Attack from the Frying Pan, a la Coconut Oil
July 24, 2011 5:33 PM   Subscribe

Is coconut oil safe to cook with? Literally.

Coconut oil has been receiving much acclaim these days for it's high smoke point and omega-3 content. That's not what I am talking about though when I ask is it "safe."

I'm talking about literally cooking with coconut oil. Is it safe, or am I just not properly cooking with it? Whenever I lightly fry meat (salmon, or bison usually) in coconut oil, there are is a large quantity of oil droplet shrapnel discharging from the pan. This happens once the meat is in the pan, not prior to. It's also very unpredictable.

The burner is set relatively low - "3", (it turns up to "12" to give you an idea) yet I still have this problem.

So, can anyone point me in the right direction on how to minimize this risk? (besides quitting coconut oil - it tastes too good!) Google has turned up nothing.
posted by helios410 to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Are you drying off the meat with a paper towel first? Anything remotely wet will make hot oil splatter. Does this happen with other oils?

If it helps, there are splatter screens for exactly this problem.
posted by corey flood at 5:40 PM on July 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've been doing just that for a while and I'm still alive.
posted by jwhite1979 at 5:41 PM on July 24, 2011


I cook with coconut oil all the time - making scrambled eggs, more often than not - and I have never had this problem.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:42 PM on July 24, 2011


Painting the oil onto the meat instead of putting the meat into an oiled pan might help.
posted by flabdablet at 5:53 PM on July 24, 2011


Yep, blot your meat. And maybe use a little less oil. Also, splatter screens are the bomb and practically mandatory if you ever cook bacon on the stovetop (and hate to clean the stove like I do).
posted by Knicke at 5:57 PM on July 24, 2011


Take the pan off the heat, and rest for a moment on a damp, folded tea towel. Add dry ingredients. Return pan to heat.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:09 PM on July 24, 2011


It's also conceivable that your pan is getting hotter than it used to. An empty pan can get quite hot if you leave it on the heat for long enough, even if the burner is only set to "3". If you're using visual properties of the oil to gauge when the pan is ready (a lot of cookbooks, for example, will tell you to wait until the oil looks "shimmery"), it's plausible that the different properties of the coconut oil are causing you to wait longer and let the pan get to a higher temperature before you put the meat in. Result: more snap, crackle, and/or pop.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:55 PM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it probably is your coconut oil-- your particular coconut oil.

Coconut oil is extracted by two main processes:

Coconut oil can be extracted through "dry" or "wet" processing. Dry processing requires the meat to be extracted from the shell and dried using fire, sunlight or kilns to create copra.[2] The copra is pressed or dissolved with solvents, producing the coconut oil and a high protein, high fiber mash...
All "wet" process involves raw coconut rather than dried copra, using the protein in the coconut to create an emulsion of the oil and water. The more problematic step is breaking up the emulsion to recover the oil...


I'd guess your oil was wet processed, and that the emulsifying agent was incompletely removed.

Emusifiers are surfactants which break up oils into small droplets that can be suspended in water, but they can also break up water into small droplets that can be suspended in oil.

I think the latter is causing your splatter, because when these tiny water droplets hit hot oil, they explode into steam, sending hot oil in all directions.

Restless_nomad's oil could be dry-processed.

You could test this theory by putting some of your oil in a bottle with some warm water and shaking the bottle violently. If a small, long-lasting milky layer develops between the oil and the water, your oil contains an emulsifier.
posted by jamjam at 7:20 PM on July 24, 2011


Mine is expeller-pressed, no solvents involved.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:23 PM on July 24, 2011


Then I'd have to resort to guessing it had more of the emulsifier removed. As the Wikipedia article implies, it's difficult to get out of the oil, and removal is probably a major expense of processing.
posted by jamjam at 7:34 PM on July 24, 2011


Emusifiers are surfactants which break up oils into small droplets that can be suspended in water, but they can also break up water into small droplets that can be suspended in oil. I think the latter is causing your splatter, because when these tiny water droplets hit hot oil, they explode into steam, sending hot oil in all directions.

This doesn't entirely make sense to me given the original question — why would this only happen after the meat was added to the pan?
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:53 PM on July 24, 2011


I do wash the meat prior to cooking, but I dry it off with a paper towel. The splatter screen looks like a great option. Thanks!
posted by helios410 at 8:19 PM on July 24, 2011


If I'm understanding your question, Johnny Assay, before the meat is added to the pan, I'm positing the presence of oil and emulsifier only, and the Wikipedia article says the emulsifier is a protein.

Muscle tissue is mostly water, and when it hits the oil, the water locked up in the intact cells is released when they pop open. Drying the meat with a paper towel won't remove the intracellular water, of course.
posted by jamjam at 10:22 PM on July 24, 2011


Just a factual correction to the OP - coconut oil is probably most known for its high amounts of medium chain triglycerides, fats that have some nice metabolic properties. Or it is known for its high amounts of healthy saturated fats in general.

It contains very little polyunsaturated fat (omega-6s and omega-3s), of which virtually none is omega-3. This low PUFA content is part of what makes it such a great cooking fat - it is very stable, and most cooking oils are high in inflammatory omega-6 fats.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 12:18 AM on July 25, 2011


This morning I decided to see if I could find anybody else talking about surfactants in cooking oil, and I found this on a page catering to commercial deep frying operations:

Enemies Of Oil

OIL AND WATER DON'T MIX, OR DO THEY?

...The key to frying is making sure the oil in the fryer and the water in the food don't mix. It is as if the outside of the food provides an invisible barrier separating the oil from the food. The stronger the barrier, the cleaner tasting the food.

But as oils breaks down, it, in fact, does start to mix with the water, because surfactants inevitably develop. Surfactants are materials that affect the surface relationship between the oil and the product causing a variety of problems: greasy food, burnt crusts, undercooking and taste transfer.

In essence, maintaining your oil is controlling the level of surfactants in it. The following items identify some of the primary causes of surfactants. And highlights many of the simple steps you can take to maintain peak shortening performance.


"The following" does go on to talk about splattering in the context of surfactant problems, but specifically associates it with aeration, which I, in my overweening arrogance, think they've got a little bit wrong.
posted by jamjam at 11:09 AM on July 25, 2011


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