An Open Letter to Restaurant Owners & Chefs: It's Time To Change Your Cooking Oil

Dear Chefs & Restaurant managers - I'll get straight to the point - you need to change the cooking oil you use in your restaurant.

Your meals will not only be tastier, but they will be much healthier as well. Also you will grow your customer base and have higher customer satisfaction and return rates.

I know these are all big claims, but I have the evidence to support them. 

The Junk Oil Restaurants & Food Chains Use

If you’re like most of the chefs I’ve spoken to, you probably don’t give much thought to your cooking oil. 

And if you are the exception, then your choice of oil most likely is determined by cost or what is ‘heart healthy’ according to your local health organisation.

A small group of you may factor flavour and cooking ability into your decision making, but chances are cost and marketing claims are still the main driver when it comes to choosing your cooking oil.

It’s interesting isn’t it. You are passionate about providing quality meals, using the best ingredients. These ingredients are prepared in a way to ensure maximum taste and enjoyment by your customers. Yet when it comes to the oil that all these ingredients are cooked in, little thought is given.

You see, the common cooking oil that is used in restaurants and food chains across the world is a heavily processed oil derived from seeds such as soybeans, cotton seed, safflower and corn (1). 

Some commercial cooking oils use blends of these seed oils (often labelled 'vegetable oil'), others use single ingredients such as canola oil.

Vegetable oil - yellow color and liquid at room temperature

Unless the oil container specifically has lard, dripping, coconut oil, ghee or duck fat on the label, the chances are it's a seed oil that you are cooking with.

Below are a few examples of common foods and the vegetable oils they contain or are cooked in:

 

McDonalds French Fries:

Ingredients: Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Natural Beef Flavor [Wheat and Milk Derivatives]*), Dextrose, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate (Maintain Color), Salt. (source)

 

Burger Fuel: Spud Fries & Aioli:

"Made using non-GMO canola oil" (source)

 

Hell Pizza:

Gluten Free Sprouted Seed Base:
Ingredients: Water, Modified Tapioca, Tapioca Starch, White Rice Flour, Maize Starch, Sunflower Oil, Sprouted Seeds (6.2%)
(Sunflower*, Sesame*, Amaranth), Activated Seeds (5.1%) (Pumpkin*, Linseed, Canihua*, Chia) Coconut Flour*, Rice Malt*,
Sorghum Flour, Besan Flour, Apple Cider Vinegar*, Guar Gum, Saltwell (Sea salt), Yeast, Flax (source

 

Why These Oils Are So Bad

What's the issue with these oils?

These heavily processed seed oils you are using to cook your meals in, are extremely unhealthy. With consumption closely linked to health issues such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and bowel disease (2,3,4,5).

In simple terms - these oils are toxic.

The health issues from these seed oils are partially a result of the way the oil is extracted from the plant - which often requires high heat, high pressure and high levels of chemical intervention (6) - but the main issue is because the type of oil is extremely fragile.

These seed oils are high in whats called poly-unsaturated fatty acids (or PUFAs for short).

Without going too deep into the chemistry here, PUFA's contain more than one double bond in their fatty acid carbon chain. These double bonds are effectively weak links in a complex chain.

These weak links are extremely prone to damage - and damage can come in many forms, but the main culprits are light exposure and heat.

It's worth mentioning that saturated fatty acids don't have these weak links and are thus a lot more stable.

I go into much more detail on the science behind these oils in my article PUFA's: The Worst Thing For Your Health That You Eat Everyday.

The key thing for you to know is that:

  1. Commercial cooking oils are extracted from seeds and grains.
  2. These seed oils contain large amounts of poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).
  3. PUFA's are well known to be extremely unstable, and oxidise easily when exposed to heat or light.
  4. The process to extract the oil from these seeds requires intensive processing - involving high heat, high pressure and often chemical intervention.
  5. These oils are then used in high heat environments - to fry food in restaurants.
  6. High consumption of PUFA's is linked to a wide range of health issues (7).
  7. The health damages are multiplied when these oils are consumed in an oxidised (heated) state.

If you're wondering how such a harmful product is used as a stable in most restaurants, be sure to check out that link above as I go into the story about PUFA's in greater detail.

 

Here's What You Should Use Instead

With vegetable seed oils being so dangerous because of their high PUFA content, what should you use instead?

Simple - you want an oil, or fat, that is low in PUFA's and is heat stable.

Saturated fats - fats that lack any of the weak links that PUFA's have - are the best for cooking with heat (8).

Examples of fats with high saturated fat levels include animal fats such as butter, lard, dripping, tallow and duck fat.

