Is Vegetable Oil or Olive Oil Better to Fry French Fries With?

Do you feel as if you hear mixed things about olive oil, like it's healthy and versatile, but don't ever use it for frying? If the mixed messages are confusing you, and you just want to know the best oil for french fries when you're making them at home, here's what you should know.

Vegetable oil and olive oil are equally great options for making homemade french fries as long as you are careful not to exceed the oil's smoking point.
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Vegetable oil and olive oil are equally great options for making homemade french fries as long as you are careful not to exceed the oil's smoking point.

Oils: What’s the Difference?

The American Heart Association emphasizes that oils are a great source of dietary fat because, unlike butter or other animal fats, they are low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. Different types of oil include olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, corn oil and peanut oil, as well as blends typically sold under the label of vegetable oil.

Any one of these options could be a best oil for french fries. The type of oil you choose will depend on your cooking method — and if you're frying something, you need an oil with a high smoke point, which Colorado State University defines as the temperature at which the fat or oil begins to smoke. When oil begins to smoke, it ends up creating a bad taste and even toxic compounds on the food. There's a perception that olive oil has a low smoke point, but that's not the case.

Refined olive oil, which does not have as many antioxidants or as bold a flavor as virgin olive oil or extra virgin olive oil, can cook food over 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Even virgin olive oil can be used for stir-frying and light sautéing. Extra virgin olive oil should be reserved for raw use, such as for salad dressings or finishes. Other oils with a high smoke point include corn oil, peanut oil and soybean oil.

The North American Olive Oil Association specifies that extra virgin olive oil can be used between 350 and 410 degrees, while light-tasting olive oil can be used up to 470 degrees. If you see vapor coming off your food, don't panic — that's likely the evaporation of moisture on your food, not smoke.

Read more: What's REALLY Inside McDonald's French Fries?

Making Homemade French Fries

If you want to make deep-fried homemade french fries, you will need a deep fryer or a deep, heavy skillet. The USDA explains that deep frying food means submerging it in hot oil so that it becomes hot and crispy on the outside and cooks to safe temperatures on the inside. You can use a candy thermometer or deep frying thermometer to measure the temperature of the hot oil, which can sometimes exceed over 450 degrees.

For a cooking scenario where you're filling a fryer up with oil, using olive oil would get very expensive. Instead, you would want to use another vegetable oil. The Peanut Institute notes that peanut oil is the oil of choice for many restaurants when it comes to deep frying because it is inexpensive and can reach a high temperature that will get the outside crispy but keep the inside moist.

Peanut oil for french fries can be used for cooking other things as well, because peanut oil does not absorb the flavor of other foods cooked in the oil; therefore, you can cook multiple foods in the same pot at the same time.

Canola oil could be another good choice. CanolaInfo explains that canola oil has the lowest amount of saturated fat of any common culinary oil, about half that of olive oil and soybean oil, and it is a great source of plant-based omega-3 essential fatty acids. These nutritional benefits could potentially make canola oil for french fries a great choice, especially if you're pan frying them or sautéing them and don't have to worry about filling up an entire fryer.

Read more: 9 Crispy Fries Even Veggie Haters Will Love

Don't forget that just because they're called fries doesn't mean that french fries have to be, well, fried. The trend these days is moving away from frying and toward baking. You can make homemade french fries in your oven, and you can use different vegetables other than a simple white potato. Try making them with sweet potatoes, rutabaga or even turnips. Even if the recipe calls for olive oil and you don't have it on hand, remember that there is no definitive best oil for french fries — canola oil for french fries and peanut oil for french fries work just as well.

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