I have been asked so many times over the years which oil should be used when cooking Indian food. Since there are so many different oils available at specialty stores as well as standard groceries, I wanted to learn facts in order to make wise recommendations about which ones are the best and which should be avoided in Indian cuisine.
First, let me share with you the facts:
- None of the oils I researched contain trans fat.
- The healthiest oil that is considered high in both mono- and poly-unsaturated fats is canola oil (these are the good fats in which high levels are desired).
- Olive oil (regular and extra virgin varieties) is high in mono-unsaturated fat which is also considered healthy.
- Corn, safflower, soybean, sesame, sunflower and plain vegetable oil are also healthy due to their high levels of poly-unsaturated fats.
- Coconut oil, palm oil and ghee (clarified butter) are high in saturated fat (unhealthy fat).
The purpose of oil in a recipe should determine which one is used.
Oils with a high smoke point, the temperature at which the oil starts smoking, should be used for frying.
Canola, peanut, safflower, soybean, and sunflower oils are excellent picks due to their light flavor. The flavor in extra virgin olive oil, for example, imposes too much flavor to the food being cooked.
Ghee and palm oil are often used in Indian cooking because of the flavors they give the items being fried as well as their tolerance for high heat.
Many Indian recipes use specific oils to bring unique flavor to the food. Coconut, sesame, mustard and palm oils as well as ghee are added either in early stages of cooking or as a last step for their signature flavors
Marinades and Dressings
Most oils can be used to marinate food and in dressings. I would avoid the ones I listed as Seasonings due to their unique flavor.
So, what is the best oil for cooking Indian food? I recommend any healthy light oil for use in Indian cooking. I do not recommend using olive oil because of its strong flavor and higher price.
Oil Comparison Chart
|Good Fats||Bad Fats|
|Oil||Taste||Use||Smoke Point||Mono- unsat Fat||Poly- unsat Fat||Sat Fat||Trans Fat|
|Canola||Light taste, great for Indian cooking||Sautéing, frying at high temps, grilling, baking||425ºF||High||High||Low||None|
|Corn||Light corn flavor||Frying at medium temps, baking||400ºF||Low||High||Low||None|
|Coconut||Coconut flavor for light and delicate dishes not a general cooking oil||Seasoning, replacement for dairy products, baking, sautéing||350ºF||Low||Low||High||None|
|Extra virgin olive||Very strong, not for Indian cooking||Seasoning uncooked dishes, marinades, dressings||325ºF||High||Low||Low||None|
|Ghee||Buttery flavor often used in Indian cooking||Seasoning for breads, dosas and rice, frying at high temps||400ºF||Low||Low||High||None|
|Olive||Strong, not for Indian cooking||Seasoning uncooked dishes, marinades, dressings||325ºF||High||Low||Low||None|
|Peanut||Light nutty flavor||Frying, seasoning, frilling, sautéing||440ºF||High||Low||Low||None|
|Safflower||No flavor||Frying at high temps, sautéing||475ºF||High||High||Low||None|
|Sesame||Nutty flavor||Frying, sautéing, marinades||350ºF||High||High||Low||None|
|Soybean||One of the most commonly used oils, no flavor||Frying, seasoning, grilling, baking, sautéing||450ºF||Low||High||Low||None|
|Sunflower||One of the most commonly used oils, no flavor||Frying, seasoning, grilling, baking, sautéing||450ºF||Low||High||Low||None|
|Vegetable oil||A blend of other oils, light flavor||Frying, seasoning, grilling, baking, sautéing||325ºF||High||High||Low||None|
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