Health & Lifestyle

Are You Using the Right Cooking Oil?

Kunal Mazumdar
Kunal Mazumdar

There is a wide range of cooking oils available in the market. Choosing the right cooking oil is very important not only to ensure a nutritious meal but it also has significant impact on taste and aroma of food.

Traditionally in India mustard, groundnut, sesame (til/gingelly) and coconut oils have been used based on traditional eating and cooking habits which in turn depend on local availability, local soils and climate. North and east India generally use mustard oil, in Rajasthan sesame oil, central India and Gujarat use groundnut while in Kerala coconut oil is predominantly used as cooking oil. Recent studies have also found coconut oil to have many positive health benefits. While coconut oil is made of 90% saturated fat, half of it is lauric acid, which has a number of health-promoting properties. Ghee has been used in India from ancient times and occupies special place in Ayurveda. Ghee consists of fat soluble vitamins, which aid weight loss. Ghee also plays a key role in balancing hormones and maintaining healthy cholesterol.

 Keeping in mind our rich cultural heritage and availability of other edible oils below are some of the basic recommendation for selecting right oils for Indian kitchen:

1.Avoid Hydrogenated Oils

These are artificially hydrogenated vegetable oils. The process produces trans fatty acids (trans fats), which are particularly dangerous to human health These are solid at room temperature and primarily a cheaper and less perishable alternative to butter. Common examples are vanaspati and margarine.

2.Use Cold pressed oils instead of Refined Oils

Cold pressed oil (Kachi ghani) retains most of the nutrients and is generally high in natural flavours.  Mustard oil, groundnut oil , sesame oil , sunflower, safflower, olive oil , coconut are coomon cold pressed oils in India.  While preparing Indian dishes cooking oil is often subject to very high temperature, like in case of deep frying the oil temperature can go even above 170 °C. Refined oils with high Poly unsaturated fatty acids, can degrade easily to toxic components like free radicals, transfats, etc. which are potentially cancer causing and are also linked to cardiovascular diseases. Refining of oils also generally leads to loss of antioxidants.

3.Organic is better

The quality of raw ingredients (nuts, seeds, grains, fruit) is crucial in determining the eventual quality of the oil. Organic oils are much better for our health. Rampant use of chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators) and genetically modified plants result in high accumulation of these poisonous chemicals in plant’s fatty acids because these chemicals are fat soluble.

4.Blending Oils (cold pressed)

Blending of oils combines the potency of two or more edible oils; it offers a balance of fatty acids and antioxidants, and this approach is used to enhance the oxidative and thermal stability of oils. Appropriate blending of edible oils (such as rice bran and safflower oil; coconut and sesame oil) can be done.  However cold pressed oils have their own distinctive strong aroma and flavour which might get affected due to blending and which in turn may affect the taste and aroma of food.

5.Alternating Two or more Oils (cold pressed)

Alternating Two or more Oils (cold pressed) is one of the best options for daily cooking. We can keep different cold pressed oils and use them based on the origin of the dish we are preparing. Mustard oil can be considered for most north Indian and Bengali dishes. Similarly, sesame oil can be used to cook most south Indian dishes from Tamil Nadu. 

6.Smoke Point of Oil & Process of Cooking

The smoke point is literally the temperature at which the oil stops simmering and starts smoking. The more stable the oil, the higher its smoke point is. When oil is heated past its smoke point, it decomposes – it loses its beneficial nutrients, generates toxic fumes, and creates harmful free radicals.

Deep Frying: Oils with high smoking point like Ghee, Coconut Oil, Avocado oil, rice bran oil should be used for deep frying.  Ghee is also recommended for tempering, biryani and deserts.

Pan frying/sautéing- Cold pressed edible oils have low smoke point and they are suitable for pan frying/sautéing- like mustard oil, groundnut oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, coconut oil. Olive oil is best suitable for sautéing of Italian dishes.

Baking- Butter has been traditionally used for baking however coconut oil and olive oils are much healthier.

Which is more preferable for Indian Cooking: Mustard Oil or Olive Oil?

Mustard oil has a perfect blend of natural antioxidants and essential fatty acids. It is good for heart and has been used as a cooking as well as therapeutic oil in Indian since time immemorial. Mustard oil has ideal ratio of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. The oil is highly suitable for Indian cooking as it is relatively stable during cooking at high temperatures.

Olive oil has been very popular among fitness gurus who have been regularly preaching about it. Indeed it’s good oil for cooking and its intake confers various benefits in addition to reduced Coronary heart diseases. The main demerit in using olive oil is that it does not have ideal omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. Added to it the smoke point for olive is lower as compared to mustard oil and thus it should not be used for deep frying. 

Conclusion

Try to avoid hydrogenated oils as far as possible. Go for cold pressed edible oils and if it’s organic it’s even better.  

Instead of using single cooking oil daily, it’s better to keep a few different types of cold pressed oils and choose to use them alternately based on your preference and type of dish.

Select cooking oil based on the cooking process and smoke point of oil. Oils with high smoking point like Ghee, Coconut Oil, Avocado oil, rice bran oil should be used for deep frying.  Ghee is also recommended for tempering, biryani and deserts.

Most cold pressed edible oils have low smoke point and they are suitable for pan frying/sautéing. Olive oil and coconut oil are healthier option for baking.

Mustard oil which is has been used from ancient times in many parts of the country is one of the healthiest oil and it is superior to olive oil under Indian cooking conditions.

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