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When I read different content about oils used in indian cooking, I found that more ten different oils are used in different parts of indian cooking. And there is certain reason behind using a particular oil for a certain dish. It amazed me!

A million dollar question, Can olive oil be used for cooking indian food?

Personally I dont use only olive oil for daily indian cooking , I actually mix olive oil with sunflower oil in equal parts. I never felt right using olive oil for indian cooking. But read the below link………

All kinds of Indian foods can be cooked in olive oil: Sanjeev Kapoor (The popular Indian chef)

It is personal choice of what oil you will be using for indian cooking. But you should have little knowledge of why other oils are used.

A word about Smoke Points

The smoke point is the temperature at which any fat starts to smoke (guess what the flame point is).

Apart from the taste, the advantage of all the oils used in Indian cooking is that they have very high smoke points (above 232C/450F) this means that meat and other ingredients will ‘seal’ very quickly when cooked.

A high smoke point is particularly important for deep frying which is a high temperature operation – this is why all good fish and chip shops use palm oil rather than standard vegetable oil – it has a higher smoke point.

Nearly all cooking oils should not be heated to smoking as this impairs both the flavour and the nutritional values. (At the smoke point, the fat breaks down into glycerol and free fatty acids).

From http://www.my-indian-food.com/CookingOils.html

Mustard oil- It has strong flavour and is pungent in taste. This oil is heated to the smoking point and allowed to cool off before using it. By doing this, it reduces the pungent taste in the oil. This oil is used in Western part of India and some parts of north India. Mainly used for frying fritters, pickles and some authentic indian dishes. It has some amazing health benefits. It improves in blood circulation when massaged on the scalp for strong and shiny hair(a remedy for hair fall). It is also high in omega-3 fatty acids and contains anti-oxidants because of which sometimes it is used as preservative.

Peanut oil– Peanut oil has so many varieties like cold pressed,refined and unrefined. It has mildly sweet flavour and has high smoke point so mostly used for frying food. It is one of the stable cooking oil with long shelf live. It is high in calories but it helps to lower LDL or bad cholestrol and increase HDL or good cholestrol. It is mostly used in some parts of eastern Indian states and southern Indian states.

Coconut oil– Yes , it is used in Kerala,Goa and Srilanka too. The coastal regions with high coconut production uses coconut oil for food. The product you are most likely to buy to cook Indian food is ‘Pure Coconut Oil’ which is a white solid which then melts into a clear liquid at 24C. It has a high smoke point, and is very heat stable. It has sweet flavour. It is good for skin and hair but there are not many minerals and vitamins in it.

For health benefits and composition of  coconut oils please visit http://www.organicfacts.net/organic-oils/organic-coconut-oil/health-benefits-of-coconut-oil.html

Sesame oil- I was surprised to know that sesame oil was called as ‘queen of oils’. It has loads of vitamin E as well as vitamin K and some B6, it contains the minerals magnesium, copper, calcium, iron and zinc. It has high smoke point and mostly used in some parts of south-indian states. It also has medicinal value. It helps in reducing the blood pressure levels and used in massaging infants for strong muscles and bones.

Sunflower oil-Sunflower oil is pale yellow in colour. Some call it ‘heart friendly’. It is high in vitamin E. This oil is rich in PUFA, particularly linoleic acid that lowers the levels of both good and bad cholesterol. Hence, this oil cannot be used as the only cooking oil ,it could be used along with other cooking oils such as red palm oil or palmolein oil that are low in linoleic acid (you could use sunflower oil on one day and red palm oil the next day). It is used in some of the south -indian and north indian dishes.

Rice Bran Oil: It is a relatively new oil that is extracted from rice bran and is gaining popularity. It is not very expensive. Rice bran oil is a unique edible oil with many nutritional benefits, as compared to other edible oils. It is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and has cholesterol-lowering properties due to the presence of a minor component called oryzanol. It contains natural vitamin E, which is an antioxidant. It also contains squalene, which is good for the skin. It is the ideal cooking oil since it has good stability (it does not decompose at high temperatures to form toxic compounds) and is suitable for deep-frying. Studies have shown that snacks prepared in rice bran oil absorb 12-25 per cent less oil than those prepared in groundnut oil. (From http://food.sify.com/articles/Healthy_cooking_oil_for_the_family-263264)

Then there are others like soyabean oil and canola oil, which are not used in indian cooking significantly.

Some other fats used for cooking.

Ghee: Also prepared from milk fat, ghee or clarified butter is an essential item in Indian cuisine. Nutritionally, like butter, it also contains saturated fats and cholesterol which, when consumed in excess, leads to heart disease. Using small amounts of ghee to season foods is not harmful. Just avoid sweets and other dishes prepared with large quantities of ghee.

Vanaspati: It is nothing but a mixture of vegetable oils that have been converted to solid form by the addition of hydrogen. Hydrogenated fat is used as a ghee substitute in cooking as well in the production of bakery products, sweets and snack items. When vanaspati is made, trans fatty acids are also produced; these increase the risk of heart disease when consumed in excess and are best avoided.

The Dos and Don`ts of reusing oil
Most of us are aware that reusing oils is dangerous as the food residue can turn carcinogenic, yet reuse is common. According to the International Olive Council, the digestibility of olive oil is not affected when it is heated, even when it is reused several times for frying. The smoking point of any oil comes down when reheated – besides we should also find out how long the oil was in the pan. On the other hand, if the oil was heated for just 5-10 minutes, then you may reuse it the very same day in other preparations so that there is no time for polymers to form.

Here are some tips to reuse or discard oil safely:

  • Decant, filter and strain the oil through a few layers of cheesecloth or filter paper.
  • Make sure the oil has not been exposed to prolonged heat as that accelerates rancidity.
  • Don`t mix different types of oil.
  • If there was too much salt in the substance fried, then avoid reuse.

(from http://food.sify.com/articles/Healthy_cooking_oil_for_the_family-263264)