In our earlier parts 1 & 2 we journeyed through the Northern, Eastern and Southern parts of India. In this final part, we visit the western region and also take a look at some exotic or foreign oils that have captured our markets and kitchens today.
When you travel to the western part of the country, there is a vast change in the geographic, cultural and culinary areas. The soil is different, affecting the type of food crop grown here. Known for its rich black soil, the Deccan plateau is home to two important crops – Cotton and Groundnuts. Not surprisingly, oils used in this region also come from these two crops – Groundnut Oil and Cottonseed Oil. Between the two, Groundnut or Peanut oil is more traditional. Being popular not just in this region, Groundnut oil is used in other Asian cuisines as well.
Groundnut oil has a high smoke point, making it an excellent medium to sauté, cook curries or deep-fry foods. Being neutral in flavour, it can absorb the properties of the ingredients added to it, thus only enhancing the taste, but never overpowering. Go for the oil that has not been bleached and refined excessively. While the refining process does reduce its nutritive value to the max, the oil does have a load of benefits packed in.
- Virtually low or negligible cholesterol levels
- Excellent for heart and maintaining blood pressure.
- Builds a great immune system.
- Continued use of this oil helps in preventing cancer by reducing free radicals as peanuts contain strong antioxidants.
Over the past decades, groundnuts have become a huge export commodity causing a huge disparity between supply and demand, making consumers shift to an alternate oil – Cottonseed.
Though India is one of the largest producers of Cotton, the usage of cottonseed oil has been adapted from the west with America being the major consumer in the form of processed foods. Cottonseed oil is considered quite stable unlike a few other vegetable oils and is used widely in the processed food segment.
Some of the features of this oil are:
- It is naturally saturated and contains zero trans-fat.
- A very stable oil with high smoke point and can be used for deep frying.
- Due to its neutrality in flavour, it does not mask the taste of the food cooked in it.
- Contains a good amount of Vitamin E
However, there is a lot of skepticism when it comes to the domestic consumption of this oil. Farmers use a lot of pesticide to control pests that can virtually destroy an entire cotton field. Experts believe that this heavy quantity could penetrate the seed and in turn become part of the oil as well. Hence, the wariness around this oil.
Apart from traditional nut oils, there is another cooking medium that has been in use in Indian from ancient times. Yes, it is GHEE!
Ghee or Clarified butter is quite well known. Native to India, it is not restricted to any particular state or cuisine. It has in fact been a popular cooking fat used since ancient times. Traditionally made from butter, which is churned from milk cream, Ghee, has made quite a comeback into the nutrition and health watchers circle after being unjustly abused for its fat.
If we love our health, ghee should be our new BFF. A small dollop of ghee not only makes food magically taste amazing, but it also comes with a host of additional health benefits.
- Sharpen your Brain: Our brains are 60% fats cells. Saturated fats from Ghee is the most ideal brain food, keeping it sharp, healthy and away from Alzheimers!
- Aids Weight Loss: Yes, you read it right! Ghee aids weight loss. The saturated fats in ghee are pre-disposed to getting burned as energy than getting accumulated as fatty cells and tissues.
- Rich in Vitamins and Omega: Contains significant amount of Vitamin A, E, D and Omega 3s – all necessary for the body to function normally.
- No Allergy: Ghee can be consumed by lactose intolerant people as all dairy residue gets simmered away due the ghee conversion process.
- Ultimate Moisturizer: Check any ayurvedic treatment and you will see ghee being used in some form or the other. Ghee immediately gets absorbed by the skin and starts healing dry, chapped delicate skin.
- Long shelf life: In the process of making ghee, the butter is stripped off water, sugar and other proteins, leaving pure fat. When left alone in dry conditions, it can stay well for months together.
Other Foreign Oils
With a big influx from the western world, many other oils are quickly making their spaces in the supermarkets and our kitchens. Let’s talk about a few of them.
Olive Oil – This is not new. Our markets are flooded with them. It is versatile in flavour and known to boost heart health. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) comes highly recommended due to its unadulterated nature.
Canola Oil : Made from a variety of Mustard, it is otherwise also known as Rapeseed Oil. It boasts of 0% or nearly negligible amount of cholesterol and good for heart health.
Argan Oil : From Morocco, Argan oil is known to many of us for its use in cosmetics and grooming products. This oil has a strong flavour and is best used in salads and dressing. Not recommended for cooking or high temperatures.
Flaxseed oil: Flax seeds are known to be rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. Flaxseed oil has the highest amount of Omega 3 fatty acids when compared to all other vegetable oils and is excellent for heart health.
It can be used like any other oil in cooking and has a pleasant smell.
Rice Bran Oil: A popular oil used mostly in Asian cuisine. It is made from Rice Bran and hence contains a high amount of Vitamin E and fibre. When used in moderation, it is good for weight loss and helps prevent pre-mature ageing.
Having completed the journey of Indian oils and a few exotic ones, it is worthy to note a few points:
- Try avoiding oils that are refined and prefer cold pressed oils to garner most of the benefits.
- It is recommended to consume oils that are traditional to your local region as it made to suit our metabolism and environmental conditions.
Moderation is Key. Understand this and use only as much as required.