About a year and a half ago I ordered a book called Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work that has become one of my staple cooking references. Their recipe for cold-smoked fried chicken sent me on a bit of a wild-goose chase for rice bran oil because at that time it wasn’t carried very widely in Toronto grocery stores. The Hansells Group and their Alfa One brand of rice bran oil is now working to change that.
From the preview event they held a couple weeks ago at the Sub Zero & Wolf Showroom in Toronto I took home a sample of the product. They were demo’ing examples of the oil used for sauteeing, baking, in a salad dressing and as part of the sauce for Thai curry mussels and everything tasted but I wanted to test the oil out at home.
On our trip to Spain last April we managed to develop a low-level addiction to fried eggplant fritters with honey. Since we’ve been back we’ve made them at least once a month. Most recipes like the berenjenas con miel in Claudia Roden’s The Food Of Spain call for soaking eggplant slices in milk, dusting them with flour and then frying in sunflower oil. Because the coating is so light and the other flavours are so neutral this seems like an ideal situation for a side-by-side test.
For both sets of fritters I used my infrared thermometer to keep the temperature of the oil below about 425F and therefore the playing field level. (Rice bran oil has a remarkably high smoke point at 490F.) I was surprised at distance between the two batches. The rice bran oil-fried eggplant slices were lighter, noticeably crispier, and were a more attractive, darker, brown. A clear winner of this (admittedly subjective) test.
After the test I went back and searched the Ideas in Food blog (the testing ground for the material that went into the book) for more about rice bran oil. I think the title of the post “Rice Bran Oil: the fat of our future” sums up how the blog’s authors feel.
How a fat makes the kitchen smell when it is used for deep-frying is critically important. I have a friend who cooks a lot at home and eats fried foods at least three times a week but he won’t break out the deep fryer because of the odour. Francis Lam, In his recipe for a (addictive) version of ginger-scallion sauce, says of canola that it “when heated, tastes like a piece of metal trying to be a piece of fish.”
It be too easy to just say that hot rice brain oil smells like deep-fried Rice Krispies Squares but there is a subtle nod that pleasant direction. The odour also dissipates more quickly so won’t hang around for days.
Health claims are a sticky situation that I usually avoid. No matter the supporting evidence or the particular mouthpiece it seems that the spotlight moves too rapidly to be taken seriously. In this case, Hansells has a link on their site to a Dr. Oz show where he touts rice bran oil as the healthiest cooking oil. A google search for “dr. oz” “healthiest oil” finds the rice bran oil stuff (five of the top ten) but also three links for Dr. Oz claims related to coconut oil and one for olive oil.
Rice bran oil may be a perfectly healthy option but my point is that I’m not an expert and can’t offer any new, objective evidence. Here’s a site with more technical details and I encourage you to draw your own conclusions but I think there are some other great reasons to consider it.
The full list of retailers for Alfa One rice bran oil includes Sobeys Ontario, Highland Farms, and T&T. The MSRP of $5.99 for a 500 ml bottle and $8.99 for a full litre puts it in the same ballpark as a litre of entry-level, extra virgin olive oil or one of the 3 L jugs of generic vegetable oil. I imagine a T&T sale is the best bet for finding it below MSRP.
Especially for stir- and shallow-frying I have a new favourite fat. The flavour is neutral to slightly pleasant, it doesn’t smell, and most of all rice bran oil does what it’s supposed to do: create a delicious, brown, crispy coating on fried food.