Know Your Oils
There is so much information about oils these days. Which oils are better, which ones are “healthier”, which ones to avoid etc etc. The hope of this article is to provide some simple clarity on oils.
What are oils? what sort of oils should we consume, and what should we avoid?
Oils are the fatty part of vegetables, seeds or nuts. Sunflower Oil, Sesame Oil, Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Groundnut Oil etc. Oils are concentrated fat and hence must be used sparingly. Even if the plant source is extremely nutritious (eg: mustard), its oil must still be used sparingly.
Refined Oils: Ignore the use of words that make a product sound cool. Refined oils are hardly “suave and sophisticated”.
- They are made by heating the seeds or nuts to very high temperatures to extract the oil. Oil molecules when heated to very high temperatures begin to break down into other compounds, some of which are carcinogenic in nature (ie cancer causing). High temperature extraction is used in the industry because it extracts a much higher percentage of oil from the base.
- Commercial solvents such as hexane are used to extract more oils from the base. Exposure to hexane by inhalation is detrimental to health. This hexane isn’t affecting you directly, but it certainly does impact the workers who work in the oil refineries. Something to think about.
- Commercial refined oils in the supermarket come with a combination of oils that aren’t listed in the ingredients. The most common of them being cottonseed oil. Cottonseed oil is a by product of the cotton industry. Remember, more than 90% of cotton grown in India is GMO cotton. You are essentially consuming GMO without your knowledge.
- To keep the oil looking transparent and uniform and have a longer shelf life, a lot of other solvents and emulsifiers are used. More chemicals in your body that you don’t need.
Organic Cold Pressed Oils: The better and healthy oils. Why Organic? Simple. No toxic chemicals in our food, body, soils, groundwater and air. Healthy and safe for everyone. What is Cold Pressed?
- The oil is extracted by placing it in a mortar, and ground by pressing it with a rotating pestle. This keeps the temperature of extraction low (under 49C) and the oil that comes out has never been heated before.
- No solvents are used to extract more oil.
- Cold pressing is done in “ghanis” in villages in India. The leftover base, called the oil cake is fed to cattle as fodder. It is a rural small scale industry that supplements farmers income from agriculture.
- No emulsifiers or other chemicals are used to make it look pretty or increase its shelf life
- Cold pressed oils have a lesser shelf life (about 3-4 months)
- They are much more tasty because they have not been overheated, and the pressing method preserves taste and nutrients. Cold pressed groundnut oil has an amazing aroma and taste of groundnuts.
Other oil facts: There is no one oil that is better than another. Coconut, Sesame, Groundnut, Mustard, Safflower, all of them are just as good for cooking. In fact, optimal health is when there is variety. Use these oils in rotation, and don’t stick to just one oil alone.
New kids on the block: How about Rice Bran oil, Olive Oil, Soybean Oil etc? 10 years ago, these products weren’t even found in our supermarkets. Many of these are being “pushed” thanks to advertising, and demands are being “created”. If you eat unpolished/brown rice, you will get way more nutrition from rice bran, than you will by consuming rice bran oil, which is its concentrated fat extract. Olives are not native to India. Olive Oil is imported. It is expensive and isn’t of a singularly superlative health quality, that you should spend the money and effort trying to get it. Same with soybean oil. Simple rule: stick to oils that your grandmother used to get, and don’t worry about new “trends”.