While olive oil is being trumpeted as the cure of all ills in India, to replace any and all other oils in cooking, it’s worthwhile to take time to think about that cold-pressed, equally healthy, locally available and grown oils were what preceded the refined oils now in use. Further, a great deal of the olive oil sold here is so called “pomace oil”, a refined product with no semblance to the healthy characteristics (and great taste) of cold-pressed oils.
Understanding the importance of including more than one variety of cold-pressed oil in the diet, South Indian menus have always incorporated three — groundnut oil with its high heating point for frying, coconut oil for dressing, and sesame oil for curries and gravies. “All the three have their own benefits,” says Nimmi. “As much as coconut oil has received bad press being high in saturated fatty acids, which are considered potential artery cloggers, ironically it has medium chain fatty acids that are seen as heart protectors. However, to err on the side of caution, Id advocate using these different oils in moderation like they were traditionally used in different dishes to get the benefit of each oil, especially in combination with other ingredients. For example, in a Kerala fish curry, the combination of kokum, fenugreek, Kashmiri chilli and oily fish might just complement a spoon of cold-pressed coconut oil drizzled on top while serving. These areas are greatly under-researched,” she says.