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Indian cooking basically uses oil from the beginning of the process, typically starting with sautéing ginger and garlic, then adding shallots, chillies and onions. So the oil is on the fire for quite some time.

I would like to know whether any type of olive oil will be suitable for this type of cooking. Extra virgin olive oil seems to be out of the question from what I have read.

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It's not really the extended time on the fire which is the issue, but rather the high temperature reached. –  nico Apr 15 '12 at 15:15
@nico What you have stated is actually a common misconception: The amount of time actually matters just as much as the temperature. More information is available in this question: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/17605/… –  ESultanik Mar 27 '13 at 19:53
@ESultanik: I do not have access to the book linked in the question. Could you please cite a few examples of temperature/time equivalence (considering that Indian cooking generally needs high temperatures)? –  nico Mar 27 '13 at 21:20
@nico Unfortunately I no longer have a copy of that book (I borrowed it from a library). I just added a link to Wolke's article which does contain some good information, however, neither that article nor, IIRC, the book contains definitive temperature/time equivalence examples. –  ESultanik Mar 28 '13 at 14:39

11 Answers 11

up vote 3 down vote accepted

With Olive oils, the more refined they are, the higher their burning point. So you are correct, an Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil would be a terrible choice for Indian cooking (would cause effect on taste, smell, and nutrition) which has prolonged periods of sauteing on high heat.

Lower quality olive oils, or a light olive oil, interestingly, would be a better choice. They are much more refined like vegetable oils, so have a higher burning point. But at that point, you'd consider why are you using Olive oil?

Consider using refined butter (ghee) or coconut oil for Indian cooking. Ghee and Coconut oil will rarely smoke or burn and can stand high heat pretty well. I believe traditional Indian cooking uses ghee.

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Actually, Virgin Olive Oil is fine for high-temperature frying as long as it is completely filtered, which most of the oil sold in regular food stores is. Since only virgin olive oil is ever sold unfiltered (and unrefined), this causes common confusion about smoke points and frying temperatures vs. Pure olive oil, which is always filtered and refined. –  FuzzyChef Apr 15 '12 at 6:18

Indian food is commonly cooked with ghee (clarified butter), for both religious and flavor reasons. Where ghee is not used, coconut or refined palm oil are common.

I can also tell you from experience that Indian food can be made with unflavored vegetable oils (canola, sunflower or soy), without a deleterious effect on flavor or texture.

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Mustard seed oil is also used traditionally for Indian food.

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Yeah, good point. I'd forgotten about mustard oil. Mind you, it's is pretty hard to get outside Asia. –  FuzzyChef Apr 16 '12 at 3:17

Indian cooking is mainly dependent on coconut oil or sunflower oil. Coconut oil is widely used in coastal parts of southern India. Olive oil might not give the same taste as you get in coconut oil. There are some dishes that could only be prepared using coconut oil.

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It depend which region the Indian dish you are cooking is from. Kashmiris use mustard oil quite a bit which requires 'cracking' before using by boiling at high heat. I use mostly sunflower seed oil in my restaurant in Delhi, I may add in some ghee, coconut oil, or mustard oil depending on which region of India the dish you are cooking is from.

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Most south Indian dishes contains groundnut, coconut,butter,ghee and gingelly or sesame oil. Which adds more taste to your food.

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Different types of oils are used for different recipes or cooking styles that vary across India. Some of them use mustard oil (Bengal and Bihar) while south indians prefer coconut oil. On the other hand, western states in India use groundnut, sunflower oil for the daily cooking needs. Olive oil is rarely used for authentic indian recipes.

Also, while some of the recipes let you pick ghee or oil, they are used for different recipes and can't always replace each other.

AFAIK, Refined sunflower oil should be a good option as it won't mess with the recipe and will be healthier than groundnut oil. Mustard oil has a strong smell and it doesn't always go well with all the recipes (it's typically used in the marination process for tandoori chicken and it's one of the ingredients that give it a red color).

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I landed on this site accidentally. I'm not a "cook-ie" or foodie; just an engineer who likes to enjoy food AND take care of health at the same time.

The question being discussed is very specific but the answer I believe must be general.

