Oils factor into french fry innovation

by Jeff Gelski
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Restaurant chains recently have launched competing french fry promotions. Wendy’s in 2010 introduced its “skin-on” french fries with sea salt, and this month Burger King began selling french fries made from a thicker cut of potato. Whatever french fry innovations follow in the years ahead, expect the choices of oils or oil blends, and how they are used, to factor into any success of the products. Oils may affect the texture (too soggy?) and color (too dark?) of all fried products. Equipment upkeep and labor costs are other considerations when choosing frying oils.

“Restaurants are differen-tiating themselves with their ‘new’ fries — ‘all-natural,’ ‘fresh-cut,’ ‘better flavor,’ etc.,” said David Dzisiak, global leader of oils for Dow AgroSciences, L.L.C., Indianapolis. “The im-portant point is that the focus is on the potato. Chefs and menu developers want the flavor of the potato, and oils that are more neutral in flavor, like Omega-9 Oils, allow chefs to achieve that.”

Dow AgroSciences offers can-ola and sunflower oils that are high in monounsaturated fats (omega-9 fatty acids). Several other oil innovations may be used with fried foods. Cargill offers Clear Valley high-oleic canola oil, which may be blended with other oils. Supply is increasing for Plenish high-oleic soybeans from Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont company. The soybeans are used to make soybean oil that has oleic content over 75% and saturated fat content that is 20% lower than commodity soybean oil. St. Louis-based Monsanto is awaiting U.S. Department of Agriculture approval on its Vistive Gold soybeans that produce a high-oleic, low-saturate, low-trans fat soybean oil.

Already available for food service operators, Frymax oil from Stratas Foods, Memphis, Tenn., is a deep frying, high-oleic soybean oil that is 77% monounsaturated fat.

Absorption and limp fries

How fried foods absorb oil is pivotal.

“Absorption is pretty much everything when it comes to fried foods, and absorption is a function of temperature,” said Mike Erickson, technical services manager for Cargill Oils & Shortenings.

Changes in frying oils over the decades brought along the need to adjust frying temperatures. At one time french fries frequently were fried in oils with beef tallow, Mr. Erickson said, but then a switch was made to hydrogenated soybean oils with flavors. The next switch was to oils with no trans fat. The oils were softer, more liquid. French fries go limp more quickly when such oils are used, Mr. Erickson said.

“The oils that we are now using don’t lend themselves to the same integrity in terms of hardness that we were used to back in the days of beef tallow,” he said.

Oil blends are an option.

“Frying mediums vary in composition of the base oil,” said Roger Daniels, vice-president of research, development and innovation for Stratas Foods. “Careful selection of the solids level to liquid oil level allows the formulator to achieve a frying medium that is variable in contributing to the development of a french fry with varying degrees of hardness, cohesiveness and springiness.”

A higher frying temperature may help alleviate the problem of french fries going limp too quickly, Mr. Erickson said.

Mr. Dzisiak said, “In temperatures that are too low, the fry will likely become soggy with oil. In temperatures that are too high, the fry will likely become hard. Undercooking may also lead to soggy fries, and overcooking leads to hardened, dark fries. Utilizing the proper management techniques and a high stability oil will allow you to produce consistent products basket after basket.”

Mr. Erickson said advanced frying equipment also may help. Fryers today have built-in circuits for temperature recovery. He gave an example of putting thick steak fries into a fryer, which makes the temperature inside the fryer nose-dive. A program in the fryer has the ability to recognize the temperature drop and to bring the temperature back to its correct level, somewhat like how cruise-control adjusts speeds when a vehicle goes up-hill.

Increased supply of more stable oils, or those with higher oleic content, may be on the way, too.
Archer Daniels Midland Co., Decatur, Ill., will offer contracts for high-oleic Nexera canola that offer premiums over commodity canola with “Act of God” protection, according to the company. Nexera canola is used to produce oil that has a combination of high-oleic fatty acids (omega-9 fatty acids) and low-linolenic fatty acids. ADM said Nexera canola helps the company develop healthier oil solutions for the restaurant and food service in-dustries. The Omega-9 Oils from Dow Agro-Sciences are made from Dow AgroSciences’ Nexera canola and sunflower seeds.

Pioneer and Bunge North America said they will work with farmers near Bunge’s facility in Delphos, Ohio, to grow Plenish high-oleic soybeans in 2012. The soybeans are used to make high-oleic soybean oil, which may be fried at higher temperatures for longer periods of time. The O.S.I. (oxidative stability index) of the oil is over 25 hours.

Color and shelf life

The longer an oil remains stable, the longer it may last without negatively affecting french fry color.
“As oil gets used and starts to break down, compounds start to form within the oil that can impact the color of the oil and the color of the product being fried,” Mr. Dzisiak said. “If you use a high stability oil, like Omega-9 Canola Oil, these compounds form at a slower rate, and you can achieve the desired color of your fries for a longer duration of time.”

Mr. Daniels said, “Color imparted to french fries is dictated by two key factors: time in the fryer and life of the frying oil through the frying cycle. Higher stability oils achieved via high levels of omega-9 fatty acids typically assist in less variable french fry color due in part to the longer fry life of the oil.”

Equipment upkeep and the associated labor costs are two other factors to consider when choosing oils.
In attempts to avoid trans fat, companies began using low-linolenic soybean oils with french fries, but the oils had a negative effect on equipment and the equipment needed cleaning more frequently, Mr. Erickson said.

High-oleic oils may reduce the need for cleaning and thus the labor costs associated with cleaning.
“The build-up of ‘gunk’ is a result of polymerization, a chemical process that occurs when the oils are used for an extended period of time,” Mr. Dzisiak said. “Most trans-fat free oils have high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which have multiple double bonds that break down at a quicker rate during frying.

“The fatty acids polymerize and form into a solid, covering fryers and equipment surfaces with a sticky muck. The unique fatty acid profile of Omega-9 Oils, which are high in monounsaturated fats, results in significantly less oil polymerization than other zero trans-fat oils and lower labor costs.”

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