Hopefully, you gained something out of reading our first two articles on oil ☺. With this information in the backdrop, here’s a compilation of the kind of oils we need to be using (or not using), and how, plus their benefits and disadvantages.
Commercial butter is about 80% fat and 15% water; traditionally-made butter may have as little as 65% fat and 30% water. Butter is rich in the most easily absorbable form of Vitamin A, contains lecithin, essential for cholesterol metabolism, anti-oxidants and Vitamins D, E and K. However, butter is high in saturated fats, and is a triglyceride. It is traditionally used as a spread for bread, or in the west; for frying or as an adjunct to hot foods. Low to moderate usage is advised.
This oil originated in Canada, and the name is shortened from ‘Canadian Oil, Low Fat’. Canola is a specific variety of rapeseed bred to have low erucic acid content (higher contents can be toxic). Canola oil is the highest vegetable source of omega-3 fatty acids after flaxseed oil. It is reported to reduce cholesterol levels, lower serum tryglyceride levels, and keep platelets from sticking together. However, because of the high omega-3 content, heating canola oil above its smoke point may change some of the fatty acids into trans fats, which raise total cholesterol and lower the levels of good cholesterol. Today 80% of the acres sown are genetically modified. Be sure to buy organic canola oil, since the rapeseeds are often sprayed with pesticides several times before being processed.
Coconut Oil -
This is one of the healthiest oils, and luckily using coconut oil comes naturally to Indians, especially in the south. It aids digestion and the immune system, prevents cancer, senility, aging and degeneration, increases progesterone levels, normalizes blood sugar, restores thyroid function and increases metabolic rate. It has a high Vitamin E content, and is good for lustrous hair, good skin and has anti-aging properties. In fact, virgin coconut oil, which has not been chemically treated, is one of the healthiest oil options.
Coconut oil is also relatively inexpensive, tastes good, and has a long shelf life, so it’s frequently used in packaged foods such as cereal and cookies. It’s the ideal oil to use in chocolate candy, since it is solid at room temperature, but melts in the mouth, and has a buttery texture.
Corn oil -
This is one of the most popular oils in the fast food industry – a high smoke point makes it good for deep frying, and refining makes it almost tasteless and odourless, and so good for using in processed foods. Plus, it’s relatively inexpensive.
With regards to nutrition, while it is rich in PUFA and Vitamin E, and even reduces both HDL & LDL, it does not reduce total cholesterol. It is not one of the more nutritious oils. If you do use corn oil, do use the Indian brands, as the imported brands may be made from genetically modified corn.
Cottonseed oil is again one of the most widely used oils, and a favourite of the fast food industry for the same reasons as corn oil, canola or palm oil. The additional disadvantages of cottonseed oil are it is likely to be loaded with pesticides (especially genetically modified cotton, which are now being grown in India) and hydrogenated during processing to further extend shelf life, which leads to production of unhealthy trans fats. Cottonseed oil is under scrutiny by some nutritionists, who deem it too high in saturated fat and too low in monounsaturated fat.
This is a commonly used brand of hydrogenated oil – extremely bad for health as it contains about 20-25% of trans fats. Used liberally at weddings and other places where our friendly neighbourhood halwais cater, and – I kid you not – even at cafeterias of super luxury hospitals. Stay away, and keep away.
Desi Ghee/ Clarified Butter
The love of the Indian Kitchen! This is where our grandmothers started us off, and we crinkled our low cholesterol noses up. But let’s pause, and check... It has a high smoke point and a longer storage life, big plusses in the kitchen. According to Ayurveda, ghee from cow milk balances vata and pitta doshas, improves the mental faculties, enhances skin quality, adds years to your life and contains a high percentage of essential 'good fats'. However, it’s better to keep usage in control, as it is almost entirely saturated fat. Another caveat relates to adulteration – choose good brands, or make it at home.
Flax seed oil/ Linseed Oil
Both these oils come from Flax Seed (Alsi). The difference is the way they are processed; while Flax seed oil is raw and cold-pressed, and sold as a dietary supplement, Linseed oil is heated and subjected to chemical treatment, and it is not safe to consume. That’s why you may be able to find Linseed oil in hardware stores, and why it is used as an ingredient in paints, varnishes, water proof material and linoleum. However, in Indian, some stores stock both these oils as edible – so be careful to buy edible linseed oil from reliable sources.
Flax seed oil contains PUFA, is the best source of Omega-3 essential fatty acids, lignans (these have a balancing effect on hormones, and also have antioxidant qualities; in fact Flaxseed contains 75- 800 times more lignans than other plant foods) & both soluble and insoluble Fiber. It has heart- healthy properties; is a colon-friendly oil; lessens constipation; boosts immunity; promotes healthy skin; but spoils quickly without careful storage and should not to be used in cooking. It can be used in salads or as an additive in cooked food.
Groundnut/ Peanut Oil
This is a really great cooking oil, especially in stir-fries, due to its high smoke point.
Groundnut oil contains natural antioxidants, phytosterols (which absorb dietary cholesterol in the blood, protecting against cardiovascular disease, and also protect us from colon, breast and prostate cancers) and heart-friendly MUFA. In fact, it has a ratio of SFA, MUFA and PUFA closest to WHO recommendations. Go for it!
Commercial groundnut oil will not cause an allergic reaction because the protein allergen has been removed; however, the cold pressed and organic oils will, as are less filtered, retaining some peanut proteins for the sake of flavour and nutrition, so anyone with nut allergy issues needs to be careful!
Commonly used in the northern and eastern part of the country, Mustard oil is potentially one of the healthiest oils. Cold pressed mustard oil has a pungent taste and aroma. To make it more palatable, soyabean oil is often infused with mustard seed extract. Mustard oil is a good source of MUFA and PUFA, and is rich in omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E.
