I get a lot of queries about usage of olive oil for Indian kitchens. There are so many brands available and so many variants of olive oil that one gets confused about which one is right for cooking what? And if it is worth the money even if one takes the plunge. I know many people who actually cook all their meals in olive oil exclusively (*olive pomace oil actually) now and many more who have been planning to move to olive oils for everyday cooking but the cost is the inhibitory factor.
Else all the TV commercials are here to announce that you can fry your jalebis and pooris in pomace and that it is still healthy. How much more contorted it could get.
The goodness of cooking oils is only measured on the scale of how much high temperature it can withstand because all Indian homes deep fry all their food everyday. Right?
I say wrong. We don't deep fry all our foods and we do need other qualities in a cooking oil too. A cooking oil should be rich in omg3 and NOT have a higher omg6 ratio to omg3 as it becomes inflammatory in nature. But that is not the concern with olive oil because it has all the goodness of omega 3s and good amount of polyphenols if it is good quality.
Good quality olive oil is a genuine concern in our country because olive oil is labeled WRONGLY here. While extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is great if the brand is good and trusted but there is no virgin olive oil. All the oils labeled as 'virgin olive oils' are a mix of extra virgin olive oil and 'refined olive oil' and that is an absolute sham.
Normally virgin or pure olive oil should be olive oil that is not cold pressed but thermal process has been used to extract oil but that is not as bad. The oil still has it's goodness. Read the label carefully before buying this category of oil and see whether 'refined olive oil' is added to it.
Now one needs to know what is 'refined olive oil'. Refined olive oil is nothing but *olive pomace oil and we need to read the label carefully to ensure before buying. Olive pomace is the oil cake leftover after the cold pressing process and the olive pomace oil cannot be called as olive oil as per law of many countries that produce olive oil. The process of extracting oil from pomace involves the use of chemical solvents and the resultant oil is industrial quality fit only to be used as a lubricant or saponifying agent at the most. Marketing olive pomace oil as a healthy product in India is WRONG and is misleading people. Jalebi fried in pomace oil CANNOT BE HEALTHY.
I attended a masterclass with Chef Kunal Kapoor recently at Le Meridien hotel where he cooked a few recipes with Olive oil and a nutritionist Dr. Seema Singh spoke about the health benefits of it. As I mentioned, cooking with even extra virgin olive oil is okay if one is cooking a pasta sauce or is quickly stir frying vegetables as the temperature in the pan doesn't go beyond 110 C in that case. Chef cooked a chicken kabab with avocado in olive oil and made everyone taste it too. A pineapple chutney was also cooked and served to all.
Extra virgin olive oil is great as a source of antioxidants and omega3s but we must include many more types of antioxidants and omega3s in our diet so we are not dependent on oils for them. We must remember that cold pressed mustard oil is as healthy as cold pressed extra virgin olive oil if we use it sensibly. Remember not to smoke any oil during cooking.
Using only olive oils is no guarantee that you will lower your cholesterol level if you have switched to it for this reason. If you keep eating refined foods, refined ingredients (like white flour, white sugar, HFCS or corn syrup) and less fresh produce you may get prone to high levels of inflammation, metabolic disorders, high cholesterol and related symptoms. Fixing the lifestyle is the solution, none of the healthy ingredients can fix it in isolation.
I love using extra virgin olive oils myself a lot and many of my salads and ALL pasta dishes use EVOO freely. But I would never switch to EVOO for my Indian food.I cook my north Indian food in mustard oil or ghee, south Indian in sesame and coconut oil, pakodas are fried in mustard oil, poori and parathas are fried in ghee.
I would be really glad if Olives are grown in India and we get access to good quality cold pressed EVOO closer home and can enjoy the best flavours in Mediterranian and Italian foods that we love. Till then I would look for my EVOO and would not bother about pure virgin olive oil even if comes without a mix of refined olive pomace oil.
To supplement my food I have my extra virgin cold pressed mustard oil and extra virgin cold processed sesame and coconut oil along with ghee and butter to use every day. It is not saturated fats that increase cholesterol in the blood, it is high degree of inflammation caused by processed foods and faulty lifestyle that leads to increased levels of cholesterol.
To manage cholesterol one needs to minimise inflammatory load on the system. The best way to do so is to live an active life, exercise regularly, switch to cold pressed natural oils (not refined processed oils and margarine) and ghee, use them judiciousely (not fry everyday food) include more and more fresh produce, fruits, seasonal greens and vegetables in everyday diet.