like smoked meat on the outside and a cardamom flavor in the seeds inside. Also used in 13 spice mix and extensively in Yunnan foods of both the Yi and the Dai ethnic group.
                Cao Kou, I have also heard it called dou rou kou, looks like a small dry brain. Again used in 13 spice mix, but I first encountered it in in the most unusual roasted lamb skewers I have ever tried. The owner of 2 table restaurant in a small suburb of eastern Urumqi ground his own version of 13 spice and added a good deal of tumeric and it came out tasting like curry. Then didn't grill it but cooked it in the Naan Keng (like a tandoori oven) instead. Really amazing! The only bad news is that that area has since been developed and I can't find that anywhere now:(

                1. re: IHTJ

                  Thanks. I'm curious as to how you came upon all your far-flung experience of cooking oils. Does it extend to other cooking practices/ingredients across China? If you don't mind, can you drop me a line at shanghaigaryATgmailDOTcom? (Don't want to get too far off-topic here.)

                2. re: Xiao Yang

                  This comment is ridiculously late, but I understand cao guo is known in south Asian cooking as black cardamom. They certainly look alike.

              2. Jenn,
                One other consideration for your story line's accuracy might be whether peanut oil ingestion would lead to anaphlyaxis. In the US, where much of the peanut oil is highly refined and processed, there is no peanut protein present to cause an allergic reaction. I don't know if the same processing methods are common in China, if peanut oil is commonly used, but it's not necessarily a given that someone with a peanut allergy will react to peanut oil.

                1. This is a super late reply, but I should post seeing as I am deathly allergic to peanuts and have been living in China for the past 2 years and have traveled all over the country previously. Peanut oil is definitely not the #1 cooking oil in restaurants in China, because it is expensive. However, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong are an exception to this rule. The better restaurants in these Cantonese cities will use peanut oil and many other restaurants will use a mix of oils that includes peanut oil. Soybean oil is super popular now as opposed to five years ago, even in areas in southwest China where rapeseed oil used to be more popular. In northern China peanut oil is pretty rare, even in expensive restaurants. However, for the special preparation of certain foods peanut oil may be used. For example, some Beijing duck restaurants use peanut oil to make the thin wrappers.

                  If your friend is deathly allergic, he/she will have a very difficult time eating out safely even if you storm the kitchen and demand to see the bottle of oil used (as I have done many times). This is because oils are bought in bulk and usually transferred to other unnamed, or wrongly labeled , bottles, so no one knows for certain what oil is used. Much of the peanut oil in China is not the super-refined type that you find in America, so chances are your friend would have an allergic reaction.

                  Another problem is that the sauces added to dishes often have peanut oil in them or other peanut ingredients (just check out the sauce aisle labels in supermarkets here, if you can read Chinese). Then there is cross contamination in the kitchen, especially in the woks.

                  The biggest problem, however, is that you can't trust the kitchen staff to take your allergy concerns seriously. This is because very serious food allergies are nonexistent in China, so people are either disbelieving or not used to thinking about prevention as stringently as your friend would require. For example, if the chef adds some "hot oil" to your dish that is actually peanut oil infused with chili peppers, none of the staff would ever think to imagine that the "hot oil" is actually some other type of oil infused with something else. It's just "hot oil" and definitely not peanut oil to them. Futhermore, Chinese hospitals in general, even the big famous ones, are not equipped with the right stuff to deal with anaphylactic shock and will spend far too long diagnosing the problem. I have been allergic many times before, but luckily not enough to kill me. The Chinese hospitals I went to were no help whatsoever. However, Beiing, Shanghai and Hong Kong have a few large Western style hospitals that should know what to do.

                  Sorry if this sounds grim, but it's the truth. If your friend is feeling adventurous and has plenty of epi-pens and steroid pills, he/she could try going to a very small specialty restaurant or stand where they make one or two simple dishes (like soup noodles), where you can see the ingredients being used and can be sure that there isn't cross contamination going on. When I travel I usually bring my own pot and oil, befriend a small restaurant staff, and have them cook simple things for me with the ingredients I select from the kitchen. I don't think this is a possibility for someone who can't speak Chinese though.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: lalalea

                    i am in beijing now with a friend working on a project. he is dealthy allergic to peanuts as well and it's been kind of a struggle. we've found that xinjiang restaurants have been safe. do you have any specific restaurant recommendations (for chinese food preferably) that are peanut/peanut oil free in beijing? thank you!! once our trip is over, we'll post a list of all the great peanut allergy friendly beijing places we've managed to find.

