India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Wine & Dine
June 15, 2014

Striking Oil

Text by Sonal Ved. Photographs by Poulomi Dey

Shiny bottles of gourmet cooking oils are clinking on the shelves of urban grocery stores. But should we give tried-and-tested oils a pass over? Sonal Ved finds out how to power up your meals by using these new incumbents reigning on the counters of the aware connoisseur of fine food

Unless you befriend your bottle of oil, you can’t go too far in the kitchen. Oil is that quintessential ingredient that comes in handy no matter what you are cooking. While until now it was easy to open our hearts and pockets to various kinds of olive oils that hit Indian shores half a decade ago, it’s time to gear up and learn how to use gourmet cooking oils that are power-packed with flavour and nutrition.

To put it simply, gourmet oils are oils that are used mainly for their epicurean characteristics. Chef Rohan D’Souza from The Corner Courtyard, Kolkata says, “Unlike flavoured oils such as parsley, chilli or basil-hinted olive oils, these are real extractions of nuts and seeds like walnut, macadamia, grape seed, bleach seed and other ingredients.” Most of these oils are virgin and cold-pressed which makes them potent potions of goodness.

While restaurants have always used these epicurean oils to drizzle on cold salads, anti-pasti, sea foods and other dishes as finishing oils, their visibility in local stores is only a recent phenomenon.

“When you think of oil, you probably think of tadka. But the point of using these flavour-packed oils is to enjoy them in their original form,” says Chef Swasti Aggarwal from gourmet food store FoodHall. At her Mumbai-based store, one can find bottles of pistachio, sesame, pumpkin seed, cold-pressed coconut, flax seed and other options that work wonderfully when drizzled on uncooked foods.

Aggarwal says, “Since gourmet oils are mainly extracted out of delicious smelling and tasty ingredients like nuts and seeds, these characteristics get transferred on to the food on which it is poured.” She recommends pouring avocado oil on yogurt parfait, hummus and other dips; macadamia oil on grilled chicken, fish and sea food and nutty walnut oil on pastas.

But these are just some of its modern uses. Gourmet oils can be used to power-pack Indian meals as well. Aggarwal suggests using strong mustard oil to cook veggies such as baigan ka bharta, bhindi and aloo chokha, on yellow daal and chaats. While sesame is good to go with greens and beans.

In order to choose your gourmet cooking oil, zero down on the purpose first. “Pick oil based on its delicateness and smoke point,” says Chef Joshua D’Souza from Silverspoon Gourmet, Mumbai. The smoke point of oil is the temperature at which fat begins to break down, lose its flavour and nutritionally degenerate. Oils such as corn, sunflower and groundnuts have high smoke points therefore they are good when you want to deep fry your foods. But save walnut, pumpkin seed, pistachio, extra virgin olive oils to pour on food raw, for they are fragile.

One of the biggest advantages of using gourmet oils is that besides flavour they pack in nutrients as well. According to Mumbai-based Shreejith Mohan, spokesperson from Godrej Nature’s Basket, “Apart from frying and finishing, one can use gourmet oils for their health benefits too.” For example, a nut-based oil such as walnut is a rich source of omega-9 fatty acid, while pistachio oil and grape seed provide lots of Vitamin E.

Keeping such advantages in mind, a lot of urban grocery stores are introducing bottles filled with these oils. Nasik-based Sula Vineyards has recently introduced chic bottles of grapeseed oil that have begun to get stocked at Godrej Nature’s Basket across the country on popular demand.

Heavily popular but restricted to chefs, food bloggers and other culinary enthusiasts who like to experiment with their food, gourmet oils may have few takers as of now. But it remains to be seen if they can give olive oil a run for its money in the future.

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