All of these animal fats are extracted using simple rendering techniques.

Non-animal fats high in heat stable saturated fats include coconut oil, cocoa butter, or palm oil.

 

The funny thing is, restaurants and take-away joints used to exclusively use fats and oils high in saturated fats for many decades.

For example, Mc Donalds used to cook their fries in beef tallow (beef fat) prior to the year 2000 (you can read some fascinating insights about McDonalds moving away from natural tallow to toxic trans fats here and here).

Many of you reading this may even remember when french fries and other fried foods had a rich buttery flavour!

 

Let's Talk Numbers: Extra Cost - But Increased Sales...

I will admit, changing from a mass produced, mass marketed seed oil to a less common, natural food product may increase your operating costs. At least in the short term.

Once you have found the right distributor and are ordering in large quantities I'm confident the price point will drop to a level that is comparable with your current seed oil.

Animal fats also have a longer fry life - reducing waste and lowering costs.

Plus, as more restaurant owners and chefs start demanding healthy, natural, saturated fat rich oils, supply levels, price point and distribution channels will all improved.

Until then, have confidence knowing that switching to a healthier oil is going to lead to increased sales - especially with the right marketing.

How so?

Consumers are tired of mass produced, boring dishes. There is a growing movement to seek out authentic, wholesome, even traditionally made meals. 

If your restaurant is already serving dishes made with local ingredients, with minimal (or no) additives, you're undoing a lot of this good work by cooking your food in what is effectively a manipulated oil.

Marketed correctly, this could see your restaurant see an influx of 'foodies' and 5 star reviews.

Then there is the health conscious crowd...

These people (and I am own of these and so are the 3 million readers of my blog) have awoken to the fact that we were misled around saturated fats. We now know that the science proves saturated fats to be a healthy fat (9,10). 

And we also know that the commonly used commercial cooking oils are extremely damaging to our health (11).

Some of us have become so worried about the over-use of PUFA laden foods that we have cut back our eating out habits.

If a restaurant was available that served good food, cooked in a healthy fat, this would attract many of this ever growing group back into regular restaurant and takeaway dinning. 

There is a massive opportunity here for your restaurant to become a pioneer, stand out in an ever competitive market and offer healthier - and tastier - dishes to the public.

 

... And Happier Customers

Food cooked in animal fat has a much better flavour and texture profile.

An article in QSR Magazine said it best:

Animal fats also improve flavor and texture. They are not as greasy or oily as vegetable oils, and they don’t weep. Foods cooked in animal shortenings stay crispy and last longer in the window. Animal fats also contain trace flavor compounds, which provide umami to dishes so that French fries taste more like potato and chicken tastes more like chicken. Food cooked in heritage cooking fats simply tastes better.

 

Food that tastes better, is better quality, and is made from natural ingredients is going to lead to happier customers.

And happier customers are going to be return customers - bringing with them friends and family.

 

Ready To Switch? Here's What You Can Do

Hopefully by now you have realised that the oil you use in your restaurant is toxic and an inferior cooking oil.

Replacing it with a naturally derived, saturated fat product is going to boost your dish quality, help with customer acquisition and lead to a healthier happier society.

As for specific fats to use in your restaurant, speak to your food distributor and ask for products by the name of tallow or dripping (which is usually a blend of beef and mutton fat), lard (typically from pork fat) duck fat or ghee.

If they can't help you, then it may require doing some shopping around yourself. Try boutique food suppliers, or go straight to the source and order 5 gallon buckets of tallow from US Wellness Meats.

If you want to avoid animal products, then seek out coconut oil (you can purchase deodorised coconut oil that is free from the coconut flavour), cocoa butter (great for desserts and baking), or palm oil.

 

Let's Make A Change

Restaurant owners - when you make the change over to a healthier cooking oil, please leave a comment below with the name and address of your restaurant. Hopefully we can build a database of eateries that cook in traditional, authentic, and healthy fats.

Plus, make the change known to your customers. Explain the reasons as to why you are changing, share the scientific facts, offer taste test comparisons. Be vocal and upfront.

Your customers (current and new) will respect this and appreciate the fact that you are making changes that will help their health.

Customers - please help me get this message out to all restaurant owners and chefs. If you know of a local restaurant that uses horrible vegetable oil like canola or soybean oil, send them this article. Maybe they will read it and make a change, and you will be able to eat their without guilt!

 

Please share your experiences and any updates in the comment box below.

I personally look forward to a day when I aren't afraid of eating out because of the toxic oils that my food has been cooked in! And I'm sure such a day will have a profound impact on our populations health.

 

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