Do you love the taste of deep-fried foods but need to keep an eye on your health? From french fries to donuts, so many of our favorite foods are deep fried. But I’m trying to choose healthier options, and I wanted to find out how I could reduce the amount of oil the food absorbs when I fry it.
Deep frying does not absorb an excess of oil if fried quickly at a hot temperature, but as the whole food is submerged, it gets coated in oil which is very calorific. Starchy, porous foods like batters or food with more surface area absorb more oil than denser food. Prevent excess absorption by draining fried food on kitchen towels.
It’s worth noting that all oils have around 120 calories per tablespoon so it’s easy to see why even a small excess of oil from deep frying adds so many calories.
There’s no way I wanted to cut out deep-fried foods completely, so I looked at different methods for frying and how it affects oil absorption. I wanted to know if the temperature of the oil made a difference, what kind of food soaked up more oil, and if shallow or pan frying was better than deep frying.
How Deep Frying In Oil Works
Deep frying food requires you to completely submerge your food in hot oil until the food is cooked. Deep frying sounds like the perfect recipe to make food greasy and fattening. But if food is correctly cooked, the oil heats up the moisture inside the food, and the steam escapes. That’s the bubbles and sounds you hear.
The moisture turns to water vapor that pushes outward and repels the oil, preventing it from entering the food. The evaporating water actually creates a protective barrier as oil is “hydrophobic” to the moisture.
Generally, the longer you cook something in oil, it runs out of moisture and the easier it gets for the food to absorb oil. Dense foods absorb less oil, and porous, starchy foods absorb more.
You can see that longer cooking times will make deep-fried foods greasier, and the larger the food is, the more your cooking times will increase. But smaller pieces of food have more surface area to absorb oil which is the most calorific. Even the densest foods can easily get coated in enough oil to increase their calories by over 50%.
Some food types are more absorbent of oil, and these are often the ones we love for their crispy fried texture, like batters and crumb coatings.
For example, the surface of chicken is not very penetrable, but a crumb coating that’s porous and with lots of surface area will absorb oil like a sponge. At 120 calories a tablespoon of oil, the calorific content of fried foods can add up quickly.
Let’s look at ways we can reduce the cooking time and have our food absorb the least amount of oil.
How Do You Calculate Oil Absorption And Calories?
A rough guide is that for each portion of deep-fried food submerged in two and a half cups of oil, around two tablespoons of oil is absorbed. The calorie count is very high with two tablespoons of oil usually around 240 calories.
The only way to be completely accurate is to perform a long-winded method of weighing oil before and after cooking to judge how much oil has been absorbed, and use the nutritional data for that oil (around 880 calories per 100g).
For estimating, there are some elements to consider when considering the calorie count of fried foods.
Different foods will absorb more oil; for example, batters and starches absorb more oil when fried, while the skin on a chicken leg will prevent more oil from entering.
Denser food, such as chicken breast, can absorb enough oils to increase their calorie count by 50%, while starchy foods like potatoes or foods with batter added can double or more their calorie count because of the amount of oil they absorb.
If you want to learn more about how fat gets absorbed in food and how to calculate it, see my post on how marinating in oil affects calories and fat.
How To Absorb The Least Oil When Deep Frying
Reducing the surface area of the food, using less absorbent coatings, and frying for a shorter time will mean the least oil will be absorbed when frying.
The more surface area your food has, the more oil it will absorb. In other words, larger items are better than items that are cut up small as lots of small items have more sides to soak up oil.
That’s also why things like breadcrumbs are bad as they have lots of surface area which is also porous. Avoid batters, crumb coating, and anything that absorbs oil easily (unless you remove it after frying).
You want to avoid cooking your food too long in oil, but no one wants a potato fried on the outside and raw inside. A solution to cutting down frying time is to par-boil your vegetables first.
A common kitchen myth is that the temperature of the oil will affect how much oil is absorbed, but studies on donuts and French fries seem to indicate that lower temperatures such as 280F don’t increase oil absorption compared to 365F. The longer your food cooks in the oil does seem to make a difference, and the longer a food sits in high-temperature oil, the more oil it soaks up.
The shorter you can keep your deep frying time, the less oil your food can absorb.
What Food Soaks Up Oil?
Some food naturally soaks up more oil because of its porous nature. Starchy foods such as doughs, noodles, and potatoes are prone to absorbing more oil than dense foods like meat and chicken. If you add batter to food, the batter will also absorb more oil.
If you can avoid battering your food, this will also decrease the extra calories you add and how much oil it absorbs. Cooking for less time will help prevent absorption.
Dense food like meats will actually not absorb much oil. Meat is packed with water and there isn’t much space for oil inside. That’s why marinating meat in oil for hours doesn’t make it oily on the inside.
How To Remove Excess Oil From Deep-Fried Food
You may be interested to know that most oil is absorbed in the cooling down period after you’ve finished deep-frying the food. Hot oil and evaporating moisture in the food don’t mix well when cooking but this changes when the food stops cooking and the steam stops coming out.
The oil sitting on the surface is quickly absorbed as the food cools. The best way to reduce this oil is to use kitchen towels to immediately absorb the excess oil as soon as the food comes out of the fryer.
Drain your fried food by placing them on absorbent kitchen paper towels as soon as you take them from the oil. Pat them dry with another kitchen towel to get as much of the oil off your food as possible.
Which Is Healthier – Pan Frying Or Deep Frying?
Pan frying is healthier than deep frying as long as the food isn’t coated in oil. If lots of oil is used like in shallow frying, then the calorific impact is similar.
The less oil you use to cook food, the less it can absorb, so methods of frying that use only a little oil and cook quickly are usually healthier.
If you shallow fry your food in a pan instead of deep frying, you can reduce some of the oil content but if the food is still sitting in lots of oil then there is not much difference.
Of the frying methods, stir-frying is the most healthy as it uses the least amount of oil, and the food is cooked quickly at a high temperature.
You can also reduce oil by using an air-fryer for cooking your food at high heat while using only a little oil for taste. An air-fryer is a convection oven and not a method of frying, but it can recreate some of the crispy texture associated with deep-fried foods.
From the estimates and methods of calculating in this article, you should now have an idea of how much oil is absorbed when deep frying.
Reduce the oil your food absorbs when deep-fried by not cooking it for too long and immediately absorbing excess oil with a paper towel. Battered and starchy foods are porous and absorb more oil; exchange these for denser food. You can further reduce the oil in your food by switching to shallow pan frying or stir-frying rather than deep-frying.
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