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Which Oil is Best for Frying: Animal Fats, Butter/Ghee, Coconut Oil or Olive Oil?

by (5132)
Updated about 5 hours ago
Created November 13, 2011 at 10:25 PM

You alway find out something new when you do actual research. I always thought bacon grease, butter, and coconut oil were ideal for frying. The reason? Well, don't they all have rather high smoke points? And isn't that because they are predominantly composed of stable SAFA?

Actually, SAFA is not the only fat in these supposedly safe oils for frying. For example, butter and bacon grease have MUFA ranging from 30-44%. Only coconut oil is overwhelmingly SAFA at 92%.

Now, let's take olive oil. It is majority MUFA (77%), and has PUFA (9%) comparable to bacon grease (8%) and lard (12%). Wasn't the reason for olive oil not being ok for frying due to its non-SAFA content? And wasn't this specifically due to its PUFA content (if MUFA were a problem, we shouldn't be frying with butter either)? If so, perhaps we should not be frying with bacon grease nor lard either, as they're basically meat drip from pork? I've heard anecdotal accounts of bacon grease being very unstable and having a low smoke point.

Another surprise: olive oil's smoke point is 375F, higher than 350F for butter and coconut oil. How does the smoke point differential between olive oil and other fats show that olive oil isn't fit for frying?

Here're the data:

  • Coconut Oil: 92% (Saturated Fat); 2% (PUFA); 6% (MUFA); smoke point (350F)
  • Butter, Unsalted: 66% (Saturated Fat); 4% (PUFA); 30% (MUFA); smoke point (350F)
  • Ghee / Clar Butter: 66% (Saturated Fat); 4% (PUFA); 30% (MUFA); smoke point (485F)
  • Bacon Grease: 48% (Saturated Fat); 8% (PUFA); 44% (MUFA); smoke point (?)
  • Lard: 41% (Saturated Fat); 12% (PUFA); 47% (MUFA); smoke point (370)
  • Olive Oil: 14% (Saturated Fat); 9% (PUFA); 77% (MUFA); smoke point (375F)
  • Fish Oil: 25% (Saturated Fat); 50% (PUFA); 25% (MUFA); smoke point (n/a)

Data source: [http://www.fitday.com/webfit/nutrition/All_Foods/Fats_Oils_Dressings/Bacon_grease_or_meat_drippings.html] [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoke_point]

Shouldn't the decision whether to fry or not be based on the relative fat content of these oils?

Edit: Added data on Lard, Ghee / Clarified Butter, and Fish Oil. Some more surprises. Ghee is basically unchanged from butter -- the clarification process slightly diluted its protein and carb content (negligible) but increased the smoke point from 350F to 485F. The fat composition however did not change at all -- minimal PUFA but significant MUFA concentration.

Lard is only 41% SAFA, 47% MUFA and 12% PUFA. At 12%, lard's is higher in PUFA than olive oil. Which raises a question: is lard really safer than olive oil for frying?

So let's examine the seminal question here by appealing to science, instead of spewing some rote Paleo answer that animal fats are safe for frying no matter what. Why is lard any safer than olive oil? Lard is basically pig fat and has higher PUFA than olive oil and bacon grease. We know that PUFA is unstable because it promotes lipid peroxidation -- a process that degrades PUFA's C-C double bonds, resulting in rancidity; the same process doesn't seem to affect SAFA nor MUFA. You wouldn't think of frying anything in fish oil (50% PUFA), right? Then why fry with animal (pig) fats (bacon grease and lard) that have lower but still not-too-insignificant PUFA?

Dc40ae5d05030b331cbe0d96a45a52d6
30 · July 04, 2012 at 4:01 PM

This occurred to me today. I'm annoyed that no commenter gave anything approaching a satisfactory answer.

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5132 · November 16, 2011 at 5:24 AM

It seems like ghee is the one with the highest smoke point by far at 485F. Higher by 100 degrees over any other oil.

