Canola and Grapeseed and Olive, Oh My: How to Fry This Hanukkah

latkes.jpgWith Hanukkah nearly upon us, it’s time to start prepping our latke recipes. The oil that we fry them in is more than just a nod to the Festival of Lights: It’s an essential ingredient as well, so it’s important to choose wisely. Different oils vary in flavor, nutritional value, and smoke points, and do you even know what Canola is? I’ve gone ahead and done some of the preliminary legwork to help you choose the right oil for your frying pan.

On the list you’ll find ideal oils for latke frying under the “Freedom Fry” heading, and oils to avoid on the “No Fry” list. Keep in mind that just because an oil appears on the “No Fry” list doesn’t mean that it’s unhealthy – for example, Flaxseed oil is rich in omega 3 fatty acids and can help lower cholesterol, but heat can destroy its omega 3 properties. Canola, on the other hand, has a higher smoke point, but those who wish to avoid GMOs and bioengineered products might want to stay away, as 80% of acres sown to canola are planted with genetically modified seed.

When doing your shopping, remember this: Many oils come from plants that are sprayed with fat-soluble pesticides. Those pesticides concentrate in the oil portion of the plant, so always buy organic when you can.

One last tip: Remember to change your oil out after every couple of batches. The longer an oil is heated, the more free fatty acids form, which lowers the smoke point and increases your chances of burning. Whatever oil you choose, I wish you a happy Hanukkah filled with luscious latkes and lots of love.

Freedom Fry

Canola: Unbeknownst to many users, the word “Canola” is actually an acronym built from “CANada Oil Low Acid.” The oil has been somewhat controversial because it’s derived from the rapeseed, which traditionally contains high amounts of erucic acid, a fatty acid that is thought to be toxic. In Canola oil however, the erucic acid is reduced to the very low levels of 0.5 to 1%, which is below the 2% limit set by the USDA. Another potential issue with Canola oil is that the majority of North American crop is grown from genetically modified, herbicide-tolerant varieties. That said, organic Canola is available from companies such as Spectrum. Organic Canola is a great choice for latke frying, as it’s very low in saturated fat, rich in vitamin E, a good source of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, and has a mild flavor and high smoke point.

Grapeseed: High in monounsaturated fats (the good kind) and very low in saturated fat (the not-so-good kind), Grapeseed oil can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood. It’s also high in vitamin E, and has a neutral, mild flavor. Add to that the fact that it has a high smoke point, and Grapeseed Oil is a great choice for frying your potato pancakes.

Olive: The best olive oil for pan-frying your latkes is going to be the lightest, most thoroughly refined that you can come by. Why? Because generally speaking, more highly refined oils contain lower amounts of free fatty acids, which raises the smoke point (and results in an oil that’s all but tasteless and colorless).

Rice Bran Oil: Not a common choice, but a good one: Rice Bran Oil is rich in vitamins and antioxidants, and is trans fat free. It’s been said to help lower cholesterol, enhance the immune system, and fight free radicals. Studies have shown that it may have potential as an anti-cancer and anti-infection agent, and its very high smoke point and delicate flavor makes it a perfect choice for your Hanukkah fry-fest.

Safflower & Sunflower: Both of these oils are suitable for deep and pan-frying thanks to their high smoke points. Though not as nutritious as Canola and Flax due to their lack of omega 3′s, they are high in vitamin E and monounsaturated fats, and have been associated with decreased risk of heart disease and cancer. Both have very neutral flavors. Spectrum makes an organic, high heat Sunflower oil that they call “good for your heart and heaven for high heat cooking.”

Soybean Oil: In its unrefined state, this neutral-tasting, versatile oil contains both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids — however, commercial soy oils are often highly refined and hydrogenated. Get your hands on a bottle of unrefined, organic Soybean Oil, and you’re set: its high smoke point makes it great for frying. Eden Organic offers a minimally processed, unrefined soybean oil that’s made from certified organic soybeans and is cholesterol free.

No Fry

Corn: Though it does have a high smoke point, making it useful for pan and deep-frying, Corn oil is one of the less nutritious choices due to it’s high content of saturated fats and tendency to be hydrogenated. Unrefined Corn Oil is available for use at medium heat, but it will add the intense flavor of roasted corn to your food, so if you don’t want corny latkes, stay away.

