———-This is a 3-part series in an attempt to cover as many oils as possible.—————–
The Indian culinary field is a mish-mash of cultures. Long gone are the days when a cuisine would be restricted to a particular area. With a high proportion of floating population in the urban areas, food is now considered a religion altogether. Like the weather, discussions on food just never seem to cease. Be it an icebreaker like “what’s for lunch?” to a random connect with a stranger at a panipuri stall, the discussions can go on and on!
Food is one of the aspects where we, as Indians, have shown a high level of openness. With a hunger for global cuisine there seems to be an increasing (or should I say alarming) rush in the demand for exotic food and exotic oils that go along with it. The more un-pronounceable the name, the higher the price tag. The other day, I heard someone gushing about how they drizzled “Argan oil” over their salad, that it has a low smoke point, lower amount of calories and was great to dip bread in! Curiosity had me on pins and I had to look it up. It was hitherto unbeknown!
That is when I decided to write something on oils, especially the ones used in cooking – our traditional ones and some of the exotic ones that we have heard of in the market. Before I get into further discussion, let’s talk about Smoke Point. It could be a common term in the west, but I’m sure most of our households would have never heard it before.
Now, what is smoke point? The term, “Smoke Point” refers to the temperature up to which a particular oil can be heated to produce smoke. This is also the point where the nutrients in the oil start to dis-integrate, making the oil useless and in some cases increasing viscosity. This is one of the reasons to not re-use or re-heat oils multiple times. Oils with a higher smoke point are best for making curries or deep-frying. Those with lower smoke points are best used raw, for low to moderate heat or as a salad dressing.
Cuisine was all about cooking and consuming items that were grown or native to a particular region. Oil is no different. Take a culinary hike across the country and you will see a variety of oils in use, even ones that have a bad reputation outside the region.
Let me begin with Mustard Oil. This oil is native to the regions of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, West Bengal, UP and Bihar. Technically, the whole of East, North, Northeast and Central India cook with this oil. If you have used this oil, you will realize that it is very strong in flavour, taste and smell. It is because of this strong flavour and smell that non-natives have not adopted this into their cuisine. However, when we use a small quantity for cooking, the potency does not overpower the overall dish. The trick is to let the oil heat up, till you see it building up a little smoke, before adding anything into it. The other reason for a lesser adoption of this oil is that it has a tendency to increase the body heat for non-natives. As the northern part of India experiences more cold when compared to the south, this heat-based oil is best suited for that climate.
The benefits of using Mustard oil has many. Ranging from the usual “good-for-the-heart”, it extends to being a great pain reliever, excellent massage oil to improve blood circulation in the body and scalp and high in Omega 3 and Omega 6. Try using small quantities of this oil to experience its wonderful nutty flavour and taste. You can substitute your regular cooking oil with this one for sautéing veggies or making a stir-fry.
One of my favourite ways to consume this oil is to add a few drops of it to a bowl of puffed rice (Pori) or a couple of spoons as dressing for a mashed potato salad.