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410 · November 15, 2011 at 9:32 PM

If I could get my hands on some duck fat I would love it!!!

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410 · November 15, 2011 at 9:31 PM

I don't use coconut for meats, I either use bacon grease or slowly heat up the meat and let the fats come out naturally. Coconut is strictly for seafood with me.

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3891 · November 15, 2011 at 9:11 PM

Do you have a cutoff in mind for when PUFAs are no longer optimal in a fat, say above 10%? How would you define not-too-insignificant and why? This is an interesting question and I'm surprised it hasn't received more responses.

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3891 · November 15, 2011 at 9:05 PM

According to Mary Enig's "Know Your Fats", renderend duck fat is about 13% PUFA while goose is about 10%. The MUFA count for each is about 50% and 57%, respectively. So yes, a breakdown similar to bacon grease and lard. I don't allow either to hit the smoke point, though, when cooking with them. For me, it's about varying tastes, though I do tend to use coconut oil most frequently.

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5132 · November 15, 2011 at 1:22 AM

I'm not sure about duck or goose fat. Like lard and bacon grease, my guess is that too much PUFA content (+10%) may make it unstable for frying.

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5132 · November 15, 2011 at 1:20 AM

I agree butter and coconut oil are ideal. But lard doesn't seem to be too stable. No data on tallow.

A3bca1c6a1a3fcbad56fae8bb6fb6c1f
95 · November 15, 2011 at 12:30 AM

I've found that I don't really care for the coconut flavor when cooking meat... butter burns sometimes...haven't tried ghee yet. Anyone use ghee?

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10044 · November 14, 2011 at 3:42 AM

+1 Duck fat is a great oil to use.

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37187 · November 14, 2011 at 2:37 AM

Yum! Duck fat is great.

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37187 · November 14, 2011 at 12:31 AM

Stop! You're making me hungry! :-))

6498694060d879a7960b35913539b75f
1307 · November 14, 2011 at 12:10 AM

This is pretty much what I do too. But why do tallow and lard come second to coconut? Ive been using them interchangeably, depending on the meal.

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15 Answers

Baecfd1396e4014c34bdaae6d391da5f
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80 · May 22, 2012 at 7:11 AM

Guys, read the question. He isn't asking what you are using to fry your food in. This isn't about sharing your cooking preferences. This is about cold objective data that will contribute to understanding why there exists a contradiction in the preferring of one fat over another, while they exhibit a similar make up of unsaturated fats.

627cf3f5d1ddfb4c2f4c96169420f55f
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1626 · November 13, 2011 at 10:54 PM

ALWAYS cook with saturated fats. Butter and coconut oil are the best cooking fats. Then look to beef tallow and then lard.

Never ever cook with olive oil.

Keep it this simple. It will do you good!

6498694060d879a7960b35913539b75f
1307 · November 14, 2011 at 12:10 AM

This is pretty much what I do too. But why do tallow and lard come second to coconut? Ive been using them interchangeably, depending on the meal.

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5132 · November 15, 2011 at 1:20 AM

I agree butter and coconut oil are ideal. But lard doesn't seem to be too stable. No data on tallow.

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410 · November 14, 2011 at 12:20 AM

I would say bacon for meats. Coconut for seafood and butter for eggs.

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37187 · November 14, 2011 at 12:31 AM

Stop! You're making me hungry! :-))

A3bca1c6a1a3fcbad56fae8bb6fb6c1f
95 · November 15, 2011 at 12:30 AM

I've found that I don't really care for the coconut flavor when cooking meat... butter burns sometimes...haven't tried ghee yet. Anyone use ghee?

B5cc60ce970d2efed2de1f01c3b33e86
410 · November 15, 2011 at 9:31 PM

I don't use coconut for meats, I either use bacon grease or slowly heat up the meat and let the fats come out naturally. Coconut is strictly for seafood with me.

