An oil that has been refined mostly uses processes and chemicals that are harmful to us. In short, it is supposed to mean to ‘purify’. But the meaning of purify has acquired many new definitions in the context of oils. It may mean the oil has been neutralised, deodorised and bleached. These would require that the oil be treated with acid, purified with an alkali, or bleached. All of which require chemicals. In fact, to extract every last drop, organic solvents such as Hexane are used. Hexane is a by-product of the petroleum industry and is carcinogenic. Yet it is used in the refining of edible oils and traces of this poison are left in the oil.
There are many different kinds of commercially refined vegetable-based oils, including canola or rapeseed oil, rice bran oil, soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil and safflower oil. The generic cooking term “vegetable oil” refers to a blend of a variety of oils often based on corn, soybean or sunflower oils.
Why you should dump refined oils from your kitchen. Now!
- Low quality oil seeds: Refined oil mills are not particularly bothered about the oil seeds they buy. The oil seeds could be old and even rancid, as they are processed to remove all natural taste and flavour. Further, many of the oil seeds are likely to be GMO seeds such as corn and soya. And rice bran is not even an oil seed but a left-over from rice de-husking!
- Heating: Refined oils are heated and reheated in the extraction process, losing most of its valuable nutrients. Often these high temperatures result in the oils oxidising and going rancid even before you buy them! Oxidation also creates free radicals that can damage the cells of our bodies so it is best to avoid them.
- Use of Poisonous solvents: Did you know that refined oils are treated with an organic solvent such as Hexane to remove every last drop of oil. Hexane, by the way, is a poisonous by-product of petroleum refining.
- Bleaching: The major purpose of bleaching is the removal of off-coloured materials in the oil. The heated oil is treated with various bleaching agents such as Fuller’s earth, activated carbon, or activated clays. Many impurities, including chlorophyll and carotenoid pigments, are absorbed by this process and removed by filtration. Bleaching promotes oxidation since these natural antioxidants and nutrients are removed along with the impurities.
- Deodorisation: This is the final step in the refining of vegetable oils. Pressurised steam at extremely high temps (500 degrees or more) is used to remove volatile compounds that would contribute to odours and tastes in the final product. Still want to eat refined oils?
So what’s the alternative?
Choose cold-pressed, virgin, unrefined oils. The best oils for Indian cooking are Sesame oil, Groundnut oil, Mustard oil and Coconut oil. These are the oils that we have been eating and cooking with for generations. They contain monounsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants such as polyphenols and the right balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. They have the high smoking points that Indian cooking oils need and their aromas and flavours complement the ingredients and spices we use. Boutique brands that promise authentic cold-pressed, virgin, unrefined and artisanal oils that are chemical-free, and preferably use glass bottles to package in, are your best bet.
Bhoomi Ka is a platform that helps small farmers grow sustainably farmed oil seeds (among other crops) that are chemical-free and grown via sustainably integrated farming systems (SIFS). Many of the brands associated with Bhoomi Ka may be the right ones in your search for naturally healthy and nutrient dense produce and products.
This article has been created on the basis of facts sourced from various sources on the Internet, including: