The Truth About Restaurant Cooking Oils

Nutrition Articles

Restaurant Cooking Oils

Today, I want to bring you inside the Weston A. Price Wise Traditions annual conference and highlight something about it that can perhaps change the way you look at food on a more practical, everyday level. Namely, restaurant oils.

I’ll premise this article with two questions.

Question #1: When you go out to eat, do you know what oils are being used in the food?

Question #2:  Why does this matter?

The Importance of Saturated Fat

The reason I’m asking this is because one of the great things about the conference was the complete lack of restaurant oils in the food. When you’re cooking for 1500 people in a hotel restaurant kitchen, this is nothing short of a remarkable accomplishment. 

Traditionally, cultures used animal fats in their cooking – tallow (beef fat), lard (pig fat), chicken fat, bacon grease, duck fat, etc.  Other fats and oils traditionally used in cooking included palm and coconut oils and good old fashioned butter.

Those fats are saturated and when you are cooking, contrary to popular belief, this is not only a good thing, it’s vitally important.  Saturated fats are very stable at high heat, meaning they hold their chemical structure.  Without getting too technical this basically means they don’t form free radicals which are unstable molecules that promote disease and aging in your body.

Unsaturated fats from plant sources also have health benefits, but not when heated.  Their chemical bonds are not stable at high heat.

How an Apple Can Teach You About Fats

To see this process with the naked eye take an apple and cut it open. Turns brown pretty quickly, right?  It’s a process called oxidation (free radical formation). This is what happens to any fruit, nut or seed when you break it open and expose the inner contents.

To extract the oils, they are pressed in mechanical processes which creates friction and thus heat, thereby increasing oxidation.  However, done under the right conditions, the integrity of many oils can be maintained.  Oils termed ‘cold-pressed’ are done so at temperatures that prevent damage.  After pressing, these delicate oils should be stored away from light, heat and moisture. This is why you’ll see good quality oils stored in dark glass bottles.

Unfortunately, to the food industry cold-pressing oils is not profitable. So they press them at high heats and pressures to extract them quicker and in greater quantities. This damages the oils and in turn, damages your body.

These refined oils have been a part of our food supply for over a hundred years! Crisco was introduced in 1911 and it was the first shortening made entirely of vegetable oil. This is the time when the rates of heart disease started to dramatically escalate in industrialized countries.

The Quadruple Bypass

Right now, take a look at the products in your fridge and kitchen cabinets.  Unless you’re aware of this I can almost guarantee you’ll see corn, cottonseed, canola and/or soybean oil in almost everything  – your salad dressings, mayonnaise, cookies, potato chips, canned goods and even things like bread.

These four oils have risen dramatically in our food supply since World War II.  I call these four the “Quadruple Bypass” not just for their association with heart disease but also because anytime you see these four oils in anything, bypass them!

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to avoid them because they’re in almost all packaged foods. That includes Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. To avoid them completely you have to cook! I mostly use coconut oil and butter in my cooking.  And when I roast a chicken, I’ll save the chicken fat.  I’ll also save some of the fat when I make a stock.  And it’s not hard to render your own lard if you find a good source of pig fat.  All these fats are traditional fats and acceptable for cooking.

Ask Your Waiter, If You Dare

However, it’s virtually impossible to do this when you go out to eat. Go ahead and ask your waiter what oils are being used.  I’d almost recommend you don’t.  You’ll be horrified.

Having waited tables for many years in restaurants I can tell you that industrial oils are in just about everything you eat.  I don’t care if your favorite restaurant is sourcing their food locally.  That’s great.  But they’re still not using good oils.

The reason is they can’t. It’s just not cost efficient because they use so much of them. They use these restaurant oils in all their sauces. They use them in their salad dressings. They use them on their grills, saute pans and sandwich presses to keep food from sticking. They usually coat their meats with them right before they put them on heating surfaces as well. They usually do the same with the breads of hot sandwiches.  Simply put, they use A LOT of these oils.

Here’s an example:

a typical restaurant cooking oil

This is something restaurants buy in bulk.  My picture doesn’t convey it well but inside that box is a huge 35 pound plastic container of soybean oil. Most restaurants will go through this rather quickly.

Here are two more commonly used restaurant oils:

another commonly used restaurant cooking oil

See how they both have the label of “Og Trans Fat” with a deceptively small “per serving” underneath?

This means they have trans fats. That is not a misprint.  Let me repeat it to be clear.  If you see “0 grams trans fat per serving” on a label, it means it has trans fats.

Let’s take a look at the ingredients on the back of the Wesson shortening product shown above:

ingredients in a restaurant cooking oil

The Truth About Trans Fats

There you see “hydrogenated soybean oil” in the ingredients.  Hydrogenation is a process that creates trans fats. So how can they claim 0 grams trans fats per serving?

Due to intense lobbying by the food industry, companies are allowed by law to claim 0 grams trans fats per serving if the serving size is 0.49 grams or less.  So companies boost the serving sizes so they can get under the 0.49.  That’s why the words “per serving” are always in tiny print.

Are you shaking your head in disbelief yet?

If not, you would be if you knew that the research connecting trans fats to chronic disease is about as solid as the research connecting cigarette smoking to lung cancer.  Fortunately, most people know today that trans fats are devastating to human health.  Some places are even trying to ban them.  New York City did so a few years ago.  This of course is met with huge resistance by the food industry.

So what exactly are trans fats?

As I mentioned above, trans fats are formed in a high tech process called hydrogenation.  This process turns liquid oils into solid fats.

Hydrogenation does two things to food.  Number one it increases shelf life.   And two, it makes it useful in baking.  Traditional fats like lard and butter give substance to things like cakes, pies and cookies.  Try using soybean oil instead of butter when making cookies.  You’ll get a flat, greasy cookie.

But if you use hydrogenated soybean oil, you now have a solid fat.  You can now mass-produce baked goods since hydrogenated oils are so much cheaper than real, traditional fats. Take a look at almost any Hostess product – Twinkies, Ding Dongs, etc.  You’ll see them there.  Take a look at the labels of most big name snack/junk food companies. You’ll see them there.

And finally, there’s another reason restaurants can’t use good quality oils.  It’s because we’ve been collectively brainwashed into thinking saturated fats will clog our arteries.  A chef or restaurant owner who wanted to use say, lard in the fryer instead of canola oil, would have to deal with the headache of constant complaints from his/her patrons on doctor-prescribed low-fat diets and statin drugs.

How many people do you know on low-fat diets and stating drugs?  I’m guessing more than a few.

Why the Chefs Got a Standing O

And this is why cooking for 1500 people for 3 days in a commercial kitchen operation without the use of industrial oils is a truly incredible feat.

Not a speck of canola oil.  Not a drip of soybean oil.  No cottonseed oil.  No Mazzola corn oil.  No Wesson.  No Pam cooking sprays.

This is not convenient.  It’s not efficient.  And it’s not easy.

One of the more touching moments of the conference was during the Saturday night banquet when Sally Fallon brought out all the chefs who spent the weekend preparing and cooking the foods in traditional methods for 1500 people.

As they came out on stage they got a standing ovation.

How to Avoid Restaurant Oils

So what can you do?

Well, as far as eating out goes, not much.  But here are two tips.  First, most restaurants have olive oil and balsamic vinegar you can use instead of their salad dressings.

Second, when you go out for breakfast, ask your waiter to make sure the chef cooks your eggs or pancakes in butter.  Same goes for any hot sandwiches.  They’ll give you a quizzical look for sure.  In fact, once you start incorporating more traditional foods in your diet, you’ll get a lot of strange looks.  Get used to it.

As far as using cooking oils at home, well, there’s lots you can do!

First, get rid of any oils that contain any of the Quadruple Bypass. Ditch the Wesson. Throw out the Mazzola. And please never EVER buy Crisco ever again.

Next, stock your kitchen with good quality fats and oils.   Here are the three most common ones:

Butter – This is my personal favorite brand from grass-fed cows.

Olive oil – Find good sources of olive oil here.

Coconut oil – Find good sources of coconut oil here.

Lard, duck fat and tallow are three traditional animal fats that are harder to find but very easy to render yourself if you can find a good source.  As an example, here is how to make lard at home.

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The Truth About Restaurant Cooking Oils

About the Author

Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.

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