Cooking Oils 101 – Choosing, Storing and Frying Made Easy

Indian food often loves to take a swim in the oil and other types of fat. Besides, who doesn’t like the sizzle of a little something on a cold or rainy evening? While a talk on fats would make a fat book, we decided to put together a quick guide on how to choose oils and the ideal ways to fry without all that extra grease. Here are some ‘oily’ questions answered:

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Tips to choose your cooking oil

a. Nutrient content:

-Monounsaturated fats (MUFA) : When you drizzle your all greens salad with a generous dressing made from canola or any other high-performance oil, you are mostly indulging in monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in the blood, and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. They also provide nutrients, including fat soluble antioxidant, Vitamin E that helps develop and maintain  body’s cells to improve immunity and fight heart disease and stroke by thinning the blood and prevent it from clumping/clogging.

Healthy fats are liquid at room temperature, not solid.

- Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA): If you are substituting your baking butter with canola or any other healthy cooking oil, you’re using a good source of polyunsaturated fat. Polyunsaturated fats are essential fats that your body needs for normal body functions. Since your body can’t make them internally, you must get them from the food your eat. Eating polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats (found in butter and other dairy/animal fat) or highly refined carbohydrates (like polished rice, maida, packaged eatables) reduces harmful LDL cholesterol and improves the cholesterol profile. It also lowers triglycerides.

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b. Smoking Point: Have you noticed the giant smoking kadhai at the neighbourhood chaat point? That stuff is definitely not doing good to your health, the tastebuds or your olfactory senses. The smoke point is simply the temperature at which the oil’s chemical composition begins to change, loses its flavor and its nutritional benefits. The next time you are frying your onions or sautéing your vegetables, look for your oils smoking point and ensure your oil does not exceed it.

The higher a fat’s smoking point, the more cooking techniques you can use it for.

c. Versatility of Use: When your tongue and head demand two different flavours and the rest of the family seeks a third type, you are either going to toil to cater to every one’s need or find smart hacks that taste good and don’t compromise on health. Most Indian kitchens dish out at least 2 types of cuisine in a week – Indian or International. For all of these to please your tastebuds without compromising on its nutritional value, choose oils like Canola that are dexterous enough to adapt to the cuisine’s native flavours.

d. Shelf Life: Let’s face it, we all stock up on oil and other essentials the moment we see the D word (discount). But the fact with oil is that the “Best Before” date only holds true when the seal’s unopened. Once in use, most oils start to turn rancid pretty quickly. The trick then is to look for oils that have a longer shelf life so it stays good and preserves its native nutritional properties.

If you have stored oil for a while, don’t use it without smelling and tasting it.

Now, you’ve made your informed decisions and picked an oil with great nutritional content. But that’s not all there’s to it. How you store it is as important for the oil to give you its monetary and nutritional best.

Tips to Store Cooking Oil

Most preferred oils are extracted from plants and come with a limited shelf life. Some helpful tips on storing oils:

  • Store your cooking oils in air tight containers in dark, cool places. Once the seal of the container is broken, it is better to refrigerate the oil to improve its shelf life.
  • Always check the expiration date before buying the oil. (it is usually 12 months from the date of manufacturing)
  • Rancid oils should be disposed off at the earliest.
Tip: If you are finding it difficult to dispose off rancid oil, use it to grease door and window hinges, ease corrosion, or freeze and make decorative oil lamps out of it. 

Now, because there’s a mushroom cloud of advice and counter advice around fried foods, we had to talk about frying techniques:

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  1. Once you’ve chosen a nutritionally-rich oil with a high-smoking point, place the oil in a deep pan or kadhai. The food your frying will decide the pan of choice. Refrain from overcrowding the pan when frying.
  2. Heat the oil with a candy/frying thermometer clipped to the side. The ideal frying temperature is 190 degree celsius.
  3. As you add food into the hot oil, do check the temperature to ensure the ideal frying temperature is maintained. If you see it heating up or lowering, adjust heat accordingly. Overheated oil will burn the exterior before the interior is fully cooked. Oil that’s not hot enough will slow the cooking process and result in greasy, soggy food.
  4. Once fried, always drain using a slotted spoon and into a layer of paper napkins. The napkins blot of any excess oil, reducing the likelihood of excess grease.
  5. Avoid refrying your fried food at all times.
  6. Try not to coat your food with salt before frying as it lowers the oil’s smoking point.

We are going to leave you with a few quick Do’s and Dont’s of reusing leftover oil.

Reusing leftover oil

Handling oil isn’t easy. It is always advisable to use fresh oil every time. However disposing significant amount of oil ( usually left after deep frying) often pinches our heart:

oil-filterimage courtesy: arousingappetites

  • Always strain the particles out of the oil after frying. The greater the micro-organisms in your oil, the higher the chances of it getting contaminated  and won’t be ideal for reuse.
  • Every time you reuse the oil, the smoke point drops. If you are considering reuse, definitely avoid deep frying with it.
  • If you are coating your snack with bread or cornflour, make sure you leave it for 15-20 mins before frying so that the bread sticks to the food particle and does not loosen into the oil. This helps in keeping the oil clean and reusable.

More to come in this series. Stay tuned!

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