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The Oil Debate

Oils seem to be much talked about these days. Something, we took pretty much for granted…a medium that had to be used for cooking and we only had a couple of kinds to choose from! Today, the market is packed with choices, which of course leads to continuous debates about oils that are ‘good for you‘ and ought to be used in your daily cooking!! Honestly, there are as many suggestions out there as there are enthusiastic ‘health cooks’! We, in India grew up on ‘ghee’, mustard oil, sesame oil, coconut oil, any kind of refined oil and  ‘dalda’ (essentially, a kind of a hydrogenated oil) and I am told that my grandparents did their cooking mainly using ‘ghee’ and occasionally with mustard oil (they hailed from the Northern states of India, which explains the lack of usage of coconut oil in the cooking!).

ghee-goodness

Goodness of Ghee via

As the world has got smaller, we have have learnt about cooking methods and oils used across the world and have tried incredibly hard to incorporate some of them into our daily lives. Take the very popular ‘extra virgin olive oil’ for instance. Most of grew up without even knowing what that was and then suddenly, one fine day, we were told that if we wanted to live long, healthy lives just like the people in the Mediterranean region, we had to quickly adopt olive oil into our diets…and we listened…sometimes frying with it and at other times, adding it to salads…but, alas! that is not where the story ends…

extra-virgin-olive-oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil via

I must hasten to add that before we start to include oils used in global diets into your specific diet, we need to spend some time learning the correct usage of these oils and understand why certain oils are used only as a salad or vegetable dressing only while others are favoured for frying!

The story of oil begins from the time of its birth…the way the oil is extracted has a direct effect on flavours of the dish created and the amount of nutrients in the dish.  Heat isn’t the best way to extract oil even though it produces the most amount of oil from the seeds and that is because heat can degrade the oil’s flavour and nutritional value. Using low-heat methods produced higher quality oil, albeit in lesser quantities. Hence, the ongoing debate 🙂

It’s not just olive oil, which can be bought as a cold pressed oil. There is our traditional mustard oil as well as coconut! A good point to remember is that nearly all cold pressed oils are a natural source of Vitamin E, an important antioxidant, believed to beneficial to our general wellbeing. Also, most oils also contain the Essential Fatty Acids commonly known as Omega 3 and 6 and hence this mad need by people to include these in their daily diets…after all, who doesn’t want to live a long, healthy life?

Like I said, we in North India, did not really use coconut oil in our diets…though it was used regularly to have long, healthy hair by both, the Northern and Southern regions of India. Then, suddenly, on one sunny day, here in the UK, I come across an expensively marked bottle of ‘virgin coconut oil’ ! So far, my little brain had only heard of ‘virgin olive oil’ and I had absolutely no idea what this was about….So, I started to research….

Well, virgin coconut oil is generally organic, 100% raw and 100% cold pressed from fresh coconut. The term ‘virgin’ can apparently be used with coconut oil only if it is made from fresh coconut and not ‘copra’ (the dried variety). It is believed that traditionally made wet-milling virgin coconut oils have the highest levels of antioxidants and very good for your body.

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Benefits of healthy fats in Virgin coconut oil via

Another much talked about oil, is the mustard oil. Like I said, it was a part of my grandparents diet and then suddenly, the big corporates, promoting their brands of various refined oils, started giving both mustard oil and ‘ghee’ a bad name! However, thankfully, people have started to acknowledge that ‘ghee’ and mustard oil are rather good for you, in fact kinder to your body than the refined or the hydrogenated varieties!

Mustard oil is believed to be healthier than olive oil because it has no trans-fats, has low saturated fats, has high mono-unsaturated fats, high polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 and stability at high temperatures, which makes it ideal for Indian cooking and even deep-frying. Who wouldn’t agree that onion pakoras and ‘baigan bharta’ taste best when cooked in mustard oil? However, you need to watch out and make sure you are getting the cold pressed version of mustard oil, which is also called ‘Kachi Ghani’ mustard oil.

Kachi Ghani’ mustard oil  is considered to be an excellent cooking medium, especially for Indian cooking. To understand what ‘ghani’ is, we need to go back to the times when life was simple and so was the food. Edible oils were simply produced in contraptions called ‘ghani’, which was nothing but a long cylindrical chamber carved out of wood, housing a giant pestle and powered by a bullock on auto-pilot (going tirelessly round and round!). This pure cold pressed oil at the bottom of the ‘ghani’ was meant to be best for you and the residue was referred to as  ‘oil-cake’, which was the best possible meal for bullocks that had helped in the oil generation process!  You can still get this oil from the local Khadi and Village Industries (KVIC) stores in India or even the local grocery store selling Kachi ghani oil from Dhara, Fortune, Nature Fresh and many more. Also look for it at organic or green shops in your city. Of course, a lot of these varieties of oils are also available on several online grocery stores across the world.

I think the best way to end this post would be to talk about mouth-watering recipes using these ‘so good for you’ oils! Some truths you need to remind yourself of: ‘Halwa’ would taste good only when made in ‘ghee’ while a greek salad would need a good, generous dressing of extra virgin olive oil! ‘Pakora Kadhi’ cries out for a good mustard oil, while south indian food tastes even better when cooked in coconut oil…So, order these different oils and ‘ghee’ for your kitchen and get cooking! Also, remember to always buy cold pressed oil in small quantities, store it away from light, in air-tight containers, and consume it within three months of purchase!

Garlic Salad with the best olive oil, that you can lay your hands on via

Garlic Salad with the best olive oil, that you can lay your hands on via

Hand stretched pizza with a difference...lots of lebanese style toppings and a generous helping of the best olive oil via

Hand stretched pizza with a difference… lebanese style toppings and a generous helping of the best olive oil via

Pakora Kadhi, cooked in pure mustard oil via

Pakora Kadhi, cooked in pure mustard oil via

The gorgeous of roasted Aubergine / Eggplant is lived up with a dash (or more) of mustard oil via

‘Baigan Bharta’ – Nothing but, gorgeousness of roasted Aubergine / Eggplant livened up with a dash (or more) of mustard oil via

The finger-licking 'pulao' recipe, using 'ghee' of course! via

The finger-licking ‘pulao’ recipe, using ‘ghee’ of course! via

A simple dish of lentils - made easily digestible and even more delicious with the addition of 'ghee' via

A simple dish of lentils – made easily digestible and even more delicious with the addition of ‘ghee’ via

A vegetable and coconut stew, made with coconut oil via

A vegetable and coconut stew, made with coconut oil via

Lentils with vegetables in a spicy curry, cooked in coconut oil is the delicious Sambhar via

Lentils with vegetables in a spicy curry, cooked in coconut oil is nothing but the delicious Sambhar via

Oh! and did I mention ‘rice bran’ oil, the latest entrant into the oil market? I suppose not! Maybe, for another post, another time…for now, remembering that ‘old is gold’ and sticking to ‘ghee’, mustard and coconut oils for indian cooking while using olive oil in the Mediterranean and the Middle-Eastern cooking…

Be mindful of your oil….

Shilpa xx

Cover image via: 1, 2