                    1. re: daniellefiroozi

                      Hi, late reply to this thread but there aren't many of us (the peanut allergic) out there so I thought I would write something-hopefully someone will find it useful. I have lived in China off and on since the mid 90's, travel there frequently now and am married to a Cantonese man. Experiencing Cantonese cusine in Hong Kong and souther china is tough because they do use a lot of peanut oil. In HK I usually eat western or northern chinese food. If I want cantonese I order simple dishes not cooked in oil. I lived in Beijing for awhile before the influx of western restaurants and didn't find it especially difficult. I am also a vegetarian and ate either northern chinese food/sichuanese or Japanese food almost everyday. Xinjiang food is one of my favorites and does contain less nutty dishes. Yunnan food is also something I have eaten and enjoyed numerous times. Now, in the major cities, there are so many western chains you are really spoiled for choices if you want to play it safe. I should mention that I do speak Mandarin and my husband speaks Cantonese and Mandarin so perhaps it is much easier for me to navigate China with these issues. You might try Black Sesame Kitchen in Beijing for an allergy friendly Chinese restaurant. The owner is an American, speaks english and understands how to handle food allergies in the kitchen. One place you may want to be careful are bars. About half the bars I have walked into in China serve peanuts as snacks. Not something you want to deal with if you are drinking. Also, I have had good experiences at western hospitals in Beijing. I am sure Shanghai western hospitals know what they are doing and of course Hong Kong hospitals understand how to treat allergic reactions. Not sure I would trust a random hospital in Gansu province to help me out though.

                      Also should mention that dumplings in Beijing are awesome and usually pretty safe for someone with peanut allergies. I can consume one jin at a sitting!

                      1. re: maria Goff

                        For taste I find lard to be superior to vegetable cooking oils.

                        1. re: cacruden

                          Many home cooks and restaurants in China use freshly rendered lard to cook. Especially to stir fry vegetables. But to cook meat, use vegetable oils.

                          1. re: LIuzhou Laowai

                            And how does this rule apply to stir fried food which happen to a combination of vegetables and some meat? :o If I have freshly rendered lard (sometimes - not often) I will use it to stir-fry.

                        2. re: maria Goff

                          Maria, I always understood that peanut oil used for frying was refined thus contains no allergens and therefore doesn't cause a reaction. Obviously the same isn't true for cold pressed oils but these are very expensive and would not be used for frying. I ask as a fellow sufferer with a different nut allergy so appreciate the joys of an adrenalin shot and thus I think it is important to break through some of the mis-information in this area.

                          Have you actually been tested for a reaction to oil or had a definite reaction to oil, or have you assumed you will be allergic because it is derived from peanuts and simply been cautious and avoided the oil?

                          1. re: PhilD

                            Hi PhilD,

                            You are indeed correct and I have eaten items fried in peanut oil without issue. This only is okay if the oil is highly refined. The problem in China is that it is sometimes unrefined or it is a mix of the two and often there are no labels on the bottles/packages stating what you could be consuming. I agree that there is much misinformation out there regarding peanut and tree nut allergies . In a high end restaurant in Hong Kong you might be safe but one would need to assess each situation on a case by case basis.

                    2. Unfortunately nowadays, for commercial usage, a lot of restaurants ( including high end ones ) are using something that Hong Kong and Chinese media are reporting as 'Gutter Oil '!! For cost savings consideration eateries are scooping the top layer of oil floating on top of disposable bins for perishables and re-using them!! No joke!!!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Charles Yu

                        Haha Charles Yu

                        Yes this is a widespread problem in China.

                        1. re: maria Goff

                          Cooking oil scandals are forever busting out, remember the contaminated oil scandal in Taiwan around 1979? (Probably not, but it was very bad and a lot of people were hurt or died.)