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What Is Peanut Oil?
Peanut oil comes from peanuts, which are up to 50 percent oil by weight. They’re native to South America, but their oil wasn't extracted on a large scale until the plant was brought to Europe in the 1500s. Peanut oil became a popular cooking oil in the United States after World War I, during which time it was used in the manufacture of explosives. This popular groundnut oil is used in commercial frying because it can withstand long periods of high heat without oxidizing.
What Is the Smoke Point of Peanut Oil?
Peanut oil is famous for its higher smoke point of 448 to 475°F, which makes it ideal for high-heat cooking. Unrefined peanut oil has a lower smoke point (350°F) and can be used for medium-heat applications where you'd usually use olive oil. Learn more about oil smoke points here.
Can You Use Peanut Oil for Frying?
Peanut oil is extremely popular choice for filling up the deep fryer because of its high smoke point and the fact that it tends to develop less off-flavors during frying compared to other vegetable oils, like canola oil. It’s also great for developing the crisp texture we prefer for french fries, tempura, and other fried foods.
Is Peanut Oil Healthy?
Peanut oil’s fat content breaks down to about 16 to 20 percent saturated fat, 26 to 41 percent monounsaturated fat, and 32 to 39 percent polyunsaturated, making it a pretty good source of unsaturated fats, which, when replacing saturated fat, are thought to lower the risk of heart disease. However, unsaturated fats are more prone to oxidation during cooking, which can eliminate potential health benefits.
Peanut oil also has a high proportion of linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, which can be inflammatory when not balanced out by an equal amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Unrefined peanut oil is high in antioxidant vitamin E, which protects against free radicals, and sterols, which may protect against certain cancers, but the health benefits of vitamin E are lost when the oil is refined or exposed to high temperatures.
Refined vs. Unrefined Peanut Oil: What’s the Difference?
Refined peanut oil is neutral in flavor, has a high smoke point, and is the kind of peanut oil used for deep-frying. Unrefined peanut oil has a nutty flavor and is often used for finishing dishes, or blended with cheaper oils. Roasted unrefined peanut oil is used as a finishing oil, similar to toasted sesame oil.
Semi-refined peanut oil, found at Asian markets, is a good choice for stir-frying, because it retains some peanut flavor, while boosting the oil’s smoke point. Cold-pressed, green peanut oil, a vibrant, nutty-flavored unrefined oil made from raw green peanuts, is popular in China and has recently become popular in the American South as a finishing oil.
Watch Chef Thomas Keller’s MasterClass to see how he uses peanut oil for his fried chicken recipe.