This is a great question that many home cooks wonder about when making French toast. There are pros and cons to both oil and butter when frying French toast that are important to consider.
The quick answer is that butter is generally preferred for frying French toast because it provides better flavor. However, oil can also be used successfully with some tweaks to technique and ingredients.
Butter for More Flavor
Butter is traditionally used for frying French toast because it provides a rich, creamy, toasted flavor. As the butter browns in the pan, it produces nutty, toasted notes that nicely complement the sweet flavor of the French toast. The milk solids in butter also impart a pleasant aroma.
Butter also promotes superior browning compared to oil due to milk proteins and sugar in the butter. The milk solids brown, adding color and a lovely crust to the bread. Finally, butter adds tenderness to the texture of the French toast.
Tips for Cooking with Butter
When frying with butter, it’s important to use a medium-low heat. Butter has a lower smoke point than oil, so too high heat can cause the milk solids to burn and the butter to break down, producing a unpleasant burnt flavor.
It’s also important to use a butter with a high butterfat content, such as European-style butters that are 82-86% butterfat. Lower butterfat butters don’t produce as nice of flavor or texture.
Oil for Practicality
While butter provides superior flavor, oil has some advantages when frying French toast:
- Higher smoke point – oils like canola or vegetable oil can be heated to higher temperatures which may provide more even browning.
- Lower cost – oil is generally cheaper than butter.
- Lighter texture – oil produces a crisper, less rich and heavy texture.
- Non-dairy – oil can accommodate dairy-free diets.
Tips for Cooking with Oil
To maximize flavor when frying with oil, its best to use an oil with a mild, buttery flavor such as avocado, grapeseed, or light olive oil. Avoid strong flavored oils like regular olive oil or nut oils.
You can also add a pat of butter to the oil once the French toast is nearly done cooking. The butter will impart extra richness and flavor, while the oil provides practical benefits.
Be sure to season the French toast batter well with vanilla, cinnamon, and sugar when using oil. This helps provide flavor that the oil itself does not.
From a nutrition standpoint, butter and oil contain some key differences:
|Nutrition Facts||Butter||Vegetable Oil|
|Calories||100 per tbsp||120 per tbsp|
|Fat||11g, mainly saturated fat||14g, mainly unsaturated fat|
Butter is high in saturated fat while oil provides heart-healthy unsaturated fats. Both provide minimal protein and carbs.
Oil is generally the more budget-friendly option. Some cost estimates:
- Vegetable oil – $0.05 per tbsp
- Butter – $0.17 per tbsp
Based on typical retail grocery prices in the U.S., oil costs about 3x less than butter per unit. This adds up for large batch recipes.
Taste preferences play a big role in deciding between butter and oil. Here are some key considerations:
- Butter provides richer, more indulgent flavor.
- Oil produces a lighter, less decadent taste.
- Those monitoring fat intake may prefer oil.
- Vegetarians or vegans may need to use oil.
- People with lactose intolerance must avoid butter.
Think about your own flavor and dietary needs when choosing between the two.
Convenience may also guide decisions between butter and oil:
- Butter needs to be softened – oil can be used directly from the bottle.
- Butter can burn easier – oil has a higher smoke point.
- Oil has a longer shelf life than butter.
- Butter needs refrigeration – oil can be left in the pantry.
For quick weeknight French toast, oil may be easier. But for leisurely weekend brunches, take the time to properly melt butter.
Production of butter and vegetable oils have different environmental considerations:
- Butter production requires raising cattle, using extensive land and water resources.
- Some vegetable oils like palm oil contribute to deforestation.
- Butter’s packaging creates more waste versus reusing oil bottles.
Overall, vegetable oil is considered the more eco-friendly choice over butter from an environmental perspective.
For optimal French toast flavor, butter is hard to beat. But oil can also be used successfully. To maximize taste with oil, opt for mild-flavored varieties like avocado or grapeseed oil and season the batter well. Consider factors like your dietary needs, budget, and convenience when deciding between butter or oil for French toast.
Whichever you choose, French toast makes for a delicious breakfast treat!