Rice Bran Oil
Deep-frying may lower cholesterol
On a trip to Thailand five years ago, a best friend of my hosts arranged a tour of a huge rice-processing facility at my request. That friend, Yong, was an executive for a rice-exporting firm based in Sing Buri, an agricultural town north of Bangkok, in an area known for its rice production. In following the rice grains through the milling and polishing process, we had a discussion about rice bran oil, which is pressed from the removed bran. Yong insisted it was the world's healthiest cooking oil. I had never heard of rice bran oil, so when I got back to the States, I started looking for a source and, at that time, came up empty-handed.
The more I discovered, however, the better this oil sounded. Web searches revealed dozens of scientific research articles claiming all manners of health benefits: It reduces bad-cholesterol levels, boosts good cholesterol, and fights free radicals; it's an anti-inflammatory, reverses liver damage, inhibits cancer growth, reduces effects of menopause, and on and on. Snake oil never sounded so good.
I'm not a scientist, but I found countless research articles referring to its abnormally high level of antioxidants. This makes the oil healthy to consume but also makes it resist rancidity and spoilage, the reason Asians like to use it for deep-frying and snack-food production and also the reason Mario Batali uses it for deep-frying at his new restaurant, Del Posto. Oddly, perhaps, women in Japan also use rice bran oil as a skin treatment. Apparently rubbing the skin with the oil keeps it smooth, untarnished by the damaging effects of sun, blemish-free, and glowing, transforming a woman into a nuka-bijin or a "bran beauty."
But enough about health claims and beauty tips; what about the taste and rice bran oil's role in the kitchen? Its flavor profile is light and clean, with a slight buttery component and a mild nutty flavor, and it feels less oily on the tongue. The smoking point is the third-highest of any cooking oil: 490-500 degrees, which makes it great for restaurant food production over high-energy burners. It can be used for any application in the kitchen that any other cooking oil would be used for: grilling, marinades, sautéing, stir-frying, and baking. It makes an excellent salad dressing, and foods deep-fried in it have a nice golden-brown finish and a crisp texture, while in fryers it can be used and filtered far longer than conventional oils before breaking down.
And now you can find rice bran oil here in Austin. At Whole Foods, ask for Miyako Tempura Kome Abura 100% Rice Bran Oil ($13.99/gallon). You can also find it at Japanese food supplier Asahi Imports – 6105 Burnet Rd., 453-1850: Ask for Nisshin brand Jun Kokussanmai Rice Bran Oil (600 grams, or about 11/3 pints, for $4.99).
I don't know if rice bran oil is the magic bullet to cure all that ails you; I'll leave that up to the scientists. I do know that it tastes good, it's incredibly versatile in the kitchen, it has a long shelf life, and it's reasonably priced. What's not to like?