Given the variety of cooking oils in the market, what should one buy? And how should it be used? A few ideas.

Some time ago, a friend watched fascinated as I merrily browned onions in oodles of oil. I smiled to myself, thinking she was appreciating my culinary skill and deftly tossed the onions some more. Instead she said, “Way too much oil. I use two teaspoons of olive oil and then water. Works well enough.” My face fell. “Use only Extra Virgin,” the friend said as a parting shot.

I rushed to the nearest health food store but my enthusiasm evaporated when I looked at the price. Much as we’d like to use Olive oil in our daily cooking, it is on the expensive side. At this rate, I thought, I’ll demolish my monthly grocery budget in no time.

Then I started researching the different kinds of cooking oils. Rice Bran Oil, a nutritionist friend said, was a good substitute for the grand olive oil. Supermarket shelves have a dizzying variety of cooking oils: sesame seed oil, coconut oil, groundnut oil, sunflower oil, mustard seed oil, ghee.

But no matter which one you use, remember this: all oils, when heated to smoking point, lose their virtues, irrespective of origin. However, they retain their nutritive values when consumed in their raw form.

Organic or cold-pressed oils are better than the heavily refined variety. Instead of buying stuff that is imported from far off lands, choose the product of your local soil.

You could, if you like, mix them to achieve the perfect balance for your nutritional needs. However, there is a drawback to this. Each oil has different smoke-point temperatures. Olive oil, for example smokes at a little more than 209°C, while almond oil’s smoking point is over 257° C.

Another point to consider is that some oils have no flavour while others have a fruity aftertaste or a distinct, nutty flavour. If you decide to mix them, the taste of the end result may vary from what was originally intended. Safflower oil, however, is flavourless and can be used for mixing.

Should you decide to mix oils, pour the necessary quantity into a bowl, whisk together and store in an airtight bottle. Shake the bottle well before use to ensure the ingredients are blended properly, as oils may separate over time.

Remember, never mix more than two oils together as it could prove disastrous to your food.

A few tips:

Try getting cold-pressed organic oils. They are more expensive than the commercially produced ones but are worth the price as they are not sprayed with harmful pesticides and chemicals, nor are they highly processed.

Coconut oil is not as bad it is made out to be. It helps build immunity and boost metabolism. The crucial point to remember is to use in moderation.

The same goes for ghee. If you have the time, make it at home by heating butter in a heavy bottomed pan. Wait till the milk solids settle to the bottom of your vessel leaving the clear, golden ghee floating on top. Let it cool before you store it at room temperature in a glass or stainless steel container with a tight lid.

Instead of mixing oils, try using them individually for different purposes. For example, use rice bran oil to fry foods, ghee on rotis and dosas, extra virgin olive or flaxseed oil in salads, and sesame seed oil with your idli podi.

Avoid cheap vegetable oils as they tend to hold unhealthy chemicals and are loaded with pesticides.

Finally, don’t worry too much. We have lived very well with locally produced foods in the past and will continue to do so in the future too. As long as you remember to add a fitness routine to your healthy diet, you’ll be fine.


Oil’s well that ends wellNovember 22, 2012