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3891 · November 14, 2011 at 2:11 AM

I use duck fat and goose fat in addition to beef tallow, bacon grease, butter, and coconut oil. Don't overlook the rendered fats from our feathered friends. For example, potatoes cooked in duck or goose fat are divine.

6714718e2245e5190017d643a7614157
10044 · November 14, 2011 at 3:42 AM

+1 Duck fat is a great oil to use.

96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247
37187 · November 14, 2011 at 2:37 AM

Yum! Duck fat is great.

B5cc60ce970d2efed2de1f01c3b33e86
410 · November 15, 2011 at 9:32 PM

If I could get my hands on some duck fat I would love it!!!

3c6b4eed18dc57f746755b698426e7c8
5132 · November 15, 2011 at 1:22 AM

I'm not sure about duck or goose fat. Like lard and bacon grease, my guess is that too much PUFA content (+10%) may make it unstable for frying.

95eda9fa0cec952b482e869c34a566b6
3891 · November 15, 2011 at 9:05 PM

According to Mary Enig's "Know Your Fats", renderend duck fat is about 13% PUFA while goose is about 10%. The MUFA count for each is about 50% and 57%, respectively. So yes, a breakdown similar to bacon grease and lard. I don't allow either to hit the smoke point, though, when cooking with them. For me, it's about varying tastes, though I do tend to use coconut oil most frequently.

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6229 · November 14, 2011 at 1:49 AM

Since starting Paleo a year ago, I use butter, coconut oil, ghee, and tallow for 99% of cooking and all stovetop cooking. I bake at 350-400F using only ghee or coconut oil.

About 1-2 times a month I'll use cold pressed sesame seed oil. I now only use olive oil for cold foods like salad dressing - I NO longer cook with it.

I use macadamia nut oil for searing fish in Bengali (Indian) fish curries because anything else tastes bad (in my opinion) at high temperature.

Traditionally cold pressed mustard oil is used but since it is not easily available in the US and in the past was adulterated in India (some died), I prefer to use macadamia nut oil - which is quite neutral and has a high smoke point. I use it only about max once a week.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoke_point

96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247
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37187 · November 13, 2011 at 11:00 PM

I consider butter a low-heat cooking fat as it browns and burns quickly otherwise. I do use it for eggs because they do best with low heat anyhow.

My high-heat fat is coconut oil; I used to use grape seed oil in the bad old days. I find my grass fed beef tallow gets pretty smoky even at medium heat.

8b9c2dcd3dfc929a0428d3d6dac4918e
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60 · January 12, 2014 at 8:01 AM

Haven't you essentially answered your own question by saying that coconut oil is lowest in MUFA and PUFA?

Of course probably not flash frying too much is part of the solution!

E312a8db59adc1bb60ace7b85f6bfe24
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0 · January 12, 2014 at 4:12 AM

Let's look at each oil (all measurements below are per 100g taken from nutrtiondata). SCT = short-chain triglycerides, MCT = medium-chain triglycerides:

Coconut Oil (350F)

SAFA: 86g = SCT/MCT: 59g, LCT: 27g

MUFA: 5g (Oleic)

PUFAs: 2g (Linoleic)

Butter(350F), Unsalted / Ghee(485F)

SAFA: SCT+MCT: 40g, LCT: 40g

MUFA: 3g (Oleic)

PUFA: 2.7g (Linoleic) 0.6g of this is CLAs

Olive Oil (350F):

SAFA: SCT/MCT: 0, LCT: 13g

MUFA: 71g (Oleic)

PUFA: 10g (Linoleic)

Lard (370F) / Bacon Grease:

SAFA: LCT: 39g

MUFA: 41g (Oleic), 4g (Palmitoleic)

PUFA: 10g (Linoleic) 1g (Linolenic)

Fish Oil of Salmon:

SAFA: 20g LCT

MUFA: 16g (oleic), 4g (palmitoleic), 3.3g (erucic), 3.8g(gadoleic) = 29g total

PUFA: 1.2(Linoleic) + 1g (linolenic) + 13g (EPA) + 18g (DHA) + .. = 40g total

The saturated fat above deserves a breakdown since it's well researched that not all saturated fat is good for you, just like not all polyunsaturated fat is bad for you. You also need to think about cooking at high temperatures vs. low.

