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Sunflower oil is becoming scarcer and more expensive: what alternatives are there and do we have to pay more for them?

Those who have been shopping since March regularly bump into empty shelves of sunflower oil in the store. What alternatives do fryers use in the meantime, with which you can also bake fries at home? And what does the shortage mean for the price of a packet of fries? Delhaize and the National Association of Fryers explain. “In a year’s time, the price of oil has doubled.”

Delhaize confirms that the supply of frying oil is difficult. But at the same time he indicates that there are not really shortages. “We are looking for additional suppliers on the market,” he says. “Although it remains challenging.” The fact that there are still quite empty boxes here and there has a simple explanation, according to Lefèvre. “I understand the consumer,” he says. “If it appears in the media that sunflower oil is becoming scarce, or if the retailers advertise that you can buy a maximum of two bottles or water bottles, then we will actually buy those two bottles. We should run out of oil. We scare ourselves with that thought. And if everyone buys too much, you naturally get the impression that there is too little.”

More expensive package of fries / chips?

Scarcity usually also means that something becomes more expensive: if there is no real shortage in this case, do we still notice the consumer madness at the prices? “All oil has indeed risen sharply in price,” confirms chairman of Navefi – the National Association of Fryers. “The oil we use for fries follows that of petroleum oil in the pricing. In a year’s time, its price has doubled.” A packet of fries has also become a bit more expensive in these difficult economic times, just like so many other foods. “Yet this price increase is not extreme. That is of course because the price of a pack of fries does not only consist of the cost of the frying oil. That component only accounts for 8 to 9 percent of the total price.”

The fact that this price increase is not that high is further due to the fact that most oils and fats are still in stock for the time being. Apart from sunflower oil, its stock is effectively smaller than a year ago. In the long term, this can possibly lead to larger price increases, because if one type of oil disappears, the rest will be purchased more. “Those who used a lot of sunflower oil will have switched to a variant that provides equally tasty fries.” That sunflower oil is not the standard for baking in your favourite fryer around the corner. “Our Belgian fryers use vegetable fats and oils for a third, but that can be palm, peanut, rapeseed or sunflower oil. A third of the fryers use animal fats and another third a mix of the two. Of all these types of frying oil, sunflower oil is the only one that is slightly less available.”

Alternatives to fry fries in

What is the best variant to bake the tastiest fries in? In which oil or in which type of fat do the fries taste best? “All the oils I just mentioned are all perfectly suited for consumption. Personally, I especially like beef fat such as ox white, because it gives a kind of extra flavor touch to the fries. In any case, keep in mind that the fats and oils that you use for cold preparations are not equally suitable for hot preparations. The olive oil you pour over cold salads isn’t always heat-resistant.” A good cooking oil should be neutral in taste and have a high smoke point: this is the temperature at which its composition and nutrients begin to break down. “Of course, you’re not going to spread beef fat cold on a sandwich, just like you don’t bake fries in olive oil because of the smoke point.”

The type of fats and oils that can be used for consumption has been laid down in Belgian legislation since 1984. This legislation states that you can only use frying oil suitable for food and that it may be heated to a maximum of 180 °. For potato products, the temperature may only be 175°. By the way, I think that temperature is a bit too high, because most amateur bakers bake their fries at home anyway at a too hot temperature. That’s because they bake the fries in too small a volume. At home we bake fries in a fryer, which can hold an average of two litres of oil. Compare that with a professional fryer that can hold about 15 litres. The oil in such a large boiler stays warm longer, in a smaller frying kettle it cools down faster. The baking temperature at home is therefore too high at 175°, so the oil burns quickly.”

When do you know it’s time to change oil?

Professional fries bakers can use measuring equipment to check whether their oil is ready for replacement. As a private individual, you usually do not have such instruments at home. “There are a number of indications that it is time for new oil or fresh fat,” says Lefèvre. “If the fat or oil shows gray fumes or if the fat and oil turn dark, you need to replace it. In any case, I recommend replacing it at home after five or six baking sessions. Note: if there are weeks or months between two baking sessions, you should definitely change the oil or grease. Even though they have not yet been baked to pieces, after that long period the oil is oxidized, making them taste rancid and sour.”

The oil in the frying pan also deteriorates due to the small residues that remain in it after a baking session. When heated again, they will burn immediately, and that gives a bad taste. “Compare it to the too hard-toasted edges of bread,” says Bernard Lefèvre. “Although you can do something about it. You can filter the oil by first removing the coarse grit. Then you can remove the smallest residues with a kind of fine-meshed filter that looks a bit like a coffee filter but that is specially made for the fryer.”

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