Cooking oils come with a variety of benefits and flavours. And if they are cold pressed, they are even healthier.
A little over a decade ago, there was a shift in the use of cooking oils. Traditional oils were passed over for the then new entrant, sunflower oil. It jostled for space on the kitchen counter with the nallennai and ghee that our grandparents used. Then, olive oil caused a stir and just had to be added to our diet. We zeroed in on the ‘extra virgin olive oil’ as that was the purest form and contained the maximum nutrients as it was cold pressed. More recently it’s the virgin coconut oil that has garnered world wide interest .
We have come a full circle. Remember the wonderfully fragrant fresh, home-made coconut oil that was used not only for beauty-treatments at home but also to temper puffed rice with lentils and spices?
But these days, there are so many oils to choose from and we need to make an informed choice about the one we want to cook with. The oils that remain as liquids at room temperature are the good monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These are unrefined and are unique in taste and colour. A great number of these oils are extracted through a method called cold pressing. That means they are not subject to high temperature where their nutrients are altered or destroyed. They are extracted from the nut, seed or fruit without any chemicals or solvents. They are high in Vitamin E, low in saturated fat and completely free from trans-fats that are unhealthy.
Mr. Arumugam’s family from Salem district have been making and selling various cold pressed oils from their own farm. His daughter-in-law Jayanthi Elangovan has been supplying these oils on request to friends and neighbours.
That’s how the cold pressed oils reached my mother and then me. The viscosity, aroma and colour of each oil vary greatly. They are a vivid reminder of an age-old method of cold extraction. The increase in demand for these oils has led to the family to source their coconut, groundnut and sesame from neighbouring organic farms. The nuts and fruit are sun-dried before pressing. This, says Jayanthi, ensures their longevity. She advises that we store them in a steel container.
Food experts are constantly striving to add health to taste by experimenting with a variety of cold pressed oils such as flax, avocado, hemp, strawberry seed, almond, walnut, palm, olives, coconut, sesame and peanut. Many of these are expensive and therefore to be used only in moderation. The best way to reap as many health benefits is to use a combination of oils depending on the food that is being cooked. HHere are a few oils in their natural state that I use at home.
Virgin Coconut Oil
Cold-pressed coconut oil smells delicious. It tastes clean. It will smoke if heated too much and is unsuitable for deep frying. But it is perfect for tempering of poriyals and chutneys. It can also be used to drizzle on top of coconut rice or for baking or roasting in the oven at low temperatures. I used it to make a peerkangai paal poriyal and was super thrilled with the result. The flavour and smell remained intact. Pori and Avil (puffed and pounded rice flakes) when sauteed in coconut oil are a favourite tea-time snack. Cold pressed coconut oil is highly beneficial for many ailments as it contains lauric acid. It has tremendous antioxidant properties.
Extra virgin Olive Oil
I have used this for many years now. My family loves its colour and flavour. I do cook with it though not on high heat. It is perfect for roasting vegetables with a bit of garlic; the flavours are just sublime. Salad dressings sing with the addition of olive oil. It blends very well to form thick, creamy emulsions. It’s the perfect accompaniment to crusty bread with a dash of balsamic vinegar. Spreads, pestos and dips are a great way to add a few tablespoons of this deep green oil to your diet. It enhances the taste of simple foods dramatically. Tomato, mozzarella and fresh basil with a drizzle of this oil is just so perfect. Olive oil is not cheap but keeps well and is worth adding to our diet.
In Tamil sesame oil is referred to as nallennai meaning good oil. It has a very strong taste, so a little goes a long way. It has a medium high smoke point, which means it can take to fairly high temperatures and is suited for most daily cooking. We love to eat it with idli podi. It works well with the strong flavours of the podi and is finger-licking good. It is the preferred oil for making pickles in the summer season. It’s also high in Vitamins B12 and B6.
Made from sun dried groundnuts, it has received bad publicity as being fattening. It is not the oil but the manner in which it is used that is cause for alarm. It has a high smoke point which makes it ideal for deep frying. Used sparingly, it is a good source of plant sterols. It also contains resveratrol which is an antioxidant. It’s delicious when used for making dosa. Cold pressed peanut oil if stored well has a shelf life of six-nine months. Noodles, stir fries and sauces taste good with the addition of peanut oil.
If like me you enjoy nutty flavours, then try the walnut oil. It is expensive. I don’t use it for cooking but more as a salad oil. If cooked, it can leave a bitter after taste. It’s a mild and delicate oil. Cold pressed walnut oil is available online. It tastes great when tossed into pasta, drizzled on baked fish or in a simple lettuce and walnut salad. It’s an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids. Walnut oil is used sparingly in desserts as it lends a depth of flavour when added to chocolate, cinnamon or apple.