The three physical enemies of all food (indeed of life itself ... I'm not being facetious here) are: Temperature, Oxygen and Light (TOL). All biological matter is made up of complex molecules of C (carbon), H (Hydrogen), O (Oxygen) and (Nitrogen) + traces of other elements. What happens to such natural molecules in the presence of TOL is called cleavage. A cleaver (knife) is an important tool in the kitchen for macro-processing of food. In addition to TOL, chemicals called enzymes can also cleave food at a level which the eye can't see! Cleaving by TOL"" results in the production of two unnatural molecules, neither of which is nutritious; and in some cases may be harmful. Another name for harmful chemicals is free-radicals. In general, food is cooked to remove harmful bacteria and to dilute toxins (most things are toxic only on a matter of scale. In the short run, a little bit does not hurt but a lot does. Examples are tobacco smoke and water). Cleavage happens at the point of least strength (or the chemical bond resistance) of two parts whether it is in the macroscopic (say, a leg of lamb) or the microscopic (say, a "mono- or poly-" unsaturated oil or even a saturated fat such as pure ghee or pure coconut oil or ...). It is "cleaving" that leads to rancidity (acidity) and putrefaction; the products of both are toxic to humans.

"Living nature" wants to live and (though there is symbiosis where no party suffers, I feel it is an exception) at the same time protect itself from harm! Thus the surfaces of all plant matter (including leaves) are protective (i.e. toxic to the creatures that want to eat them). This protection can be in the form of mechanical (skin: of apple, nut: shell, thorns: jack-fruit or any combination) or chemical (natural pesticides, the toxic seed kernels of stone fruits, etc.). Minor (only in terms of quantity) components of oils such as anti-oxidants (vitamin E, an anti-oxidant), (many) phyto chemicals (particulate) are nutritious but easily destroyed in the oil-production (where high heat is used). And then there are vitamins. Some vitamins and many phyto chemicals can be absorbed by us ONLY in the presence of "fat." "fat" = oil!

Since every oil molecule (called a tri-glyceride) is a mix of saturated fats, unsaturated fats (anti mutagen), and the minor components, the minor components are the first ones to be removed by the food companies by RBD (Refining, Bleaching, Deodorizing); all of these processes only degrade the nutrition value to gain aesthetic value. In virgin oils (Olive) it is the particulate components that turn to 'smoke' first (sawdust catches fire before the wooden log does) even at low heat. Once a particle catches fire, it destroys a few oil molecules in its vicinity ... multiply that by the millions of such particles (even in a spoonful) and you can see what will happen ... that is why all virgin oils (and particularly olive) have a lower "smoke point." After that, there will be some amount of toxic component. Our bodies are capable of eliminating some toxicity (free-radicals neutralized by anti-oxidants) but there are limits beyond which it becomes overloaded (you may know the ill-effects of consuming rancid oil).

Deep frying foods is used to impart what is known as "Maillard" browning. The chemicals resulting from browning impart a crunch and aroma (chemicals of browning have their own set of bad issues) but it is hard to escape habit/culture/pragmatism. Deep frying is also used as a water displacement method (say when frying a south Indian vada or a samosa) ... so, a good chef can achieve it by controlling the amount of water in the batter in the first place and overseeing the frying so that the oil is always below its "smoke" point. That is great art/science! Of the common edible oils olive and avocado (high smoke point) are two that come from fruit (and so are micro-nutrient dense); the rest are from seeds and nuts. Ghee** and coconut oil (SAFA:Saturated Fatty Acid) and palm oil a have high smoke point (so good for frying), provide rapid energy (because of their chemical structure) but are not anti-mutagenic (roughly repair at the genetic level - olive oil IS anti-mutagenic) like mono-unsaturated oils (like olive:73%, Avocado:70%, sesame:40%, sunflower:82%, soybean:60%, groundnut:45%, mustard:21%, canola-from rape seed:63%, palm kernel:40% etc) ARE! Therefore, consuming SAFA's must only be in small quantities (frying incorrectly rules against SAFA's ... eventually even SAFA' can be cleaved ... this is where "duration" of cooking comes into the picture)

** I would not consider ghee to be a mass produced oil. Looking at the list of oils above I would say, we must cook (and learn to use wisely) with the oils we have; not the one's that look greener on the other side!

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Its really good experience to cook and eat food cooked with sunflower oil but olive oil is also a good choice to cook. Don't use olive oil for frying, it can be used for shallow fry and to make curry where you don't needed to cook at high temperature.

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Hi, and welcome to our site! We only discuss cooking here, not health/nutrition, so I had to remove that. The shopping suggestions were also superfluous. I left in the info which actually answers the question, just changed the sentence structure a bit to make it easier to read. –  rumtscho Oct 21 '14 at 17:45

sunflower oil is the best for indian cooking.

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indian food tastes best in peanut oil.

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

Can you elaborate why peanut oil is best? Otherwise this is just an opinion and not really an objective answer. –  Jay Mar 28 '13 at 1:33

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