Making fried foods healthier without sacrificing taste

Mike Erickson
Technical service manager
Cargill Oils & Shortenings

Let's face it: frying in oil or fat achieves a moisture content, flavor profile and crisp finish that is hard to beat. Yet the same oils that make fried chicken, fish, french fries and donuts so tempting are also the reason why they will never make any nutritionist’s Top 10 list.

While there may be no such thing as "healthy" fried foods, the food industry has made great strides in making them healthier while preserving their appeal. For example, Cargill has virtually eliminated the trans fat and significantly reduced the saturated fat in its cooking oils.

Like others in the food industry, Cargill is motivated to help customers improve the nutritional profiles of fried foods to help in the overall US goal of slowing or lowering obesity rates and to help reduce the risk of obesity-related diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

Early on, we  recognized the need for frying oils with reduced trans fat and saturated fat but with the same stability and ability to achieve a pleasing flavor, color a

nd texture. We took canola oil, which has the lowest saturated fat content of all commercially available oils, and altered it to produce a robust cooking oil with reduced saturated fat and practically no trans fat per serving: Clear Valley® 65 high oleic canola oil.

To achieve different flavors, we blended Clear Valley® 65 high oleic canola oil with other oils. We also modified and combined other oils, such as corn, cottonseed, soybean and sunflower oils, with small amounts of animal fats or fully hydrogenated oils to enhance the flavor and appearance of fried foods.

Many factors, such as starch and fat composition, porosity, density, water content and frying technique, affect oil absorption during frying. As a result, minimizing oil absorption during cooking remains a challenge. While this could be done by dehydrating the food before cooking or by using coatings, we found that these methods did not consistently produce appealing finished products. However, proper fryer and oil maintenance, coupled with careful monitoring during frying, can help reduce oil absorption while still achieving delicious results. Factors fo

r success:

• Maintaining proper oil temperature
• Bringing foods to the right temperature before frying
• Metering the amount of food going into the fryer at once
• Monitoring the length of time a food stays in the fryer
• Using quality oils in the right amounts
• Changing oil as often as needed (as oil breaks down, it is more likely to be absorbed than to act as primarily a heat-transfer agent)
• Using proper draining and cooling techniques
• Ensuring that fryers are properly maintained

Knowing that you can lower the unwanted fat content of fried foods with a combination of quality oils and best practices is great news to everyone who likes fried foods but not saturated or trans fats. I'll gladly raise a drumstick fried in Clear Valley® 65 high oleic canola oil to that.

Mike Erickson is technical service manager for Cargill Oils & Shortenings.  He has 30 years of experience in food research, development, processing and technical service related to fats and oils. Among the responsibilities in his current role includes being the primary technical tag for industrial frying.  In that role, he works closely with customers to identify and deliver timely, market driven solutions which, for example, includes the development of new and reformulation of existing products with Cargill’s Clear Valley line of oils and shortenings.