Frying is the cooking of food in oil or another fat. Chemically, oils and fats are the same, differing only in melting point, and the distinction is only made when needed. Foods can be fried in a variety of fats, including lard, vegetable oil, rapeseed oil and olive oil. In commerce, many fats are called oils by custom, e.g. palm oil and coconut oil, which are solid at room temperature. A variety of foods may be fried, including the potato chip, bread, eggs and foods made from eggs, such as omelettes or pancakes.
Frying is believed to have first appeared in the Ancient Egyptian kitchen, during the Old Kingdom, around 2500 BCE.
Fats can reach much higher temperatures than water at normal atmospheric pressure. Through frying, one can sear or even carbonize the surface of foods while caramelizing sugars. The food is cooked much more quickly and has a characteristic crispness and texture. Depending on the food, the fat will penetrate it to varying degrees, contributing richness, lubricity, and its own flavor, as well as calories.
Frying techniques vary in the amount of fat required, the cooking time, the type of cooking vessel required, and the manipulation of the food. Sautéing, stir frying, pan frying, shallow frying, and deep frying are all standard frying techniques.
Pan frying, sautéing and stir-frying involve cooking foods in a thin layer of fat on a hot surface, such as a frying pan, griddle, wok, or sauteuse. Stir frying involves frying quickly at very high temperatures, requiring that the food be stirred continuously to prevent it from adhering to the cooking surface and burning.
Shallow frying is a type of pan frying using only enough fat to immerse approximately one-third to one-half of each piece of food; fat used in this technique is typically only used once. Deep-frying, on the other hand, involves totally immersing the food in hot oil, which is normally topped up and used several times before being disposed. Deep-frying is typically a much more involved process, and may require specialized oils for optimal results.
Deep frying is now the basis of a very large and expanding worldwide industry. Fried products have consumer appeal in all age groups and in virtually all cultures, and the process is quick, can easily be made continuous for mass production, and the food emerges sterile and dry, with a relatively long shelf life. The end products can then be easily packaged for storage and distribution. Examples are potato chips, french fries, nuts, doughnuts, instant noodles, etc.