Indian cuisine is as diverse as its culture, its traditions, its languages, and climates. In fact, every state in India boasts of its own special cuisine. Starting with the different kinds of foods of Kashmir, Punjab, and UP in the North, to the desert foods of Rajasthan and Gujarat in the West, the specialties of West Bengal, the Seven Sister States, and Odisha in the East, and the coastal foods of the south and the delicacies from the central regions like Hyderabad and MP…each using distinct ingredients and having a distinct flavour.
One of the main reasons for the distinct flavour is the fact that across the length and breadth of India, as many as 10 different cooking oils are used for frying, sauteing, seasoning, or simply drizzling over a dish.
The popularity of cooking oils lies not just in the tasty flavour they impart, but also in the health benefits of the oil which make them ideal for use. Different oils are suited to different climates, they blend well with the locally sourced food and are suited for the region’s cuisine.
Today, urbanization, relocating across states, exposure to multiple kinds of cuisine, and interest in cooking as a hobby have resulted in a huge fusion of food habits. Indians today love to try out different tastes and experiment a lot with food. As a result, it is not uncommon to find different cooking oils in several Indian kitchens.
Know your cooking oil
In addition to variation in terms of flavour, using different cooking oils, or switching oils depending on what you are cooking, has health benefits too.
All edible, cooking oils have fatty acids which play a specific role in human metabolism. These fatty acids are saturated fatty acids, Monounsaturated fats, and Poly Unsaturated Fats. Polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fats, when consumed in moderation can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Cooking oils also possess antioxidants like tocopherols, oryzanol, carotenoids, tocotrienols, phytosterols, and micronutrients.
Benefits of some of the oils in most Indian homes
Sunflower Oil :
Sunflower oil is abundant in Vitamin E and Omega 6 fats making it one of the most popular cooking oils in India. Containing more than 80% monounsaturated fats, the oil is good for heart health. Because it does not contain saturated fats, optimal use of this oil does not increase cholesterol levels in the body. Vit E acts as an antioxidant and helps in regenerating damaged skin. The oil is also rich in gamma alpha-linolenic acid (GLA) and is used as a treatment to prevent hair loss. Light and neutral, Sunflower oil keeps its nutritional value intact even at high temperatures.
Mustard Oil :
Mustard oil has a healthy balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats. Ideally, prepared using the cold pressing technique mustard oil is used for cooking in West Bengal, North Eastern States, Odisha, Punjab, UP, Himachal, and Kashmir. The oil is popular for its distinct taste, aroma, and high digestive properties. Mustard oil can help to prevent skin ailments, cough and cold, and hair fall. It has antibacterial properties
Rice Bran Oil :
Rice bran oil is known to be a source of unsaturated fats, vitamin E,and other important plant-based nutrients such as tocotrienols, oryzanol, and plant sterols. Highly recommended by cardiologists, Rice Bran Oil has higher proportions of heart-healthy unsaturated fat than saturated fat. It also helps lower blood sugar levels and improves insulin resistance. Made from the thin layer of bran that coats the rice grain, it has an ideal balance of polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) and monounsaturated fats (MUFA).
Groundnut Oil :
Groundnut oil is used as a cooking medium in Chinese, South Asian, and Southeast Asian cuisine. In the Indian states of Andhra, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu, cold-pressed Groundnut oil has been used in traditional cooking, for centuries. A tablespoonful of groundnut oil 13.5 grams of fat occurs in the form of fatty acids like oleic acid, linoleic acid, stearic acid, etc. These unsaturated fats reduce the risk of heart disease and lower bad cholesterol levels. An added benefit is that it contains no cholesterol and does not add unnecessary dietary cholesterol to our daily consumption. Resveratrol, a substance present in groundnut oil decreases blood pressure and reduces stress on the cardiovascular system, and also slows down cognitive disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
Cardiologists recommend the use of multiple oils for cooking because this gives us the nutrition that is available in different oils, as long as it is used prudently and in moderation. It is highly recommended to rotate cooking oils regularly to get a good mix of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, in the right proportion.
Care must be taken to avoid reheating and reusing cooking oil as it can release harmful toxins, and increase the percentage of trans-fats in the oil. It can also become rancid and cause some very harmful reactions.