By Natasha Reta – Culinary Consultant
Price increases at this point should come as no surprise to us. Anyone not living under a rock is fully aware of inflation and the toll on all commodity prices, including fryer oil. As of late January 2022, the cost of soybean oil is about $0.64 per pound, increasing nearly 44% over just the past year. Before 2021 fryer oil sustained itself at around $0.31 per pound. You know it has become alarming when people start stealing used fryer oil. Why is this happening? Beyond all other exporting and importing issues we’ve faced with the pandemic, this seems to be an unintended consequence of federal and state mandates.
To combat climate change and wean the country off fossil fuels, the government’s mandate to produce more renewable fuels has been cutting into edible cooking oil supply. Billions of gallons of soybean oil have been diverted to the biofuel industry. Over last September and October, the United States became a net importer of soybean oil. Climate change is important to combat, but operators also have a business to run. What can we do as restaurant operators to mitigate this cost?
Preserving and prolonging the life of your oil
Preserve and prolong the life of your oil. This can have a very tangible impact on your profitability. This sounds easier than it is. We all know that old oil will impart a terrible flavor to food. So, what and how do we preserve without serving distasteful food? Here are a few tips from the back of the house to save your front-end costs.
- Cleanliness– keep your oil clean. Be sure to skim any particles in the oil after use. Filter your oil at least once a day, two times a day if your fryer experiences high volume usage.
- Avoid Oxidation– reduce air contact, do not let your oil cascade through the air from the fryer to filter. Using the “old-fashioned” filtering of stockpot and filter basket brings pot and filter closer to oil expeller to reduce route of travel that is contacted by air. Cover oil left in fryer reservoirs with a full sheet tray when the fryer is not in use and at the end of the day.
- Oil Choice- creamy or solid, choose a highly stable frying agent. Liquid oils are the least expensive but also deteriorate fastest. Solid and creamy agents last longer but cost more. Your oil should have a maximum free fatty acid content of 0.05%. The best frying oil provides taste, value, performance, and good stability. Try to find an oil with an Oxidative Stability Index (OSI) of 15 hours or more. The smoke point should be a minimum of 425°F (218°C)
- Correct Storage- follow your supplier’s recommendations for storing oil. Oil is typically stored in cool temperatures in lightproof containers.
- Test Cooking Temperatures– fat breaks down quickly at higher temperatures—test frying your items at lower temperatures to reduce the oil breakdown. Test a 345 F fry as your base; increasing the temperature will increase the fat breakdown.
- Breaded vs. Battered– batter will shed fewer particles in your oil during cooking. Consider testing a battered vs. breaded product.
The USDA’s pricing forecast through August 2022 shows little to zero change in oil prices. Food industry groups are lobbying the EPA to reduce their biofuel quotas in hopes this will ease pressure on prices. Regardless, it appears that the price elevation of oil will be an ongoing battle. It’s time now to review your frying SOPs and perhaps establish some new ones to prolong that hot, costly gold in your fryer.