It consists of both the essential fatty acids which are required for important metabolic functions in the body. It contains high levels of mono-saturated fatty acids. It contains 30 per cent protein, calcium and natural anti-oxidants. It inhibits growth of yeast, moulds and bacteria and is therefore a natural preservative. It is also an anti-carcinogenic. Mustard oil is available in refined or filtered varieties, but to avoid adulterants, it’s better to go for known brands of refined oils.
The olive fruit is high in protein, calcium, magnesium, vitamins A and E, has many anti-oxidant and body-building properties, and is alkaline. To cut a long story short, olive oil doesn't need high temperature or chemical processing, since it is made from the flesh of the olive and not the seed; it’s slow to spoil; okay for medium-temperature cooking to prevent loss of flavour; has 70% or more MUFAs and in moderation lowers LDL without affecting HDL. Olive oil is made from the flesh of olives rather than the seeds. Its only drawback is that it contains little omega 3 or omega 6 essential fatty acids.
Extra-virgin olive oil is made from cold pressing of the olives and it contains no more than 0.8% acidity. It contains no refined oil.
Virgin olive oil has an acidity level less than 2%, and contains no refined oil.
Pure olive oil / olive oil are a blend of virgin or extra virgin oil with refined olive oil and contain less than 1.5% acidity.
Do remember that "Refined" means that the oil has been chemically processed. "Pure" means nothing more than the oil came from an olive.
Palm oil is extracted from the fruit of the oil palm. It has a strong unique flavour and is popular for use in the preparation of dishes native to the Caribbean, Central & South America and Western Africa.
Palm oil does not contain cholesterol , although it does have a high level of saturated fat, which can lead to increase both LDL and HDL cholesterol. It is rich in antioxidants & Vitamin E. Like coconut oil, palm oil provides the same "hard or solid" fat that is required for pastries, cookies, crackers and other items that require long shelf stability and a particular mouth feel or texture. Globally, it has been the most competitively priced vegetable oil for the last several years.
Rice Bran oil
Rice bran oil fortifies the immune system and also fights the cancer-causing free radicals in our body. It has a very appealing nut-like flavour and has a high smoke point. But its most remarkable feature is its high level of antioxidants and phytosterols like gamma-oryzanol, tocotrienols and Vitamin E. Consumed at room temperature or cooler, it may provide associated health benefits (oryzanol is believed to lower cholesterol), but unfortunately, these beneficial properties are lost on heating. It is used popularly for frying and deep frying, and should be used in moderate quantities.
This is one of the good vegetable oils. It is rich in MUFA & PUFAs and low in saturated fats. Sesame oil contains antioxidants, and is also considered good for lowering LDL cholesterol levels. While white sesame seeds produce more oil, Indians believe that black sesame seed oil is healthier.
Sesame oil helps people prone to anxiety, nerve, joint and bone disorders, poor circulation, lowered immunity, and bowel problems. Used regularly, sesame oil is wonderful for reducing stress and tension, nourishing the nervous system, preventing nervous disorders, relieving fatigue, insomnia, and promoting strength and vitality. It also has anti-cancer properties and promotes lactation in nursing mothers.
It is commonly used in salads, marinades, stir fries and deep frying.
This is considered healthy because it is better endowed with PUFAs than most other oils, contains Vitamin E, and is also rich in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. It is usually highly refined and hydrogenated, and this may strip the oils of nutrients. The neutral flavour and well-balanced fatty acid profile of soybean oil make it a desirable ingredient for a variety of applications from baked goods to salad dressings. Soya oil prevents heart disease by reducing total cholesterol. This healthy oil also helps in preventing clogging in the arteries. Studies suggest that a regular intake of soy foods may help to prevent hormone related cancers such as of the breast, prostate and colon.
In February 2011, the Indian government has permitted the import of genetically modified soyabean oil. India is the only country which produces non Genetically Modified Soyabean, so it’s advisable to use Indian brands of soya oil rather than imported.
Sunflower & Safflower Oils
These are together because both belong to the same family)
These are high in essential Vitamin E, and low in saturated fat. On the plus side, they contain 90 percent unsaturated fats, and are rich in PUFAs and MUFAs, but the flip side is that they tend to be highly refined, and thus less nutritious. Since these are highly processed, these oils can be used at high cooking temperatures and help food stay fresher for longer periods of time. That’s why food manufacturers are starting to use sunflower oil in an effort to lower the levels of trans fat in mass produced foods. Most popular snacks and junk foods – bhujiyas, Lays and other chips, etc – use sunflower oil. These continue to be preferred oils in regular Indian cooking because of the neutral flavour and high smoke point (our cooking usually has strong flavours and strong oils would clash with that, and we have some pretty frequent unhealthy cooking practices like deep frying ☹)
Using oils in Indian Cooking
For most Indian flavourful dishes, a neutral vegetable oil works best - like sunflower, groundnut or corn oil. Mustard, coconut or peanut oils are used in specific dishes when a distinct flavour is required. Ghee can also be used conservatively, for cooking.
Olive oil may be the rage today, but use extra virgin for salads and for no cook usage, and virgin for low temperature cooking, where the intense flavour of the oil won’t clash with the flavour of your food.
Try and use oils in rotation – for the sake of both, their good and bad qualities.
Always buy good quality oils, and store well in a cool dark place and eat within the ‘best before’ period. If you are storing for a longer period of time, store in a glass or ceramic container – avoid plastic.
Do you have any tips on oil – usage, storage or health related? Do write to us on you feel we can use oils in the best manner at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, we love to hear from you!