Home Cooking What’s India Cooking with? Know your Oils – Part 2

What’s India Cooking with? Know your Oils – Part 2

In our last article, we began our Oil journey with Northern and Central India. In this post, which is the second part of the three series post, let’s move straight down south to the land of coconuts, greenery and tradition. Coconut and Sesame oils are used in abundance here.

Coconut Oil:

Until recently, the Coconut was labelled as the “Bad Boys” of health and people were asked to keep an arm’s distance from it. What rubbish! Talk to any Malayalee and they will swear by the coconut, debunking all the myths that surround it. If coconut oil, with its high amount of saturated fat, were considered dangerous, why would any Keralite eat, sleep, drink or even think about it without getting sick. In fact, traditional Mallus are the ones who do not suffer from majority of the health disorders that are rampant in our society today.

Thankfully, the world has come to its senses and is looking at the oil as it ought to be looked at. Getting touted as the next best thing after virgin olive oil, coconut oil is increasingly being used in the cosmetic industry for its high moisturizing properties, thereby creating a Hollywood and its fanatic appeal. Grandma’s advice was never taken seriously until someone in Hollywood discovered the benefits.

Cooking with coconut oil needs to be a delicate thing. A small quantity is enough to produce the sweet, coconutty flavour that is associated with it. Anything more and it will tend to overpower the dish that you are cooking. Some foods taste best only when made with coconut oil – Banana Chips (the Nendranga variety), Avial (traditional mixed vegetable curry from Kerala) or the Thai Red/Green Curry. Apart from being used in the Southern Peninsula, coconut oil is extremely popular in countries like Thailand, Srilanka and Indonesia.

Here’s a list of benefits and uses to this wonder oil:

Benefits of Coconut OIl

Benefits of Coconut OIl


Sesame Oil

Sesame Oil/ Gingelly Oil/ Nalla Yennai – it goes by various names. However, I firmly believe, the last name is what describes the oil the best.

Tamilians know it by Nalla Yennai, which translates to “Good Oil” – something that our grandmas have known for centuries. Until the introduction of refined oil, Sesame Oil was the one that was pretty much used across the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra and parts of Karnataka. Idli and Dosa would never be eaten with “Molaga Podi” unless it was mixed with this oil. One of the reasons for this could be its cooling properties that would neutralize the heat of Molaga podi. Couple of other dishes that beg for sesame oil are “Pulikachhal or Puliyogare Gojju” & “Vattha Kulambu”.

It is said that sesame oil was first extracted during the Indus Valley Civilization and thereon was introduced to other parts of Asia and the world. Today, it is one of the most demanded oils and highly recognized for its health benefits.

Like the coconut, sesame oils need a “getting used to”, if you haven’t tried it yet. The oil has a nutty aroma and taste that when used in limited quantities is great in enhancing the taste of the dish. It is great for stir fries, roasts and regular cooking.

This oil usually comes in two forms: Light and Dark variety. The darker variant is extracted from the toasted seeds, has a low smoke point and is used best for salads, seasoning and for flavour. The lighter variety comes with a higher smoke point and is great for frying and cooking regular food.

This miniscule seed is a powerhouse of many things including:

  • Heart friendly. This is one of the most recommended oils for anyone suffering from a heart problem. It prevents blocking or arteries and has a natural tendency to reduce blood pressure and stress.
  • Talking of Stress, Ayurveda has long since identified and put this property to good use. Sesame Oil is an excellent massage medium to relieve the body from stress and heat. A massage with this oil, followed by a hot steam bath, will transform a person completely!
  • Long shelf life. If you use this oil sparingly, do not worry about the shelf life. It is one of those oils that do not go bad if kept for a while.
  • Helps preserve the flavouring and colour of refrigerated meat.
  • Prevents lethargy. Sesame oil has a good amount of zinc in it that digests easily, promotes good bone health and increases immunity.
  • Dental Hygiene through oil pulling. One of the best medicines to cure plaque and improve dental health.
  • Excellent sunscreen. Sesame oil has a natural tendency to prevent the UV rays of the sun from damaging our skin, preventing pigmentation and wrinkles.

An important note of caution:  To imbibe these health benefits, it’s extremely important that we use the oils in moderate quantities. An overdose of any good thing will also have reverse effects.

You may also like

Leave a Comment