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Raw, cold-pressed or refined: Which oil is the best for Indian cooking?

May 24, 2021 09:29 IST | By Vishakha Somani

An essential to any kitchen or cuisine, you will find some kind of oil listed in more recipe lists than one can count. From salads, noodles to curries and pakoras, we use oil to cook just about everything.

With great use also comes great health implications and that’s why many people have recently started looking for healthier varieties of this ubiquitous ingredient.

Cold-pressed, raw, organic, virgin or refined, there are plenty of cooking oils in the market and many of them are just marketing gimmicks of the multi-billion-dollar FMCG industry. Let’s take a look at what the different labels on cooking oils really mean:

RAW OIL 

When the oil is extracted by simply crushing the seed or raw food item, whether by machine or animal crushers, without using any chemicals, raw oil is produced. Raw oils are rich in the nutritional properties of the source seed but have a short shelf life as they do not contain preservatives.

Raw oil is not great for cooking but is the best for application on skin or hair.  

COLD-PRESSED OIL 

When oil is extracted under controlled temperatures, usually by machines, and are kept away from high heat during the extraction, we get a cold-pressed oil. This process does not use any chemicals allowing cold-pressed oils to retain a good amount of flavour and the original properties of the seed.

Although rich in flavour, it is not advised to cook with cold-pressed oils at high heat as the heat destroys the properties of the oil.

UNREFINED OIL  

When some amount of heat is used during the extraction process but no chemicals are added, we get what is known as unrefined oil. Also called virgin oil, these type of oils do retain some flavour and nutritional value but are also not recommended for high-temperature cooking.  

REFINED OIL

To make refined oil, seeds are crushed at controlled high temperatures along with a chemical treatment that removes almost all original flavour from the oil. The process changes the fat composition of the oil giving it a high smoke point which makes refined oils suitable for cooking at a much higher temperature.  

WHICH COOKING OIL SHOULD YOU USE? 

As you might have understood, the manufacturing process makes all the difference when it comes to oils. This is why choosing which oil to use in your kitchen really depends on what you are making. Cold-pressed oils like coconut, olive or sesame are all considered heart-healthy but they may turn into trans-fat upon cooking with heat which is no good for your heart.

Since we in India like to cook our food at high heat for long durations, refined oils might be a better choice for making Indian dishes. Save your unrefined or cold-pressed oils for salads, bread and cooked meats for a combination of flavour and health.

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