Smoke point – what is it exactly?

Let’s start with the definition of a smoke point. The smoke point is the lowest temperature at which a heated oil or fat begins to break down into glycerol and free fatty acids and loses all its nutritional properties. Each fat has a typical smoke point depending on impurities, spoilage, and fatty acid composition profile. The smoke point is one of the most important indicators characterizing frying fats. It largely determines the use of fat in the frying process.

We know that fried foods are not the healthiest, but by gaining knowledge, you can slightly improve this process. Some dishes cannot be prepared in any other way than frying. We love fried dishes – from scrambled eggs with bacon, through pancakes, to the traditional homemade pork chop.

The dangers of cooking with oil above its smoke point

Have you ever poured fat onto a hot pan and found that instead of sizzling, it turned into puffs of burning? It is at this point that you are dealing tangibly with the issue at hand. Food fried in fat heated to a temperature exceeding its smoke point has a characteristic burnt taste, but above all, it may contain carcinogenic substances from degraded oil. Continuing to maintain this temperature results in the formation of acrolein seen as smoke. There are several studies showing that this substance is carcinogenic.

What does the smoke point depend on?

The smoke point depends on the method of producing the fat, specifically on the content of free fatty acids. The more free fatty acids in the oil, the lower the smoke point and the lower the suitability of the fat for use at high temperatures.

The traditional process of producing oils is the mechanical pressing of nuts and seeds. Such unrefined fats are packed with minerals, enzymes, and other valuable substances. Such fats are suitable for salads, dressings, and possibly cooking or stewing at a controlled low temperature. The production of high smoke point oil is a complex process that requires filtering and heating to high temperatures to separate and eliminate harmful substances. So which oil is the healthiest? There is no clear answer here. The best answer is: it depends on what you want to use it for. Here is a short note with some tips.

What oil is best for heat treatment?

It depends on which thermal treatment specifically.

  • The best oil for frying: choose peanut oil, corn oil, refined soybean oil;
  • The best cooking oil: good quality olive oil, rapeseed, or grape oil will be perfect;
  • The best oil for deep-fat frying: you will need a kitchen thermometer; choose a fat that can be safely heated to a temperature 20 °C higher than desired – throwing ingredients into the hot oil will lower its temperature, so the fat must be heated above the target temperature;
  • The best oil for stir-fry: this is about time and an extremely high temperature – only the combination of these two factors allows you to achieve the stir-fry effect characteristic of Asian cuisine. Peanut oil or cardamom oil (from safflower) will be perfect.

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