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My apologies if this question is misplaced, but I've always wondered: what causes the oil to bubble and sizzle when you fry something in it?

It's always intrigued me that I could take a totally inert-looking pan of hot oil and turn into a frenzy by dropping a piece of potato (or something else) in.

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

The oil is bubbling very simply because of the water inside the object (eg: potato) that is rapidly vaporized when come into contact with the very hot oil.

Incidently this is a very good thing as done right, all the water coming out of the object keeps it from taking on too much oil, which would cause you to have over-greasy food.

Edit: Also note as @SF commented below, that this can also be a very BAD thing if you put something with too much water into hot oil. Adding this in so nobody burns themselves.

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I would say "rapidly vaporized" more than 'instantly"--instantly would cause the item to explode! :-) – SAJ14SAJ May 21 '13 at 7:36
This is also why you shouldn't try to fry overly wet foodstuffs, or add water to oil. Water is heavier than oil and sinks to the bottom, then boils and the steam bubbles rising to the surface splash the hot oil everywhere. – SF. May 22 '13 at 14:08

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