Flaxseed: This incredibly fragile oil has been touted as nature’s best vegetarian source of omega 3′s. Among other properties, Flax oil can boost immunity, promote healthy skin, and contains the healthy phytonutrient, lignin. Its mild, slightly nutty flavor is great for use in salad dressing, and some people even take a couple of daily, supplemental spoonfuls. High heat will destroy its omega 3 properties though, so don’t use it for cooking.

Palm Kernal: High in saturated fats, making it a potential cholesterol-raiser, Palm oil has been accused of promoting both heart disease and the destruction of the rainforest.

Peanut: While it has a very high smoke point and is therefore a favorite cooking oil, Peanut oil is incredibly flavor-rich and better suited for wok cooking and asian-inspired stir-fries.

Sesame: Another great oil that’s ideal for Asian dishes and as a finishing flavor, Sesame Oil is extremely pungent and intense. It also has a very low smoke point, so keep it away from the latkes.

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14 Responses to “Canola and Grapeseed and Olive, Oh My: How to Fry This Hanukkah”

  1. Jeffrey Yoskowitz Says:

    For the past ten years or so my family has sworn by grapeseed oil. Naturopaths and friends in the health community have recommended grapeseed oil to my family because it is the best for you when heated. It has a neutral flavor, as you’ve mentioned, and isn’t canola oil which I’ve been reading terrible things about lately. Thanks for the comprehensive list and the exciting new information.

  2. Alix Says:

    Jeffrey, my natural foods cooking school, Bauman College, agrees with your family about Grapeseed. I had never used it before, but they used it for all dishes requiring high heat, and now I do as well.

  3. Leah Koenig Says:

    Grapeseed oil was the hot topic of conversation at a recent cooking demonstration I went to hosted by Chef Peter Berley. He said that he prefers to cook with grapeseed oil – partially because, living in the Northeast where lots of grapes are grown, there’s huge potential for it to be locally produced.

    On the contrary, olives don’t grow well in the Northeast, so olive oil is necessarily from California, Italy, Morroco, or some other far away sunny place.

  4. Eric Says:

    Helen -

    Thanks for the wonderfully comprehensive guide to Chanukkah cooking oils! Now which one would be the best choice for frying up some Oreos…

  5. Deb Schiff Says:

    Nice report! I’ve actually used a combination of grapeseed and peanut oils to achieve the best result. From what I understand, canola oil breaks down under high heat, so I don’t use it.

  6. Elisheva Says:

    thanks for the excellent article!

  7. Andy Says:

    There also are many different kinds of potatoes…which are best for latkes?

  8. Helen Jupiter Says:

    Great point, and great question! You’ve piqued my curiosity. My guess would be the classic Russet or Idaho, in terms of size and ability to withstand high heat, but I’ll see what I can find out.

  9. Leah Koenig Says:

    I was just thinking about that this weekend! I made roasted root veggies this weekend with blue potatoes and was mesmerized by how gorgeous they were up against the orange carrots and yellow delicata squash. It got me thinking that they’d make amazing-looking latkes piled with snowy-white sourcream (though I don’t know about the withstanding heat bit).

  10. Ellen Says:

    Hi, I just discovered your blog and being a NJG I will be checking up on you frequently.
    Of course, my vote is for rice oil because it has a higher smoke point than grapeseed or peanut oil and it has a good fatty acid profile. Plus, it is neautral in flavor. We are known for serving the BEST latkes and it’s all in the oil-get it very HOT.
    Happy Hanukkah to you and your readers!!!

  11. V. N. DALMIA Says:

    The comments about grapeseed are innocent but uninformed. Grapeseed oil has 20% mono-unsaturated fat(the good fat) versus 61% in canola and 72% in olive oil. Grapeseed has ZERO Omega-3 fat versus 11% in canola. Grapeseed has 69% (!) Omega-6 fat (the kind we need to consume in limits) versus 21% in canola. The smoking point of grapeseed is 215 degrees centigrade versus 242 for canola!

  12. Acupuncture Brisbane Says:

    As i read your blog it got my more interest in it.I am very curious to know more about it.

  13. Zeigler Says:

    Great article, really valuable information.

  14. Happy Hanukkah | The Jewish Museum Blog Says:

    [...] and the Carrot, which always has great holiday recipes and stories. I find particularly informative this guide to latke frying oil. Best wishes for a fun filled [...]

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