What makes peanut oil so perfect for cooking? It’s not because of its peanut flavor, which is really very faint. It’s because of its high smoke point. Which is to say, it can be heated to an extemely high temperature (over 450 degrees). An oil’s smoke point is the temperature at which it begins to decompose, give off fumes, and generally ruin the flavor of the food that’s being cooked in it.
Most solid fats and many oils (like olive oil) have comparatively low smoke points (375 and below for some of them). Which makes peanut oil a great fat for heat-intensive operations like deep frying. It’s also ideal for stir-frying, which traditionally requires huge heat (far more than any Western home stove can pump out).
So did peanut oil help cause stir-frying to evolve in China? Or was the arrival of the peanut just another one of those eery exactly-the-right-thing-at-the-right time things? I’d love to find out.