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Wine & Dine

Epicurean oils


Gourmet oils have one advantage - they are high on virgin flavours. But they are not for everyday Indian cooking.

Nigella Lawson swears by it, your friend at the gym cannot stop dissing it and your cardiologist recommends it in moderation. Whatever your take on fat might be, there is no denying that you cannot get too far in the kitchen if you don't make friends with your oils.

Half a decade ago choosing between limited options was an easy task but now we are spoilt for choices - gourmet oil, healthy oil, infused oil, first-press oil, cold-press to name some. And there is advice coming to us from all airections onw what works best.
So what are fancy new oils? Let us start with gourmet cooking oils. These are used for their epicurean characteristics and can broadly be divided into two types - infused and extracted oils. While the former are flavored with herbs and spices such as wasabi, lemon, basil, thyme and rosemary, the latter are real extractions of nuts and seeds such as walnut, macadamia, grape, pumpkin and so on.

According to television anchor and head chef of Aurus, Mumbai, Chef Vicky Ratnani, what connects the two is the fact that unlike regular kitchen staples such as peanut, groundnut, sunflower and safflower, these liquids pack in tons of aroma, flavour and have multiple uses besides frying. "Take for instance, avocado or macadamia oils that simply need to be drizzled on grilled lobster or fish to create lovely seafood platters. Similarly, walnut oil can be added to pound cakes instead of butter to serve the purpose of fat and flavour together, " he says.

But these oils can also be used to enhance the flavour of traditional Indian fare. "Take for instance chilli oil that can liven up a boring black or yellow daal and raita instantly. Or pour a smattering of wasabi oil on reshmi kebabs or brush it on naans to see the difference, " adds Ratnani.


You put a spoonful of oil in a pan, turn on the heat and the phone rings. You come back several minutes later and what do you see? The fat is sizzling from the sides and there are wispy blue fumes of smoke clouding the vessel. "This is your oil hitting its smoke point, " says dietician Dr Richa Anand of Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai. This smoking point (at which the fat begins to break down and lose its flavour and nutritional value) she says is one of the most essential factors to consider while investing in a bottle of gourmet oil.

Common cooking oils such as canola, sunflower, groundnut, and rice bran have high smoke points and can withstand high-heat cooking methods such as frying and shallow frying easily. However, this cannot be done with gourmet oils, "Because they burn too easily, " says Anand. Therefore if you mostly use oil to fry it is a good idea to stick to the staples. Or go for thicker gourmet oils such as avocado, grape seed and almond with higher smoking points.

Nut-based oils such as walnut and hazelnut are rich sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, while flax seed oil is recommended for those with arthritis and osteoporosis. Nigella seeds are used in South Asian countries and in the Middle East to treat a variety of ailments.


A tag attached to a lot of gourmet cooking oils is 'cold-pressed'. These oils are obtained by pressing seeds or nuts in a way that no heat is used in the process of extraction. Heat tends to alter the molecular structure, flavour, aroma and nutrition of the ingredients. The preservation of essential flavours is very important in gourmet cooking oils so cold pressing is really effective in their extraction.

Neerja Mittersain, owner of online food store Gourmet Company maintains that with certain ingredients such as olives, argan and macadamia, cold-pressing is an ideal way of extraction.

"Ever wondered how you can dip a piece of bread in a certain oil and simply pop it into your mouth? It is mainly because the fresh nutty flavour of the nut or seed still remains in the oil. "

When mixed with butter, argan oil can be eaten with bread, drizzled on greens, added to sauces and sometimes even poured on desserts because it retains the taste of the nuts.

Mumbai-based Mittersain home delivers French cold-pressed oils such as pistachio, avocado, macadamia, sesame, grape seed and argan oils across the country and Seth's products are stocked in Mumbai's Food Hall and Gordej Nature's Basket, Delhi's Le Marche, Nilgiris in Bangalore and the Big Bazaar in Gurgaon.


Market observer Mohit Khattar, managing director of Godrej Nature's Basket believes that flavoured oils have a niche market. He says: "Unlike olive oil which has found followers even among the upwardly mobile middle class consumers, the popularity of these oils is yet to spread. "




4 cups basil leaves (washed and wiped), 2 cups extra virgin olive oil, 1 sterilised bottle


In a blender, blitz basil and olive oil until smooth. Transfer the puree into a saucepan and simmer on medium flame for 45 seconds. Remove from fire and cover the mixture with a lid. Allow it rest until cool. Strain it with a fine sieve and discard the basil leaf molasses. Transfer the oil into the sterilised bottle and stock it in a cool place.

Recipe by owner Kiran Salaskar from gourmet store The Country of Origin, Mumbai)

Reader's opinion (1)

Nuzhat FakihApr 23rd, 2013 at 12:02 PM

the most dreaded word in the cookery section of health fanatics----OIL, has been efficiently deconstructed in this article. the revelation is not meant to be just a gourmet's delight, but an enlightenment for an intelligent cook too. thanks Sonal, for this well researched contribution.

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