PORT OF ILWACO - Health-conscious people have been avoiding French fries like the plague in recent years, mainly because of the greasy and unhealthy oils they're fried in.
Laurie and Clint Carter have begun using a transfat-free cooking oil at their Imperial Schooner Restaurant at the Port of Ilwaco. Mel-Fry Free, which Carter says costs more than twice as much as the "other" cooking oils, produces a non-greasy, crisp and tasty French fry with the flavor of the potato, not the cooking fat, coming through like gangbusters. The same goes for other fried foods such as fish and shellfish.
Billed as "the healthier alternative to partially hydrogenated oils," Mel-Fry is made from a canola-based low linolenic oil and is trans fat-free and naturally lower in saturated fat than soybean, corn, peanut, cottonseed and rice bran oils.
"People love fried food but they're eating healthier," Carter said. "Lots don't want to eat French fries. I thought maybe if we could get rid of the bad stuff, they'd go back to eating fried foods."
Besides serving healthier foods, the Carters - and about a dozen other restaurants on the Peninsula - are helping the environment by having Dennis Wittenberg pick up their used frying oil and recycling it into biodiesel.
Wittenberg owns Oregon Oils in Beaverton, Ore. He makes the rounds of the restaurants, pumping the used oil into a 200-gallon drum on the back of his pickup. He takes the oil back to his Beaverton processing operation where he manufactures about 60 gallons of biodiesel an hour. The fuel can then be used in diesel-powered vehicles and as heating oil.
The pick-up service is free and Wittenberg even recycles the old oil containers for the restaurant owners.
"Bio-diesel is much more environmentally safe," Wittenberg said. "There's no down side. It far exceeds any Environmental Protection Agency regulations and Department of Environmental Quality requirements." He says biodiesel has been made in Europe for 20 years. In fact, he says, the first diesel engine was designed to run on peanut oil.
Wittenberg even disposes of the sediment that collects at the bottom of the oil containers, giving it to people who raise horses. "It makes their coats shiny," he said. "I even give it to my dogs."
Right now, biodiesel is hard to find locally. A few Portland stations sell it for $3.80 to $4 per gallon.
Wittenberg started Oregon Oils about two years ago when the price of gasoline began to skyrocket. "I got information on the computer," he said, "then I spent about six months researching the process. I'm on my second-generation processor."
The retired construction worker uses discarded water-heater shells for his processing tank. "I have to turn people away because I can't get enough supply," he said, and encourages any local restaurant owners to get in touch with him for his pickup service.
For now, Wittenberg says people who own diesel-powered vehicles can use the fuel with no problems. He uses it in his big Dodge pickup, towing a fifth-wheel trailer. It costs him about 42 cents per gallon.
"It's easy to do," he said. "I've shown people how to build their own processors. People talk to me for hours. I'm like a little kid about it."
Wittenberg can be reached at (971) 235-8605.