Different Oils used in Indian Cooking and their Benefits
Have you noticed the coconutty flavour of South Indian food and the punchy mustard taste in North Indian recipes? Well, that’s the beauty of cooking oils. They blend well and yet retain their identity in the dish. Most Indian cooking oils have a high smoking point (230C/450F) making them effective in searing and sealing the flavour of meat and other ingredients. Every time I go shopping at an Indian grocery store near me, I buy at least 2 kinds of oils to suit with the meals I prepare. This gives me a change of taste as well as the health benefits of both oils. And from what I have read in research, periodic change of oils can be good for the heart and cholesterol.
Types of oils you will find at an Indian grocery store or online in Germany:
1. Peanut/Ground nut oil
Popular in the North and West Indian states, ground nut oil has a high smoke point and imparts a distinct taste to food. It can be used for frying but is mostly preferred to make vegetable sabzis and curries as well as dishes like chicken satay. Nutritionally, it is surprisingly high in monounsaturated fats and vitamin E.
2. Mustard Oil
Produced from mustard seeds, mustard oil is used in Northern and Eastern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It has a strong and nutty flavour that combines well with both vegetarian and meat recipes. The flavour softens on heating the oil and infact improves on reaching the smoke point which is not the case with other oils. Mustard oil is high in omega-3, monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants.
3. Cooking Coconut Oil
Primarily composed of saturated fats, coconut oil is commonly used in South India, has a high smoke point and is quite heat stable. Oil is extracted through a dry or a wet process. It is used to fry banana chips and make a wide range of south indian curries and fish recipes. The trouble sometimes is with it being sold in bottles and being solid at room temperature, so you have to melt it to remove it.
Pro tip - When I buy my coconut oil from Indian grocery stores online in Germany, I prefer the ‘pure or raw’ one, as it is not hydrogenated and retains its antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties.
4. Sesame Seed Oil
Preferred in many Chinese recipes, this sesame oil or til oil is clear, mostly odourless and has a mild taste. If you buy the toasted variety, it has a golden brown colour with a strong nutty flavour and adds a delicious aroma to your recipes.
It has a high smoke point and is suitable for frying and cooking some south Indian dishes too. Sesame oil is high in vitamin E, antioxidants and minerals such as magnesium, copper, iron, zinc etc. It is even used for a hair or body massage.
5. Sunflower Oil
This is generally available as a refined oil for cooking and is quite versatile. It can be used for frying or cooking and has a very mild taste. Sunflower oil can withstand high temperatures and can even be used as a substitute for butter while baking cakes.
6. Clarified Butter (ghee)
How can we talk about Indian cooking oils and leave out ghee? A substitute for both oil and butter, ghee is used for frying, cooking and making Indian sweets. It has great healing properties, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties as well as digestion boosting elements.
Referred by Ayurveda as ‘liquid gold’, ghee is a favourite in Indian homes, grainy in texture and has a pleasant nutty taste. It is usually made from cow milk, but it lacks milk proteins and can be used by lactose intolerant people.
Here’s a great Indian grocery store near me in Berlin that sells all these wonderful varieties of oils and ghee – Spice Village supermarket.