Aug 9, 2017

Why we should stay away from olive oil?

A few days back, I felt quite irritated to see a popular food blogger promoting an olive oil brand for daily Indian style of cooking with the hashtag #rozkakhana. She has more than a million followers on FB.

As I visited a supermarket nearby, I noticed the most accessible shelf in the “Oils” section was lined up with different olive oil brands. The oils that we Indians typically use in our day-to-day cooking were lying in the bottom most shelf. 

I checked out BigBasket’s edible oils section and I wasn’t surprised to see the number of brands in each category.

As you can see, there are 54 different olive oil brands available, whereas there are only 5 brands of groundnut oil, 7 brands of gingelly oil and 8 brands of mustard oil. 

Why is this craze towards olive oil? Are doctors and dieticians recommending it? Are we blinded by the media and food influencers? 

This widespread availability of olive oils is only possible when atleast one of the two criteria are met:
1. Urban Indians have completely switched to Mediterranean diet.
2. They are using olive oil for typical Indian cooking.

If you belong to the latter category, then please enlighten me the need/reasons that motivated you to make the switch.

First, the food industry took all the steps required to spread the false news that coconut oil is bad for your heart, groundnut oil has cholesterol etc. And then, they come back with expensive, imported olive oils that has absolutely NO connection with Indian soil, weather or our genes.

I came across a BBC News Article from 2013, which stated that olive trees had been planted in Rajasthan, with farmers getting subsidy to grow olives instead of wheat and cotton. I’m not sure what happened after that and whether the olives had started to grow in India.

Though olive oil as a % of total edible oils consumption in India is quite low, it is growing at a rate of around 15-20% every year, triggered by the urban elite. 

1 kg of sesame oil costs around Rs.250
1 kg of mustard oil costs around Rs.150

What’s the price of olive oil? 1 kg is around Rs.900. 

Now why would people pay such an exorbitant price for an imported oil? Is there the popular bias “Higher price equals better quality” at play here? 

Olive oil is marketed as a convenient quick-fix to prevent heart diseases. Healthy living isn’t that simple. 

To keep our heart healthy, there are a bunch of things we need to do:
- regular exercise
- staying physically active throughout the day
- stopping junk food consumption totally
- good quality sleep for atleast 7 hours
- taking no stress whatsoever
- keeping our minds healthy by adopting a positive mindset

I’m not falling for the olive oil trap. Here’s the list of oils I use for my cooking needs:
Groundnut oil and Sesame oil for regular cooking
Coconut oil for tadka and Kerala style dishes
Ricebran oil for occasional home baking and deep frying
Olive oil ONLY for making pasta or exotic salads (A small bottle of 250 ml will last for 6 months at home)

I have tried mustard oil but it felt too pungent for me and didn’t suit our South Indian style cooking. And recently, I have started to use cold-pressed sesame, groundnut and coconut oils. Whatever be the oil, I try to use the minimum quantity. 

The only take-away from this article - use the oil native to your region and style of cooking, which means
Mustard oil - for UP, West Bengal
Groundnut oil - for Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra
Coconut oil - for Kerala, coastal Karnataka
Sesame oil - for Tamilnadu
This push towards a food monoculture has to stop and we should celebrate the diversity of our food and cuisines.


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