Cooking oil: Make the right choice

Myths and facts surrounding five of the most commonly used oils

Sunflower oil

Prepared from sunflower seeds, this oil is used for cooking as well as skin and hair care.

Myth: It tends to get oxidised when heated, and can become a platform for carcinogens, or cancer causing substances.

Fact: Sunflower oil doesn’t have any medically proven harmful side effects and is used freely in cooking Indian dishes that require frying at high temperatures.

Benefits of sunflower oil

  • This is a healthy option owing to its polyunsaturated fat content.
  • Due to its light flavour, sunflower oil doesn’t overpower the taste of other ingredients.
  • It has a good source of omega-6 and vitamin E which acts as an anti-oxidant and helps in retaining water.

Mustard oil

Mustard oil is prepared from the pressing of mustard seeds and is used in different regions across India.

Myth: Considered harmful for consumption due to its high erucic acid content.

Fact: This oil is widely used in North India and people enjoy delicacies cooked in mustard oil. There has been no medically proven indication of its harmful effects.

Benefits of mustard oil

  • Its characteristic flavour brings a unique taste to dishes.
  • A high smoke point makes it ideal for frying.
  • It can be used as a stimulant to help digestion and circulation. Due to its antibacterial properties, this oil can help protect the skin.

Olive oil

Olive oil is produced by grinding whole olives that are usually found in the Mediterranean region.

Myth: Extra virgin olive oil can be used for frying and sautéing.

Fact: Extra virgin olive oil is derived from the first pressing of olives and its flavour is stronger if it is not heated. It has a low smoke point and if heated to high temperatures, it can lead to oxidation or release of harmful substances when it crosses its smoke point. Therefore, it is best when used in salads as dressings and is ideally not well suited for high heat culinary applications such as frying or sautéing.

Benefits of olive oil

  • It can be used very well for salads and appetisers but its peculiar taste may not suit all kinds of Indian dishes.
  • Monounsaturated fatty acids like omega-3 give it its anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Vitamins, minerals and proteins present in this oil suggest that it can be used for application on hair and skin treatments.
  • Olive oil also aids in calcium absorption along with lowering the LDL or bad cholesterol.

Tips on storing and using your cooking oil

  • Every kind of oil has an expiry date and there are chances that if it crosses the expiry date, residue may accumulate at the base of your oil bottle. This also indicates the need for an oil change. Cooking oils should not be stored for long periods of time. If it develops a ‘stale’ smell or odour, it should be discarded. Store your cooking oils in well-sealed cans and in a cool and dry place for its longer shelf life.
  • It is advisable not to mix the oil you use with unused oil. When you mix two cooking oils, their smoking points, flavours and fatty acid content need to be carefully considered and only then can they be mixed. However, this can lead to differentiating tastes and the true flavour of a dish may get overshadowed.
  • You can switch your cooking oil every once in a while and alternate between different options to suit your own style of cooking. Switching between different oils helps to maintain your cholesterol level and adds the flavour you seek in certain dishes. For example, make your salads in olive oil while use canola oil for baking, sautéing, frying and grilling.

Be sure to stock up your pantry with the oil that is healthy and scrumptious as well as earns you some kitchen credit.

This was first published in the January 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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