High Heat Frying: Canola versus Peanut Oil.
While frying and deep-frying are admittedly less healthy than most cooking preparations, the results are often incomparably delicious. The crispy-crunchiness of fried foods is comforting and indulgent, naughty and exciting. I recommend frying foods in moderation, and enjoying them thoroughly when you do.
A high smoke point is essential when frying. Most frying recipes call for vegetable/canola oil or peanut oil because of their high smoke points. I generally use canola oil because peanut oil is so expensive, but I got to thinking: what am I missing? What does peanut oil do to make it worth the extra bucks? The answer is not much.
Canola oil comes from the crushed seeds of the canola plant, a member of the Brassica family that includes broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. The plant was developed in Canada, which is where the name comes from, a combination of “Canadian” and “ola” – which means oil. Humans created Canola from rapeseed, so you should avoid canola oil if you are trying to avoid foods containing genetically modified ingredients (GMOs). Canola oil is widely considered one of the healthiest oils in the world because of its high level of plant-based omega-3 fat and low level of saturated fat. Canola oil is also free of trans fat. Chefs laud canola oil for its versatility, neutral flavor, light texture, and high heat tolerance (smoke point 400 F). I did find a few discerning cooks who claim that when used at a high temperature, canola oil can create a subtle “fishy” flavor, noticed by those with more sensitive or sophisticated palates. These naysayers were few and far between, however. For most people in most situations, canola oil is a great choice for frying.
Peanut oil is slightly higher in saturated fat, making it slightly less healthy than canola oil. It is also free of trans fat. Peanut oil has a slightly higher smoke point than canola oil, but my research offered no evidence that this higher smoke point translated to crispier or more delicious foods. Part of the allure of peanut oil is that food chains such as Chick-fil-A and Five Guys swear by it, and advertise prominently that they use it for all of their deep-fried foods. A considerable downside of using peanut oil is that it isn’t safe for people with peanut allergies (some refined peanut oils are safe for those with allergies – these are generally even more expensive). Some chefs prize the subtle nutty flavor of peanut oil, which makes it particularly good in some dishes, especially in Asian cuisine.
Does it matter which one you use? Not really. From what I can tell, the only budget cooks that can justify the additional cost of peanut oil are those who strictly avoid any kind of GMOs. So unless you are GMO-free, do your wallet a favor and stick with canola oil for your high-heat frying needs.