June 29, 2014
When you think of peanut oil, you think Asia, right? Turns out that's wrong. Peanut oil is a red, white and blue product – and a legacy of World War II.
Dairy products were scarce during the war, and patriotic people replaced butter with margarine. But making margarine the traditional way proved problematic. The classic oil for margarine had been coconut oil, which came from the Philippines. With the war raging in that part of the Pacific, manufacturers seeking a replacement came up with the notion of using peanut oil in its place. A plus: peanuts were a domestic product that were both abundant and inexpensive. The Planters people, noting its high burning point, began promoting the oil as a ration-friendly replacement for other fats. (Lulu, the heroine of Delicious!, surely would have used it in her cooking.)
The heyday of peanut oil proved short-lived. Once trade routes between the US and the Philippines re-opened in 1945, coconut oil re-flooded the market, and peanut oil production waned. Undaunted, the peanut people began promoting another product: next time you celebrate National Peanut Butter day (January 24th), remember that peanut butter was not a ubiquitous American food until coconut oil returned to our shores, and food manufacturers needed to find another way to market peanuts.
But the great interest in Asian cooking has been a boon to peanut oil. It not only has a high burning point, but its fragrance adds new notes to stir fries. You could make fried rice with other oils, but I can't think why you'd want to.
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