Let's focus on 350 degree range first, and take Ghee out since it's in a category of it's own and let's take out Fish Oil since you can't buy that as a cooking oil yet, and let's compare the remaining ones:

> 1. Lard, 2. Coconut, 3. Butter, 4. Olive (random shuffle)

Lard is stable, but exceptionally high in LCTs, it has no MCTs at all. This is the biggest disadvantage compared to the others. It has nothing to offer in terms of stable MUFA, and has as much PUFA as Olive oil. Now it looks like:

> 1. Coconut, 2. Butter, 3. Olive 4. Lard

Then let's compare butter to coconut oil, has less PUFAs, more LCT/MCTs, though less CLAs, though the amount of CLAs even in grass fed butter is small. This one goes to Coconut oil.

> 1. Coconut, 2. Butter, 3. Olive 4. Lard

Now is butter better than Olive oil? The oleic acid and low LCT profile of Olive oil beats out butter. This of course means you have fresh olive oil. Rancidity of olive oil is overplayed, see a breakdown of studies here. That leaves us with:

> 1. Coconut, 2. Olive Oil, 3. Butter 4. Lard Is Coconut oil better than Olive oil? The jury is out on this one - they both have something going for them and I would use both in cooking.

For very high temperatures it looks like without any comprehensive analysis Ghee would be the winner, since you have no other choice for temperatures as high as 485F, everything else would burn.

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0 · January 11, 2014 at 1:35 PM

I would say the reason that olive oil is a no-no but lard is fine is that though they both have similar PUFA content, olive oil's omega 3/omega 6 ratio is all out of wack while high quality lard's is not.

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0 · January 11, 2014 at 1:32 PM

I would say the reason that olive oil is a no-no but lard is fine is that though they both have similar PUFA content, olive oil's omega 3/omega 6 ratio is all out of wack while high quality lard's is not.

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1005 · November 11, 2013 at 2:52 AM

Animal fats, ghee, and coconut oil. Butter, not so much doe to the milk solids, olive oil no because it's so unstable.

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65 · November 09, 2013 at 10:55 PM

I just like the taste of butter!

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0 · November 06, 2013 at 12:31 PM

It would be interesting to see what is in corn oil/vegetable oil/soy bean oil/safflower oil in terms of PUFA for comparison, since those are no-nos. I'm wondering if that would better ground this discussion? Maybe this level of PUFA isn't so big in comparison to some of these other fats. For instance, see this chart I found online: http://chartsbin.com/view/1961

You make a really great point. Looking at this list, it seems that (with the exception of fish oil) all of these fats have "small" amounts of PUFA in them...which is to be expected since PUFA is found naturally in the plants/animals they come from...so then is it really just about smoke point in choosing a fat to fry with? In that case, avacado oil might be a good bet. It has a high smoke point (though I think it has more PUFA than some of these other "good" fats). Other options that look good might be ghee and palm oil. But yah, it would be interesting to know what level of PUFA is just awful/what small/large amounts of PUFA can do to you.

Abf0b6d5e20906f742fd600887292c15
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202 · February 11, 2013 at 10:40 PM

I get bloated and heavy after eating food fried in butter/ghee. Anyone else get this? You think it could be from oxidized/damaged cholesterol?

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3742 · November 16, 2011 at 12:07 AM

Coconut oil is supposed to have the highest smoke point but for stir frying but even that is questionable. WHFoods recommends frying with broth (he calls it healthy saute). For roasting or pressure cooking olive oil is fine.

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5132 · November 16, 2011 at 5:24 AM

It seems like ghee is the one with the highest smoke point by far at 485F. Higher by 100 degrees over any other oil.

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