Menu Innovations | January 2017 | By Peggy Carouthers

7 Questions with an Oil Expert

Zach Hovan, the corporate chef at Bunge, debunks common misconceptions about cooking oils.
Zach Hovan develops oil innovations for Bunge, an industry supplier. Bunge
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It’s no question Zach Hovan is an expert when it comes to cooking oils. In his role as corporate chef for Bunge, he works alongside the research and development team at the oil supplier’s Creative Solutions Center, which aims to reduce saturated fat, eliminate trans fat, and improve nutrition in oils.

In his work with the Innovation Team, Hovan helps identify new products, works with the latest technologies and trends, and provides recipe and menu ideas. Here, he explains how oils are becoming healthier and more efficient in the restaurant industry.


How important are cooking and frying oils to the restaurant industry today?

Oils are a key component in kitchens today and the foreseeable future because they contribute so much to the sensory experience by enhancing and imparting flavor. They can be used in a variety of preparations, such as sautéing, searing, frying, baking, grilling, and roasting. Cooking oils are multi-functional in that they are a key ingredient in sauces, salad dressings, soups, and more. There really isn’t much made in a kitchen that doesn’t use some type of oil.

What types of oils are best for cooking and frying?

Oils like canola and soy are best for general cooking, including sautéing and cold prep. High-performance oils like soy, canola, and algae oil are the most heat-stable, which means they remain stable at higher temperatures for longer and their duration of use in the kitchen is longer. High-performance oils tend to have a clean taste and prevent the transfer of flavors between foods, so you can fry multiple types of foods in the same oil. This is a big deal for operators who only have one or two fryers.

What are some trendy new oils to keep an eye out for?

Algae oil is an on-trend oil both from a performance perspective and because it is the most efficiently produced oil in the world right now. It has the lowest carbon footprint of all oils, and it also really performs beautifully. Algae oil is the most stable oil, with the highest smoke point of any oil that I’ve ever used. It also hits on many concerns in the food industry right now, including sustainability, a high omega-9 profile, low saturated fat, and simply made. It can be used in industrial frying, pan sprays, and blending with other oils. Algae oil can be infused well, so you can flavor it, but it doesn’t typically pick up as much flavor as a canola or soy.

What are the flavor profiles of some of your favorite oils? 

I really love using shallot oil. I’ll caramelize shallots in one of our oils, like extra virgin sunflower oil or algae oil, over a medium-low heat. The key to getting a good shallot oil is time. If the shallots are caramelized too fast, they’ll become very bitter and give the oil a bitter finish—if done right, the flavor is amazing. It’s slightly sweet and nutty and very robust; I use it to make pestos and other sauces. It’s kind of like a secret weapon I can depend on to really elevate a dish while providing an interesting flavor profile that most people can’t identify.

How can cooking oils be healthier?

Avoid using trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils; keep saturated fats as low as possible; and replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated fats like omega-6s and omega-3s as much as possible. Don’t forget that soybean and canola oils are the top contributors to omega-3s in the American diet.

What are some misconceptions of cooking and frying oils? 

One is that cooking oils are all the same, so it’s best to buy whatever is cheapest. While a high-performance oil may cost more per pound, it’s ultimately more economical because it delivers extended fry life and a longer shelf life, and supports operational efficiencies.

Another misconception is that traditional cooking oils are unhealthy. In fact, soybean, canola, and corn oils are among the richest dietary sources of polyunsaturated fats, and the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee found strong evidence that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats, especially with polyunsaturated fats, significantly reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. These oils should be recommended as primary sources of dietary fat over animal fats like butter, cream, and lard, or tropical oils like palm and coconut.

Another misconception is that oils do not go bad, and that is completely false—the end of their shelf life is often apparent in smell and taste.

What tips do you have for prolonging the life of oil and getting the most out of oil? 

In terms of frying, the best practice is to really keep proper and regular filtration of the cooking oil to extend the life. Skimming particulates from the surface of frying oil during use and keeping the oil covered when not in use also contribute to fry life. Heat is one of the biggest degraders of oil, so I often don’t turn the fryer on until one hour before dinner service, and I turn down the temperature of the fryer when not in use.